Being introduced to someone because we both have cancer is something I’ve studiously avoided. I would prefer we be ‘friends’ via another connection, rather than both being skewered by the Sword of Damocles, partnered like kebabs awaiting the barbecue.
Some years ago my oncologist prescribed Eribulin chemotherapy which had just been approved for metastatic breast cancer treatment, and I joined an online peer-support group started by a woman who was on her second cycle and wanted buddies. Big mistake for me. I quickly discovered practical solutions are not the reply a comment is asking for, and I’m not suited to being sympathetic. But I persevered because I had easy anecdotal access to side-effect symptoms.
The group founder and I became friends, I think. She liked a good whinge and I don’t, but we stepped along together easily enough until her cancer spread to her brain, and my liver tumours cleared. I agreed with her that it was unjust, and her direct-message rants were understandable but it wasn’t actually my fault. I took a break from the group, and chemo, and she died. When I revisited the group a few years later I was the only original member still surviving.
We cancer people lug our medical history around with us. It’s the benchmark of our success to date, and the way we remember times dates and years. When we meet, we invariably dump the load on middle ground. We give ourselves respite in empathetic company, and display our longevity as other woman would flaunt a diamond bracelet. In our case, years are a girl’s best friend. I generally find other people’s medical history more fascinating than them, but sometimes conversation connects beyond pharmaceuticals, and a little flutter of recognition ignites, beginning a kinship not be defined by disease. You swipe right and see what happens.
Starting this blog was a leap into the unknown. Kimberly likened it to opening a flasher’s raincoat and exposing everything naked inside. That raincoat had successfully hidden my nakedness from people who thought they knew me, and now I was proclaiming I have incurable cancer and saying how I feel about it. The unexpected side effect of writing is that I’ve also told myself how I feel; for the first time, I’ve found my cancer (and myself) quite interesting. If I met me at a party I think we’d eat all the cheese straws, dispense with small talk and still be sitting on the sofa, chatting meaningfully at 3 a.m.
I love words, everything about words. I found once I applied a bit of discipline to writing I couldn’t stop. I don’t want to stop. My discipline is simply writing it down instead of talking about doing it. I love playing with words, savouring the way they sound and look on paper. I argue with the grammar checker over semi-colons, and concur that ‘concur’ might be a complex word, but I’m keeping it. I play comma hokey-cokey and always manage to end up with some, to, spare. Nutall’s Concise Synonym and Antonym Book is my bedtime reading just because I love the title. Through my writing I’m able to give something back when I have nothing to give but my experiences. There’s an age-old joke about the flasher who went out in midwinter but it was too cold to flash, so he just stood under the trees and described it to passers-by. Perhaps that’s what I’m doing.
The added bonus of writing the blog is the people who read it. The deep core friends, the ones I love, have smiled and said “you did it.” Acquaintances who I’ve kept at arm’s length have said “we never knew what you were going through,” and having aired my thoughts in a constructive way, I have no embarrassment knowing they’ve seen the wrinkled (and scarred) flesh. Special people have danced tentative intro steps with me, and applauded when we got through to the next round. These people have become very special. And new people are following all the time, people whom I don’t yet know but I might yet meet with an open heart and a more open mind. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the Mother Confessor, and my boundaries are quite clear on not being an Agony Aunt, but who knew blogging would be as much about the readers as the writing. Maybe I’ll write a book about it . . .