I wonder what passersby think when they see me. The staff at Tim Hortons, vendors at work, mail couriers, delivery carriers, my Roswell cohort, billing representatives.
I wonder if I stand out in their memory. I wonder if they care. I wonder if people judge me harshly. I wonder if they think I’m pregnant and shaved my head in solidarity for a loved one. Or if I just picked this look. I wonder if I think about it too much.
I want to inform anyone who’s curious: “I’m pregnant with breast cancer!” Or, I wish I had a shirt that said, “Questions? Follow me at lumpnbump.com”
My experience hasn’t been very negative. Mostly people are polite and hide their double-takes from me. I’m also not watching to see people’s reactions. I’d rather go through my whole life assuming that no one cares. And that’s not a negative perspective for me. Its just that I presume that I’m not important enough in a stranger’s life for them to notice me.
My assumption that no one cares is related to the overwhelming realization that everyone driving on the thruway, everyone at the grocery store, everyone working 9-5 has their own complex life with sadness and joy, deadlines and celebrations, illness and health. Everyone is just too damn busy to notice me, and that’s not a bad thing. I’m not the center of the universe. I’m only important to my people, and not even all that important every moment of the day.
That being said, I still wonder what kind people think when they see me.
(Fuck people who think harshly. They’ve got some shit to sort through before I start worrying about what they’ve got to say about me.)
I want to share a related anecdote. I got big mad the other day at the billing department for my regular OB. In short, they called asking for more money on a payment plan. They caught me at a very low point when I needed to let off steam. I yelled, and I cursed, and I cried, and I got real dramatic. I said hyperbolic things about my health that are not likely to occur. But they don’t know me, the staff in the billing department for a regular doctor has no way of knowing that I’m sick and pregnant and can’t afford to pay more. I lashed out to scare them because I was scared.
Fortunately, I didn’t make personal attacks, I don’t think I called them names, the only response they gave me before I hung up was a very surprised and palliative “O-OK.”
I called back a few minutes later when I had stopped crying to apologize. I was relieved when the office answered my number. I started asking if this “was the person I was just speak– shouted at?” And I started crying again. I was not speaking with the same representative, but they were familiar with the
conversation event. “If the other rep doesn’t want to speak to me, that’s fine, I wouldn’t necessarily want to speak to me either.” I apologized, reassured them that they don’t deserve to be yelled at, their just doing their job, and they deserve respect, and I’m sorry for my behavior. I can’t afford more, so there’s nothing more to be done. And then I wished them a nice and relaxing long weekend and left it at that. My breath came in sobs between thoughts. I imagined that this rep motioned the first rep to come close and overhear my frenzied apology. I hope they felt my sincerity. But this relates to my original thought here.
What must passersby think of me?
Also, there are acquaintances that I feel the need to brief on my circumstances so that we can work together. Most recently, that was my aesthetician. I got a facial for my birthday (Roswell authorized it), I booked it months ago, before I was pregnant, before I felt the lump. I needed to ask that we not use retinols, or dermaplane, or use chemical peels. Plus I wanted to give Jessica a heads up that I was bald from chemo, which can be triggering for some people who have experienced this in some way. In future, if I were Jessica, I would like a heads up just so I can prepare my emotions if I had to massage the head of someone going through what I am going through. So I did.
The thing is, there’s no model for how that conversation might go smoothly. I had Jessica on the phone and I eased into it by saying that I’m pregnant (yay!) so no retinols. Then I blurted out: “and I have cancer” while she was still congratulating me. I was abrupt and a tad awkward because now I’m choked up and it was almost 5 PM, and she’s just trying to wrap up her day, and here I am trauma dumping on her.
I hate not having a graceful way to reveal my condition. I think a lot of chemo patients feel that way.
Our culture has trained us to not ask questions, don’t pry, don’t acknowledge the person who looks strange or different. It can be useful and tactful to not pry- especially with sensitive topics such as health, or fertility, or finances. But sometimes honest curiosity might be healing and supportive to a stranger. At least I feel that way.
All in all, I wonder what fleeting impression I have on people.
I strive to be polite, kind, grateful, positive and confident. That way I have some illusion of control over impressions of me. (Don’t tell me otherwise, it’ll shatter my worldview, and I’m not ready for another existential crisis.)
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