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Strangely enough, despite being a monster, cancer is easy to hide. I hid my diagnosis. If it kept moving, it wouldn’t exist.
I was diagnosed in January and immediately underwent surgery to remove a stage 2 tumor in my right breast.
When I returned to work a week later, everything seemed normal. That was normal. That was normal for everyone, including me.
As I was climbing the double stairs at a snail’s pace, a colleague asked me if I was okay. “Yes, I’m just tired,” I answered. He nodded knowingly and walked past me. Should I have responded differently? And why didn’t I do that when he asked? It was a chance to connect with me. But everywhere I went, I displayed a perfect personality, pushing Gunn even further into Jung’s shadow..
Cancer is normal. We all know someone who has gone through it. But medically speaking, cancer is abnormal. It is created from atypical cells that replicate out of control. I strived to maintain control while the medical community treated my body for its “out of control.”
As a radiology patient, in the four weeks I was a patient, only two people were admitted with me. When my friend drove me to the appointment, I asked her to wait in the car. The appointment was quick, they didn’t have to pay for parking if they stayed in the car, and more importantly, they now realized they were still the same people they were before they got out of the car. They didn’t see me inside the hospital. It was like dropping someone off at the mall. I went in alone and left alone. It was my secret, which made it easier to feel like my cancer wasn’t real.
When my daughter came home from college in the spring, she said she wanted to help. She explained that she didn’t need to take me to treatment and that her ride was provided. That way, she said, the others would also be able to rest. The problem was, I needed someone to take me to the hospital, and she needed to feel like she was needed too. She wanted to do this for me. So I let her.
After sitting in the hospital waiting for my turn, my name was called and for the first time, another person stood up and entered the treatment area with me. I introduced her daughter and explained that I would like to see her radiology room. I decided to go change while she took a short tour. I hurried into the small changing room. I was half undressed when I realized my mistake. There was nowhere to hide. I put on my hospital gown and walked out of this closet. When her daughter saw me in this worn-out blue gown, she exclaimed, “I’m a sick person.” You can’t pretend you’re at the dentist. You can’t pretend you’re not sick. After three months of imitating a healthy but tired person, there was nowhere to hide.
I went out wearing probably the most universally vulnerable outfit. It had been 18 years since her daughter saw me in a hospital gown, and that was because I was being treated for cancer. I swallowed my fear, smiled and explained how the radiation arm worked.
The next time I saw her, I was dressed again, but she had already seen me in that blue gown, so it didn’t matter. She was caught. Her eyes saw what mine saw, and I couldn’t deny it. According to her, I may already be sick, but not in terms of my perspective and perspective, and perspective is everything.
It’s been a few months since that day, and as much as I would like to tell you that I have cancer, I don’t. I want to talk about it at the party. When I feel more tired than I look, I want to tell the people at the gym, and I want to tell my co-workers, too. But I haven’t told anyone yet.
I’ve spent a lot of time having imaginary conversations in my head, but I can’t think of a good way to seamlessly incorporate my recent cancer into the conversation. It’s as snug as a hospital gown.
I hope that cancer will soon become a distant memory and you will no longer feel like talking about it to your hairdresser or masseuse. I don’t know when that will be, but until then I’ll keep repeating this conversation in my head. So far, at least in my opinion, everyone has responded well.
Michelle Harvey lives in Toronto.