Being the kind of person I am, almost the first thing I thought of once I heard the words "you have cancer" was what an interesting sociological experiment having a visible illness that invokes the specter of death would be. Of course, friends and family would naturally be worried, sympathetic and want to help. My main interest would be studying the reactions of strangers to my illness. Would there be any advantages?
I wanted to play the Cancer Card.
I pictured myself going out in scarves, pale skin and eyelash and eyebrow-free, and having perfect strangers see me, seeing the hand I was dealt, realizing I have CANCER, and allowing me to go in front of the grocery store line or perhaps give me a seat on the bus (not that I'd ever take a bus, but you get my drift). Just in general be nice to me because I have CANCER.
I figured sympathy from strangers was part of the deal, and even as I still had my hair, I planned how I would weakly smile and be ever so grateful for these small kindnesses and nod at the person who got their good karma for the day for helping out the sick and, for all they knew, dying.
Hey, something good has to come from this, even if it's only the fact that strangers find their humanity and are nice to me.
I forgot it wasn't 1952.
Wednesday, after chemo, my husband and I went to register my youngest child for high school. (Short detour for a mommy brag: he's an A+ Super Student in a rigorous program, and at age thirteen, he will start his freshman year taking Honors Biology, Honors World History, Honors English 4, French 3 and Algebra II. His choice. With a student like that, I am not going home to rest after chemo. If he can work that hard at his age, I certainly can be strong enough to sit there when he hears about the beginning of his high school years, taxol flowing through my veins or no.)
So, I am in the MP room, wobbly from chemo, wearing my scarf and earrings and layers of clothes to keep the chill off, tissues pressed to my nose and eyes, with a room full of coughing parents. I'm thinking about the germs flying and my low blood levels, and then it's time to go sign up for IBO parent groups and the like. I walk back to the computers and get my hand sanitizer ready for when it's my turn for data entry. I lean over and start to punch in names, email addresses, and my eyes are watery, dripping really, and my nose is running and I can't see the keyboard and it's a damn Mac and where is the damn backspace key, and I'm wiping my eyes and wobbling around and feeling faint. I turn around to see if my son is behind me to finish for me, and the man in line behind me who has been staring at the back of my scarf, now looks me in my hairless face and snarls, "Are you freaking done yet?"
Um yeah, I am. So what if Sacremento is spelled wrong?
That is pretty much the reaction I get everywhere. People still cut in front of me at the grocery store line, they still try and steal my parking space, not a soul has offered me a chair or a one-up. I have taken my son to appointments where there were two waiting room chairs only, and a mom and her kid sitting. Both looked at me, neither moved. (I can no longer stand for long periods, so I sat on the floor, I'm not proud.)
Maybe it's me. Maybe I just don't look sick enough. Maybe it's California. Maybe we have so many people with "individual senses of personal style" that a scarf on the head, super pale skin and no eyebrows doesn't signal cancer anymore. Maybe we are just an uncaring and rude culture. Maybe we are just completely unobservant.
Maybe I expected too much.
Anyway, no matter where I go, I don't get treated any differently than I had before. Nobody turns away from me, and nobody turns toward me. They are just indifferent.
It would seem that the cancer cards are are a bust.
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