Last Friday, my family went out to eat, to a place we go to frequently. Our waitress was a woman I’ve mentioned here before, a woman whose mother underwent chemotherapy for esophageal cancer at the same time I was being treated. The woman who defined sex for her 80-year-old mother as “doing the horizontal mambo.” The one who had decorated the radiation mask and hung it over her mother’s bed.
I asked how her mother was doing. When I’d done so back in the spring, she replied sprightly, “She’s doing well.” This night, though, she hesitated ever so slightly before answering, “Thank you for asking. She’s taken a turn for the worse.”
It seems her mother developed an infection at the site of radiation and no treatment has been able to clear it up. The doctors have also diagnosed lung cancer, but can’t do surgery or prescribe chemotherapy because of the infection. The woman’s mother has been in a nursing home, but she will be bringing her home soon for her final days.
The new woman in the yoga class talks of her recently diagnosed carcinoid cancer. She’s a friend of the woman who had the double mastectomy and is fighting lymphedema in both arms. There’s also the friend who tells me of her friend who’s been diagnosed with breast cancer at age 26, and a woman at a workshop I attended who has both breast and ovarian cancer. She refers to herself as “the weepy one.”
People seem to need to tell me about other people they know who have been diagnosed with cancer.
And I don’t mind.
I really don’t.
It reminds me that I am not alone.
Many of these stories confirm what I believe to be true. Cancer is not a disease of old age. The more I read, the more I believe it arises in many of us because of environmental influences.
Each time I hear of another, though, the fear rises and I have to choke it back.
After the wave of panic passes, I tell myself: Her story is not my story.
Her fate is not mine.
I am too young to have this illness. But the 26-year-old is REALLY too young.
That woman may have lymphedema, but I don’t (fingers crossed).
I am sorry for them. No one deserves this diagnosis.
But her story is not my story.