It would make an interesting PhD dissertation for some social psychologist to analyze anecdotal survey data on what people of different gender, culture and age do when someone mentions casually that they are going through chemotherapy. As I meet fresh batches of friends who just think I've always been super skinny with short thin hair, I find myself unsure of how or if to convey to them that this new and related to a prominent aspect of my life: cancer. I mean, in describing my extracurricular activities, don't you think that spending hours at the hospital each week is at least as relevant to understanding me as the fact that I do yoga for two? And, don't you think that spending a year in bed retching and aching is at least as pertinent as the year I spent teaching kids in Japan in shaping who I am today? I am neither seeking sympathy nor would I dream of causing discomfort, but I am an open person who would like to just be who I am without freaking people out.
When I was bald and in a wheelchair, this was easier. The light bulb over people's heads would accompany a facial expression that said "aah, so that's what's wrong with her". Now, most people are just at an uneasy loss as to what to say if I accidentally/casually/purposely mention my treatment experience. Some patients seek to hide their illnesses; I, on the other hand, am so grateful when folks are brave enough to express their curiosity and mature enough to realize that people are not all that they appear to be.
I'm not sure if I'm making much sense in this blog post. I guess what I'm noticing at this stage of this experience is some difficulty in assessing when and how it is appropriate for me to mention my cancer/chemo. When we went around in a class last week each stating something unique and interesting about ourselves that one couldn't read on our resumes, I battled internally over why it seemed expressly taboo for me to joke that I haven't felt my toes since January 2006 (neuropathy). I find it pretty funny. A hunch told me my class wouldn't.
I recently consulted Fletcher's office of career services about when I'm queried in an interview about challenges I've overcome and whether it was appropriate for me to use the fact that I basically earned a master's degree while going through chemo. I'm pretty damn proud of that and think it demonstrates some relevant qualities about me. After giving it some thought, they said to avoid mentioning it. "I would just hate to see their prejudices or fears get in the way of you being hired", they said. And, they're right- if I didn't get the job, I'd never know if it was because they thought I'd be a sickly and therefore unreliable employee. [the only person worse than a recently married woman of child-bearing age to hire is probably a damn cancer patient. sigh.]
I know that one of the reasons why I find most of the cancer experience easy to discuss is that I have great hope for remaining in remission. So, really, all of this is not a complaint, but observation.
Still, how do I remain true to myself while still being conscientious of people's comfort zones?