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.
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.”