Sorry my cancer ruined your lunch

On October 1, 2008 by Eden M. Kennedy

I was driving home from yoga this morning at some ungodly hour, the sun wasn’t even up yet — I got that post-sickness surge of energy, I guess, I was awake at 5:15 ready to go! And then I went in to practice and got through twenty minutes of sun salutations and my body said, Boy howdy, that’s enough. I’m trying to practice every day come hell or high water so it’s inevitable that some days I only have about that much yoga in me before I need to lie down and think about death.

So, I was driving back home at 6:45 listening to NPR and I came in half-way through a story about a local breast cancer awareness festival or something, and the woman who’s running it was explaining how cancer is not a death sentence, blah blah blah. But then she framed her topic in a way I hadn’t heard before, she said how for a lot of people cancer is more like diabetes, it’s a disease they live with and manage. Yeah, their lives might be shorter than if it hadn’t come down on them, but they’re healthy for the most part and going to work and making plans and hanging in there. Managing.

Having had parents who dealt with both cancer (mom, breast) and diabetes (dad, type II), I can say from my somewhat casual yet freaked-out personal observation of my family’s experience (I had a panic attack when I first saw my mom in her chemo wig) that the diabetes was a giant, every hour of the day pain in the ass, whereas the breast cancer had its year and then it was done. However, my dad was kind of a drama queen and my mom not so much, so the personality of them that’s afflicted could be coloring my view of their respective maladies. And certainly there are 1,000 different kinds of clinging, mutant cancers that would kick the ass of what they lumpectomied out of my mom, that’s a given.

But still. People, all around, managing it. Some better than others.

Jack and I know a woman who had a really unusual, sluggish cancer. It was one of those things where maybe forty cases of it had ever been diagnosed, it just hung around in her body making her a little achy and whatnot, but they got it out (laproscopically) and she didn’t even go through any chemo or radiation, her doctor hadn’t seen it do any good in the other cases he’d worked on. She happened to tell me all this over lunch a while back, we were by a swimming pool, everybody was sitting around half naked picking at fruit salad and watching the kids.

Now, if you know me, you know that if you have a disease I WANT TO HEAR ALL ABOUT IT. No detail is too gruesome or impolite to share. So I’m sitting there next to Jack at the pool in my bikini going, “And then what did the doctor say?!” while he’s sighing and quietly pushing away his tuna sandwich. Jack’s normally so unflappable I just forget, I forget that Jack’s step-dad died of cancer, that his sister and his mom have had cancer, colleagues have died of cancer, cancer is a sore spot, he’s surrounded by cancer and doesn’t want to have his lunch with a side of CANCER.

I’m glad he wasn’t with me that time on an airplane while I was straining to eavesdrop on the two people in the row in front of me. The man was saying how different cancers come and go in our bodies all the time but our immune systems knock them out and we go on living without ever knowing they’d been there.

(If there was ever a reason to take care of yourself as best you can, people: there it is. Just to buffer your odds.)

Anyway, I don’t know what my point was here, if it was to let you know that you can talk about your cancer or your bad teeth or your hideous foot fungus with me any time, or to tell you that people all around us have cancer and that there’s no point in weaving their shrouds just yet, or to tell you to take care of yourself but that if you end up getting cancer it’s probably not your fault, this shit just happens and we don’t know why, my goddamned dog had cancer and she never smoked a day in her life.

Astrologically, however, cancer is a very nice sign! My son is a cancer! And I have had to clarify for him that just because he is a cancer does not mean that he will get cancer!



50 Responses to “Sorry my cancer ruined your lunch”

  • Your post reminded me of the Kids in the Hall sketch.

  • Snort and hee. It didn’t ruin my dinner. You did, however, make me laugh.

    Have I told you about my bald-headed, no eyebrow look? Come have some wine with me, and we can talk.

  • Shoot. I hit submit. NOT cancer. I repeat. It’s not cancer, so don’t get all creeped out. It’s Alopecia.

  • Thanks for the KITH link, I miss them so.

    Alopecia is amazing! I had a friend who got it after exposure to some photographic chemicals, I believe it was. The look really works well on some people.

  • Oh, if only I’d known, I would have told you alllll about the toenail infection that was hidden under the stupid artificial big toenails I wore to Blogher and beyond. I had to French-manicure all my other toenails to match and I couldn’t usually give a shit about toenail polish. And there was me worrying about being in the company of sophisticated American women who always have pretty toes.

    I gave up smoking for the nth time on Monday morning. Usually I stop because it’s expensive/pointless/stinky but this time I got cancer paranoia. I am getting old.

  • awesome, now I’m ready for dinner if my parotid gland doesn’t swell up like giant ball of thick trapped saliva after I take the first bite.

  • I have shingles – wanna hear about that? It can be pretty gross…

  • cancer took three of my grandparents (the other has diabetes – score!), but you’re right cancer is a cool sign! cancer is latin for crabs. so some of those people wearing pink ribbons were naughty.

    i had bell’s palsy once and it was the coolest effing disease ever. i got to wear an eye patch and talk like dick cheney all at once. my god it was epic.

  • Oh, Brandon, you sure do know how to sweet talk a girl.

  • I have a chronic and joint disorder that I like to say “isn’t disabling, just really annoying.” Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type III for the WIN!

  • I’m going in tomorrow for a biopsy. I’m a little freaked the hell out about it but this post made me feel a teeny better.

  • oh, hey! I can tell you all about drinking radioactive iodine to destroy my thyroid, the year of the cervical cancer, and infected toenails! That could take hours!

    I’m a cancer-rising. We rock.

  • You ALL rock. Gretchen, I’ll be thinking of you. Good luck!

  • My husband has ringworm!

  • Aye yai yai (or however you spell that)– my sister and I were just discussing tonight that dreaded cancer topic; her gyno told her our mother should consider having the “gene” test b/c she had breast cancer early (40-ish); if she is positive, we should have the test…to consider the “replacement” of our breasts. I say: New breasts, bigger breasts, great! But, then again, it’s really serious and scary. So for now, I’ll skip that side of cancer, too.

  • Whooh! And my butt itches!

    But my ex- died of pancreatic cancer and it sucked. She told me that when she saw a doctor and he mentioned the possibility that she might have some kind of cancer she went home and Googled all over the place and saw pancreatic and thought, “Uh-oh, hope it’s not that one.” And it was.

  • Migraines! On a scale of world peace to burnt toast, migraines are a lumpy, cold oatmeal. I was home all day with one. How do people with migraines and small children manage?

    I’ll be thinking of you tomorrow, Grechen.

  • My dad’s oncologist informed him today that his cancers (leukemia and prostate – a pretty rare combo) have spread significantly. We’re all pretty freaked out, but you’re right, we can’t dwell on knitting his shroud (or whatever you do to make one). We can’t look at next year when tomorrow he might feel good enough to get out of bed, shower, get dressed, and leave the house for a few hours. Thanks for the much needed reality check!

  • the C word totally freaks me out.
    i am like, hypochondriac about it since they thought i had ovarian cancer. i have dx myself with numerous cancers since then. if there is a cancer i hear about, i start to think ‘yup, this is the one i have, this is it, i just hadn’t heard about it yet.’
    and maybe i DO have one. because i have health problems and so it’s hard to distinguish symptoms. but you know what? i will be DAMNED if i am AFRAID. sorry to yell. so now i just have this like, obsessive thing where if anyone mentions cancer i lean in and listen and listen and listen and read and read and read until i want to puke.
    but i refuse to be afraid all the time.

  • I have an incurable brain tumor (Yeah people with cancer read your blog too.) As you so rightly say, it’s not the end, I don’t take to my bed and turn my toes up, I just carry on living, working, looking after my three kids, having fun. I no longer obsess about a cure, I’m not afraid of it, and to be honest I feel pretty darn healthy. I manage, and whilst the docs can work their magic and hold it at bay, then I’m just going to keep on living life as a normal person. My father had diabetes, my mother had long-term breast cancer. Both lived for a very long time. I’m no different.

  • I have lip eczema. Not that I would wish myself cancer instead, but generally speaking, it is MUCH MORE OBVIOUS when I have a lip breakout than when someone gets cancer. It’s not fun, it hurts, and there’s no cure. Yay, eczema, for attacking my lips when I became an adult.

  • I love how this post has brought everyone’s gross afflictions out of the wood work.

    I am coming out of lurkdom to say that the radio woman’s cancer story could be mine. My breast cancer spread to my liver and is therefore deemed to be incurable. It has, however, responded really well to treatment and I have 6 clean ct scans to prove it. In my case, cancer is managed like a chronic illness. On non-treatment weeks, I feel just fine.

    And I no longer look like a cancer patient (I was ridiculously relieved to discover that the meds I am on now don’t make you lose your hair), so I probably don’t make people freak out like I once did. Toe nail fungus is way more disgusting. ;-)

    I do, however, get some dirty looks when I wear my “Cancer Can Kiss My Ass” t-shirt to go pick up my kids.

  • As long as no one belabors (detailing) the vomit or poop factor, i will talk to them for hours about their diseases. the more dramatic the better. someone once asked me if i worked for a funeral home. i blame my mother- she’s the same way. love ya!

  • Just for the record, we do NOT all have cancer lurking in our bodies at all times. We all have cells in our bodies at all times and cells can mutate into cancer.

    And while we’re all sharing, I have a birthmark on my right hand that looks like Pacman.

  • I kind of feel guilty that I don’t have toe fungus or lip eczema (ewwww) but I do share the once in a while freak out that I might get cancer. I proactively manage (get paps, mammos, etc.) but I’d like to think I’d be like lin b up above and be tough and not cave to it.

    I do however, have a zit right in the middle of my chin – where a cleft would be should I have had one.

  • I had a boil. It even grossed my doctor out.

  • No cancer but was stabbed by an, unknown to me at the time, bi-polar co-worker resulting in a collapsed lung. Since this was such a stress free situation I decided to quit both smoking and caffeine… amazing my marriage survived.

    Good luck to Gretchen. lin b and laurie… just WOW you are amazing!

  • MS — which isn’t gross at all (unless you’re upset by hearing about self-injecting and the giant itchy lumpy bruises that resulted when I was on a different medication than I am now)

    However, trying to explain it can easily fill hours — particularly since my symptoms are (for the most part) not immediately apparent to any onlookers, as well as being difficult to clearly quantify and explain.

    The worst part, for me personally, when discussing this with people (aside from the fact that it’s rather tiring to explain the Same Things a million times) — I end up feeling like a liar, or a whiner. Because, as everyone is so quick to point out “Oh, but you _look_ fine” Which, yes — believe me, sometimes that and the promise of a nap later on are the only things getting me out of bed in the morning! (oh, the other worst part is I am pretty certain I will never again be able to walk in nice heels, and that makes me very sad)

    On the plus side, I don’t worry about cancer or any of that, because I sort of feel like I have my major medical problem for my life, thank you very much, Universe…

  • Wow. These comments are freaking me out. I did not realize just how many sick people there are in the world. I am luckily not one of them. I just have panic attacks, think I’m dying and go to the emergency room a lot, wherein they tell me, you are NOT having a stroke, and suddenly I am fine again. It’s like being cured of blindness on a weekly basis.

  • Deanna, YES, I need to edit to make that clearer.

    You guys are killing me. We’re all afflicted! Life is messy. You do your best. I need to go blow my nose.

  • I would be happy to chat to you about living with two-thirds of a colon, but it’s messy. Especially at lunchtime.

  • I doubt that I have ever laughed as hard, then turned around and cried, as I have reading these comments. This is classic. Hilarious, sad, real life. Love it.

  • And, quite possibly the best post title ever.

  • I’m like you, I love hearing all the details!

    There are other illnesses that require the joy of chemotherapy – including mine: Wegener’s Granulomatosis. Rare form of vasculitis and an auto-immune condition.

    My whole story:

    And agree with Momo Fali – best title ever.

  • So, I am all of 32 years old and I have had skin cancer. Not the easy kind either. And guess what, it’s OK! You go in, they scrape, cut, etc… it heals, they keep checking your body out. It’s all good. I may seem flip, but I’m not. I feel like I am allowed to feel like this about it. After all, it’s MY cancer. I’m not going to go around giving it more power than it deserves to have, you know?
    I get what you’re saying here Eden. :)

  • Damn. My biggest thing is that I’m a type 1 diabetic, meaning I inject insulin (at least) 4x/day. I can eat whatever I want, so long as I count carbs and account for them w/insulin. It’s incredibly annoying to have food police assholes questioning my food choices. It’s also annoying to have people minimize the impact this disease has on my life. I am not a drama queen, but it literally will influence (not change, but influence) almost every single decision I make. Every day. For the rest of my life. BUT. I am trying to get to that zen acceptance level where I just roll with the constant management that it needs.

    I also had Bell’s Palsy last summer. Unlike Brandon, it wasn’t so much fun for me, but definitely an interesting experience to channel whomever that ex-PM of Canada was.

    And for really gross, but sort of fun afflictions: some sort of toenail fungus that makes your toenails all thick! You can take oral meds to deal with it, but no desire for addl medication for me. ALSO: folliculitis on my HEAD after swimming in what must have been a bacterial swamp hotel swimming pool in Hawaii. I got to pop zits ON MY HEAD for about a week until my (completely grossed out doctor) gave me a course of antibiotics. Good times.

    Sorry for the novel, but great post. It obviously hit some raw, yet funny, nerves.

  • I am the mother of a recently diagnosed four-year-old with Type 1 diabetes. (If you want details, click on over to my site.)

    She’s doing as well as she could be at this point, but it is me who has gone through the wringer. I’m emotional and exhausted and I worry. I have to keep track of all her medications, make sure she eats what she should, and try to keep her life as normal as possible.

    (But I am truly thankful that it’s diabetes and not something I consider worse. No matter how bad it is, I am always thankful to have her.)

    Then I have asshole parents at the preschool who are “uncomfortable” providing a snack for a diabetic child. How difficult is to read the god damned label!?

    Just don’t buy crap with high fructose corn syrup. That’s a start.

    Uncomfortable? You should be comfortable that it is not your own child!

    That’s my bitch, which I couldn’t do on my own site because some of the other moms read my blog.

    Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

  • I had a pyrogenic granuloma (sounds like I set fires, right?!) it’s also known as a pregnancy tumor. Basically just a nasty random little growth that needs to be chopped off… and still might grow back anyway.

    Mine was on my lip. I thought for weeks that it was a blood blister (that’s what it looked like and it would spontaneously bleed and bleed and bleed). Everyone kept trying to tell me it was a cold sore. My OB’s nurse even tried to write me a prescription for some cold sore medicine despite my very strong assurances that it was NOT in fact a cold sore (I’ve had my share of cold sores lady, and THIS is not a cold sore!). My nurse on the labor and deliver floor even told me not to kiss my newborn baby because of MY COLD SORE! Gah! You’d think the professionals would at least recognize something called a “pregnancy tumor.” You’d be wrong.

    PS My little Indian plastic surgeon hacked it off and (knock on wood) it hasn’t come back. Yet.

  • My dad is a retired oncologist, my husband is an oncologist. Both my parents are multiple cancer survivors. Cancer is just another day at the office around here. It sucks, yes, but some days suck more than other.

  • My mom had the booby cancer and made me swear not to swath her in pink. She’s fine now. I had a few chunks of skin sliced out of me and the dr. said “Well, I guess you and the sun are no longer friends.” Yeah, I live in Minnesota where I get about 6 minutes of sun, so I’d rather slather my body from head to toe in zince before giving up my lounge chair.

  • I love the gross, gory, grimy details, too. I love guts, I love surgery, I love it all. We are The Same. And I love reading about weird disorders, and nurse blogs, and all things medical.

    But I am one of those who is gene-tested, affirmed, and pretty much knows I’ll have breast cancer. I’m kind of like, “bring it on, bizitch, I am READY”. But let me have my last baby first…

  • Crohn’s (auto-immune) and a small spot of herpes on one leg (first husband, thanks). Yes, yes, a kick in the pants, it all, and makes the idea of running off harder, re: hello, insurance, I need insurance.

  • I'm with your husband. My dad died of lung cancer in 2003. My dear husband died of pancreatic cancer in 2006, leaving me a 40-something widow with two elementary school-aged kids. (We were fortunate enough that he lived with and managed his pancreatic cancer for FOUR unbelievable years–it kills most within months.) Unbelievably, two months after he died, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After four lumpectomies which failed to eradicate my early stage cancer, I had a mastectomy but fortunately didn't have to have chemo or radiation. Still, the cumulative effect of my illness so soon after their dad's death from CANCER devastated my family. I could barely–and really still can't–talk about it. Many people who know me have NO idea that I had cancer. I was already so tired of being the one everyone felt sorry for . . .I just couldn't tell people about my cancer because I didn't want to make THEM feel bad.
    The summer after my husband's death, between lumpectomies 2 &3, I took my kids on a luxurious weekend away. At a major league baseball game, for which I had spent a fortune for tickets, I was unable to escape the conversation from the two couples behind us–all about a woman they knew who was dying of breast cancer. AGH!!!

    I still can barely make it through Breast Cancer Awareness Month–daily I'm inundated with fundraising efforts at my office; I can't pick up a women's magazine without a breast cancer-themed article; can't escape all the products with pink ribbons on the labels in the grocery store. I want to scream "I'm aware! I'm PAINFULLY aware!"

    Oh, yeah, my zodiac sign is also Cancer. Salt right into that wound . . . .

  • Katherine wins! No more cancer talk!

  • I think I will just pull out the earplugs if I’m nearby when you have these conversations. I don’t really enjoy hearing about the maladies! However, I love to hear about the emotions, so if you want to share, bring it on.

  • Dad, diabetes. Mom, breast cancer. Me, stroke at 30 years old. But nothing compared to my 2 y.o. being diagnosed with cancer. That blew everything out of the water. I think that being told I had a terminal disease would have been easier than watching her go through the chemo and radiation and living with the uncertainty.

    She’s almost 5 now, she finishes her treatment the end of this month. It’s been a long tough battle, but one we never stopped “living” through because the alternative just wasn’t an option.

  • I had a serious-as-cancer comment about some PBS special I saw recently, but I just read your deal about blowing Charles Bronson and now I’m both in awe and cracking up. Dude. He’s my ugly gross crush AND YOU GOT TO BLOW HIM??? Dude.

  • i am the same way. i can take all the talk about ailments and then ask questions. my husband doesn’t like to hear about all of it. he doesn’t have any reason other than it makes him feel sick i think. i guess that’s a good reason. who wants to walk around feeling like they have what other people are talking about?

  • “Now, if you know me, you know that if you have a disease I WANT TO HEAR ALL ABOUT IT. No detail is too gruesome or impolite to share.” I’m that way too – it infuriates me when people leave out potentially useful details out of some sense of polite.

    love your atitude.

  • sorry i’ve never commented before….but I’ve been reading for a long time and love your site.

    I was diagnosed with stage IV ewing’s sarcoma in january of this year and have been struggling every day. I am “managing” it, but no matter how hard I try things aren’t getting back to “normal”. as soon as I started feeling really great, new spots started growing in my lungs and I had to restart chemotherapy last week. ugh. I thought at 32 I was far too young for this kind of thing….

    thank you for posting this. I think it’s really important to keep the dialogue going about cancer. there is so much we don’t know until it invites itself in to our lives.

    and don’t feel bad. as much as you like hearing about it, I feel better when i’m talking about it. feel free to hit me up if you want to know all my gory details! LOL