Dropping The Cancer Bomb

During the month I stayed in the hospital, I changed rooms and beds at least half a dozen times. Patients were constantly being admitted and discharged, and other patients would play musical beds as a result.

When I woke up from my lymph node surgery during that time, I heard the nurses talking about bringing me to room 5614. I didn’t think much of it, even though in my doped-up mind, I knew my room was actually 6614.

I went in and out of sleep listening to the beeps of whirrs of the monitors around me. People puttered around my bed checking my oxygen, dressings, and blood pressure. Then I heard it again, “She’s going up to 5614.”

And that’s when I snapped to. “Don’t you mean 6614??”

“No,” the nurse said, “you had a room change while you were out.”

This information sent me spinning into a panic. They were taking me to the fifth floor, the general surgery floor. Not the cancer ward on the sixth floor that had become my second home.

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This was more than just a room change. I was being removed from my safe cancer bubble where everyone already knew my diagnosis. Where I was a cancer patient just by being there. On the fifth floor, no one knew. And I would have to tell them.

The first time I ever told a stranger I had cancer was to a nurse on that floor. She was making small talk while checking my IV. She asked me about my surgery, which led to an explanation about getting my lymph node removed. I remember searching for the right words. My voice dropped a few notes and my mouth went dry. Saying “a large mass in my chest” didn’t sound right. “Lymphoma” was so foreign my lips.

The worst thing about telling people I have cancer is watching their reactions. Everyone is horrified. I think it’s because I am so young and still look healthy. Maybe they think “If it can happen to her, it can happen to anyone!” Or maybe they think “Such a sweet girl to die so young.” (by the way, I want to get a shirt that says “I have cancer, I’m not dying”).

I’m equally horrified watching as their eyes widen, faces twitch, and you can see they’re about to launch into a story about their coworker’s daughter or cousin’s husband who has or had cancer. I actually don’t mind it when people bring this up, because it brings the focus off of me and my diagnosis.

It’s hard when I bump into people I haven’t seen in a while and they want to know what I’ve been up to. How do I drop the Cancer Bomb? Should I even drop it at all? Because shit gets serious once the C-Word comes out.

As much as I complain about my immune system keeping me from crowded areas, it’s also a slight blessing. Most days, I am perfectly content to hide out at home, in my cancer bubble. Because as easy as it is for me to yammer on about cancer on a blog, Facebook, Twitter, or in the newspaper, looking someone in the eye and vocalizing the words is one of the hardest things to do. I can’t wait until the day when I can say “Cancer? Oh yeah, I had that once.”

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Posted on September 10, 2011, in Cancer and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. And you WILL SAY THIS!!!
    ““Cancer? Oh yeah, I had that once.”

    Rock on sister. You are fighting this thing and you are and will continue to beat it, fully!!!

  2. You need to do what you’re comfortable with in the moment.

    If you feel like sharing it then do so but there’s nothing wrong with keeping it to yourself if you feel the need to.

    • And I think that’s the catch – whether I do or don’t share, I am never ever comfortable with it. It’s sort of like the elephant in the room.

      • I think you hit the nail on the head here, but you maybe don’t realize it!

        If you don’t instinctively want to share the news with a person then you’ve made the decision so to speak. Mulling it over and figuring out if your comfortable with it is a sure sign that your not ;)

        I had a similar experience when my dad was sick. I avoided certain social situations because I didn’t want to have to explain, elaborate, inform and keep people up to speed. I wanted to do it on my own terms. I came to realize that the debate going on in my head as to whether I should drop the news or not was a sign that I just didn’t want to.

        When faced with people I wanted to share it with – it came out naturally.

  3. I know telling people would be the worst for me, too. I would probably avoid it, if at all possible. I can deal with my major stuff, but I don’t like dealing with other people’s sometimes dramatic reactions to my major stuff.
    7 years ago, I managed to cut my leg on a set piece, on stage, during a show, severing an artery. After extricating myself from the scene, I got down to the green room, someone called 911, and I was whisked off to the hospital (in full costume) without my purse and cell phone.
    A cast member’s partner was sent to be with me, and bring me home after I was stabilized and stitched up. It was too late to call my parents, I felt, and I didn’t want to worry them. The next day, Sunday, I was so weak from blood loss, I slept the entire day away. On Monday, I finally called my parents to tell them what happened (before they read it in the paper; a reviewer was in the audience that night) carefully couched with, “I’m fine.” In my head, I added the word “now.”
    My Mom wasn’t happy that I didn’t call her from the hospital, but she would have freaked out at the severity of my wound and the blood loss. I was so grateful not to have my cell phone on me. But we won’t tell her that. ;-)

  4. Thank you for sharing that perspective. I am sure I had a horrified look on my face when someone I knew told me they had cancer – wanting to be empathetic and also being shocked because of the “bomb” aspect of “C-Bomb”. I never considered my reaction as a part of the equation but after reading this I certainly will.

  5. As someone receiving that information it is hard to hear… what do I say, will I say the wrong thing? I personally am one to think about my facial expressions as I am one of those people who are always looking at other’s for their facial cues. It’s awkward as an onlooker as you want to do so much to help someone, but really are humbled by our inability to fix the situation. That goes for someone who is grieving, facing the c-bomb, divorce, separation, abuse, ect… it is so hard when you can’t do anything to make it go away… :(

    It is great hearing your perspective, it will help all of us that have friend’s and family members fighting something in their lives whether it is cancer or another struggle a new outlook on how to react and support.

  6. I’ve actually been lucky enough to only have to say this once to someone I know and love – our community is very small and because of my blog/church/family, everyone has known. But that once was awful. I’ve had to do it over the phone to random people, but not people who mean anything to me. I’ve recently met a new friend (?) who is a mom to another child on my daughter’s soccer team. And in the 1 soccer game and 2 practices that we’ve sat next to each other and talked, I’ve yet to explain my bald head and missing eyebrows and eyelashes. I can’t decide if I should assume she knows I have cancer because of the obvious or if I should get rid of the elephant in the room and just say it. It’s a very strange feeling.

    • I’ve had to tell insurance people over the phone (obviously) and even that is super weird. I had a few friends and extended family members who were a little hurt that they found out through Facebook or my blog and not directly from me or my family. But honestly, that period of time when I was first admitted to hospital was so awful, none of us wanted to spend our time calling up everyone we knew and telling them about it. I know it could be viewed as insensitive, but I think looking after ourselves first was more important in that situation.

  7. I think you should tell people you are fighting cancer and cancer is losing! enough said! You freakin amaze me!

  8. When I had what turned out to be a small scare with Lymphoma (it was a localized skin lymphoma and hadn’t spread at all), telling people about it BEFORE I knew whether it was serious or not sucked. It was literally the day before Christmas Eve and all I knew at the time was they did a biopsy on my arm and I had cancer, no idea the extent. The worst part of it was that even though I didn’t cry often or even feel that sad, every time I had to vocalize it, my voice cracked and I teared up. Of course when that happens the person you’re telling has no idea what to say or do and your reassurance that you’re okay or fine are not convincing.

    That was my long-winded way of saying that I sort-of (in a much more limited way) understand your point in this post =)

    Nicole G

  9. I’m buying you a shirt…send me your address!

  10. I love that shirt idea. My uncle has Ewing’s Sarcoma and has said that sometimes when he’s out taking his daughters to school he gets the “cancer” look from other people and just wishes he had a shirt he could point to.

    I avoid bringing up heavy subjects face to face too. It’s just so uncomfortable.

  11. There’s another T-shirt you might like – it says “Cancer, you picked the wrong bitch to mess with!”

  12. Its so weird to drop the C bomb. I just bumped ino an old high school friend and he’s like “Whats up with you lately?” and I’m like, “Ugh, helping my dad out, hes been sick. He has cancer”. Its tough for people to respond to that! Any disease is hard to utter. I can’t imagine telling someone I have aids or tuberculosis.
    However, you’ll soon drop the “R” bomb (remission),

  13. You will say that! And if it feels better, just keep it to yourself.

  14. I love the shirt saying. You also need one that says, “I kicked cancers ass”.

  15. I completely understand not knowing who to tell and trying to change the focus. When my brother died (by suicide), I had to make a decision whether or not to talk about it when people asked how I was doing or how he was doing (there were people we grew up with who didn’t know). For the people who did know and asked me how I was doing, I quickly changed the focus. For the people who didn’t know…. I tried as hard as I could to maintain my composure and normally would just whisper the truth.

    I know now not to whisper. Not everyone can be an advocate (I am now), and it may be too soon for you to have that responsibility, but maybe some day you’ll learn that it’s okay to talk about it without whispering.

    And if not, I hope that people learn when to change the subject!! :) OR to accept it when you do!!

  16. Another thing I love about blog is learning from your perspective so that I can be a better friend to those I know that are sick. Its good stuff so thanks for posting!

  17. positive outlook in life brings good result :)

  18. You know it’s interesting how easy it is to write the words, but so hard to say them. I write a lot about chronic pain and you write a lot about lymphoma, but talking about out loud – uh, scary!

    Have you checked out the t-shirts for cancer patients on cafepress.com? They have a few cheesy ones, but some really great ones as well! My uncle has a few.

  19. Maybe you could get a business card to hand out… “Susan’s Anti C” and on the back it could say, “Cancer stopped by for a visit, But I opened the door and said take a long walk off a short pier”. :D

  20. I can’t imagine how hard it is for you to tell people of your diagnoses! I tend to avoid telling people things in person if I feel it will incite pity in them. I know it’s lame but I will usually send a text or an email and end it by saying something silly. It’s just too awkward otherwise.

    Sadly I have almost no control over my facial expressions. I’m sure when people tell me bad news I make the worst faces.

    • I’m a really awkward person too, so telling someone I have cancer comes out sounding really bad, and not telling them makes me really nervous and feel like I’m hiding something. Overall, just awkward ALL the time. And yup, always try to smooth things over with a joke at the end!

  21. Hey lovely:)
    You know I’ve never thought about this viewpoint. Even with my cousin, I tried to put myself in her shoes so many times, but I never thought about this part.

    And I can’t wait until you can say “I had that once” either :D

  22. I can now see how it would be awkward. And painful for you. I Would think that nurses would read the patient histories though!

    Hugs xoxo

    • That’s what I thought too! But not all of them have the time to read ALL of it. And some obviously look into their patients more than others. I can’t remember if the nurse in question was even my nurw23q1 ` (<– that's my cat saying hi) Anyways, I can't remember if she was my nurse at the time or just coming in to check my beeping IV :)

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