Okay, admittedly I am cheating a bit here. Originally the little list below made its first appearance as part of the pink dress blog, a blog which chatted about how having breast cancer changes how people look at you and treat you, who they think you are and what you are capable of.
But two things happened this week. First thing was, earlier this week I got to talking with a friend about how now after five years, I only tell people I am a cancer survivor on a need to know basis. She and I were discussing how it seems that when people know something big like that about you ahead of time, you lose the chance to make a first impression or to tell your own story. The cancer precedes you.
The other thing that happened this week is this, I left on vacation with the kiddos, seeing Americana at its best, and I decided to play with my kids instead of blogging all weekend long. Cancer set my priorities straight.
Ok, so back to chatting about guarding my cancer talk and a need to know basis. Maybe I am just a control freak and only want to talk about cancer when I feel like it, and not in the middle cocktails with new friends or when I’m getting my teeth cleaned. I think all of us are that way with our very personal histories and stories no matter what they are, and breast cancer is just that. I have a friend who was in a boating accident as a teen, and knew her for years before she told me about that part of her life and I understand why. I’ve said it a million times now; cancer is a trauma and an intensely private journey. Cancer is not just the story of the physical sickness, but the mental struggle and that’s personal. It’s not a light and happy topic of conversation for us. Trust me, we’ve had cancer up to our eyeballs and are not being avoidant, just sick of cancerspeak.
The illness part is easy to share, it’s the emotional stuff that I protect. And sometimes, I don’t know how to separate those things when asked about cancer. And sometimes people don’t separate out what they ask, when they say, “Wow, what was that like?” I’m sorry, it just rings uber personal to me, it feels the equivalent of people asking, “I heard you had depression and almost died years ago, tell me all about it.” And honest, cancer, being kinda icky, it’s one of those things you like to talk about only when the mood strikes you.
It’s an odd thing, being bald with chemo is like being pregnant, people just walk up and ask questions. But it’s later, when there are no overt signs of illness that I think cancer becomes a very personal piece of your past to share as you deem fit It’s not always a happy time in your life that you like to chat about at dinner. After 10 months with no hair and experiencing random people in every setting just walking up to me to ask me what kind of cancer I had and for all the gruesome details, I had had enough. I wanted to talk about anything but cancer. Then, when the hair did not give it away, and you shared the history, the main question became, “How far out are you?” For me, it was a reminder that you hadn’t hit home plate yet missy, because it always seemed when you said, “two years,” they made a sad face and mumbled something hopeful about getting to five.
These days, I dunno why I still guard my cancer history so, but I do. It just seems such a small piece of the pie that makes up Lauren. I get very chapped when someone is told this about me before I meet them or when cancer is part of my bio given when I am introduced to someone. There is something that changes when people know you are a cancer survivor, they feel sorry for you, they see you as a victim, they want to ask you all about it, or they think you are some kinda superhero rock star for surviving. People are fascinated with people who survive death. Yes, I know all of these things people say are kind responses, but they make me uncomfortable because I don’t think any of them are true for me at least, and really, I just want to be me, not the girl with cancer.
Assumptions about how I should be or how I should act have always rubbed this stubborn old mule woman the wrong way anyway.
I think that’s about you being in control of cancer…finally. It’s about cancer being somewhere way in the background finally where it belongs, after it being in your face, no being your face for several years.
So, as I am making memories of the happy sort, and go to See Rock City (and hopefully score a few floaty pens,) enjoy the encore appearance of the list of assumptions about life in the Pink dress again, and forgive the echo in the room. And remember, you make the rules, you are the boss, not cancer. And of course, a disclaimer as was in the first post,” this blog is for us cancer chicks to kvetch a bit, so as the song says, “please excuse me I don’t mean to be rude.”
Fun facts/urban legends about being a breast cancer patient (aka the woman in the pink dress)
1. Being the woman in the pink dress immediately makes you the dumping ground for everyone else’s horrific cancer stories which always end with Aunt Sally dying a long slow death from breast cancer… in the 80’s mind you….LONG before almost all of us now survive breast cancer. I suspect this is about someone feeling they have to join with you on the cancer talk, but honest, as we know, it’s not helpful. It gets really weird when the person starts sobbing, and you find yourself trying to make them feel better. It seems stories of survival are rare with these people.
2, Wearing the pink dress makes people assume you want to meet and talk to, or hang out other women who are currently wearing or who have worn the pink dress. And that those women will quite naturally want to talk to you. I will never forget sitting in my office one day, working on a report and the door pops open. And my boss says, “Hey, Jeannie is here for a meeting, did you know she was a breast cancer survivor?” I imagined in my wishful, naughty little head the following conversation:
Me: “Well why are you telling me this in the middle of my work?” Him: “Well because you had breast cancer of course,” Me: “And that means we would like to talk because we quite naturally would want to chat chemo, see each other’s radiation tats and compare prostheses?” Him: “Well… yeah.” Me: “Oh then by all means, let me go and talk to her about cancer in the middle of me working on this report. Oh and Mr. Boss, by the way didn’t you mention that you had hemorrhoid surgery once?” Him: “Well yes I did, why?” Me: “Well my Uncle is in town and he had them too, I thought you guys might want to grab a beer.” I know I know, I sound mean but same days that was just how I felt, like I had become the poster child for breast cancer. Not all of us want to do breast cancer fund-raisers, not all of us want to go on stage and sing the wind beneath my wings at these events.
3. When you wearing the pink dress your breasts are grossly out of proportion with each other, so that others can easily figure out the “bad” breast. You know this as their eyes will immediately drop to your breasts and move rapidly back and forth to measure them up visually. This behavior is absolutely more pronounced with men. I don’t know about you, but rarely do I go out in something that one breast looks gigantic and the other shriveled, and I am good at camouflage these days. Indeed too, I have now become more proactive when I see the eye drop, and helpfully announce, “This one” while pointing to my left breast.
4. Honey, you really shouldn’t/can’t work in the pink dress, bless your heart. This is because A) you should lie in bed all day and B) your brain doesn’t work on chemo with chemo brain and all. Trying to work just means you are in denial about how sick you are.
5. You can’t exercise, go to the gym, run or mow the lawn in the pink dress. That’s just pathetic. You are obviously also in denial when you do these things in the dress.
6. Your husband/significant other will be adoring and appropriate and endlessly supportive while you have the dress on, and will cover every household task and whim of yours. Um, suffice it to say that often, this is sooo often not the case; spouses get tired, spouse are dealing with their own grief and anger and sometimes spouses are just plain assholes. (Although there are gems out there for sure)
7. You can’t have sex in the pink dress because well duh…you have to have hair and both breasts to have sex.
8. You should, “let it all out and quit holding back and being strong for the kids” in the pink dress. Really what this means you can’t laugh and have a good time in the pink dress, or have a Cosmopolitan, even if it jives with the pink thing you have going on and all.
9. You will lose massive amounts of weight/throw up frequently and look very sick like people with chemo did in 1962 while wearing the pink dress. Conversely, you love to eat casseroles in the pink dress. Personally I have always loved the look of pink and chocolate together; this combo with a couple hundred steroids over 15 months, busted the “lose weight, look unhealthy” theory to pieces.
10. You should curtsy politely in the pink dress and be grateful when offered advice about the benefits of acai berry in curing cancer and theories of how guilt from your childhood gave you cancer. When asked if pink dresses, “run in your family” you should politely share your family tree. This is really not about other people blaming/faulting you for getting cancer, but assuring themselves that they are never going to have to wear the pink dress, cause darn it, they didn’t drink pasteurized milk with growth hormones as a child. I find it fun to warn people of the dangers of Goetze caramels at these times.
Lest we forget and be honest with ourselves there are indeed perks to wearing the dress. Yessirree, I have showcased, okay literally sashayed and twirled in round and round in the pink dress to explain/excuse a particularly bad behavior on the part of one of my kids, or myself. At times, I have washed and ironed and bedazzled the dress to make it sparkle, to see if I could finagle down the price on some lizard skin boots on eBay and well…Taylor Swift tickets too. I particularly like the fact that I am allowed to spend more than normal on luxuries in the pink dress and don’t have to rationalize the boots. Sometimes, the pink dress just invites gifts all by itself. Once I took my bandana’d head to the boardwalk with my kids, and a man just gave my daughter this giant stuffed giraffe. The best perk is that you can lay in bed all day in the pink dress and your lizard skin boots, and no one cares. You are never “lazy” and you have an endless supply of casseroles to eat in bed. And lastly, no waxing, no shaving, anywhere, for as long as chemo lasts….even though you really shouldn’t be going out to dinner in the pink dress and can’t swim in it anyway.
Okay, okay… so there are women who are happy to yell their breast cancer history from the rooftops. I am cool with that, but I’m just saying, I’m not one of them. I was sick and I got well, end of story.
I spent a lot of time talking cancer down to size when I was sick, and I intend for it to stay that way.
So no, I don’t wanna be known as the chick that had cancer. I don’t ever want to be the chick who something happened to, but the chick who made things happen.
I, am Lauren.
You were once wild here, don’t let them tame you~ Isadora Duncan