Today I took Laura to a get-together with some of her swim friends at a trampoline park. I took Hank too, and I planted myself on a bench in a central location where he could buzz by every now and then and I could verify that he was still alive.
Another swim mom sat down next to me. I almost never see these women because we all just drop off at practice. There is really no standing around the side of the pool chatting. Too loud and too wet and the kids are too big for that now. We're practically strangers to each other. This lady was wearing a head scarf in a way that pretty clearly said, "I am having or have had chemotherapy."
I am long, long past the time when I needed to talk to everybody about my breast cancer. Not sure I ever really did, actually. But this lady and I chatted, first about swimming, then about child-activity juggling in general, then about tennis, which is always a topic of widespread interest around here. I said, "I had breast cancer three years ago, and I started playing tennis in earnest after I was finished with that."
That opened the door for her to talk about herself and her ongoing treatment and so on, and we talked through the rest of the hour of the kids' jumping time. Part of the time it was like we were two med students presenting a History & Physical to each other. I noticed that she was very, very conversant in cancer treatment--in oncotypes and histology and staging--whereas I was a bit rusty. I told her, "You know, it's hard to understand how, but I actually can't remember some of this." She said that was good to hear. I said, "Believe it or not, a lot of this treatment stuff will come to seem like just a really bad weekend."
I'm almost three years to the day from when I heard that diagnosis on the phone. I would love to think that the three years means I'm safer. Probably I am, a bit. We talked about the fear and dread, the cancer-worry that is now part of normal fabric of everyday life. It hums along at low volume most of the time, with occasional loud blasts of noise. I told her, "The good news is that you get it all back, all the stuff you're losing right now. It comes back." She complimented my long hair, and I said, "Yeah, I should really get it cut, I've made my point, I think."
The funny thing was, about forty-five minutes into this conversation, I'd had enough. There was pleasure in making a human connection and in listening to her share about herself, but then it was like I wanted to push back from the table. I am not at the point where I could, like, help with a support group or do some kind of work with people having cancer treatment. Maybe it's like what peace of mind I have is too lightly held, I don't know.
Normal Neighbor's colon cancer is back. Or it never went away? It has been two years since her diagnosis and treatment, and she has been very well during that time. But now it's back, and it's awful. She's having chemo right now, a more intense course. She is dog-sick. Her hair is thinning and I gave her my wig. Remember Codi? I don't know if she will need it, but she wanted to be ready. She came to my house to get it, and it's the only time in all this junk that I've ever seen her shaky and upset. I hugged her and told her that she would still look like herself, no matter what.
Living, man, it is not for the faint of heart. That's all I got.