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Column: A Complicated Answer

And a further explanation and corollary to last week’s column: “A Simple Question,” which attempted to sort through my reactions to being asked an extremely innocent, appropriate, well-intended and always appreciated courtesy: “How are you?” and the problem that it sometimes causes me. That problem being: a question which had it not been asked would then not require an answer. An answer that I’ll always give, but not before I’ve given it some thought, which if I hadn’t thought about, wouldn’t have bothered me in the least. And in the most, it doesn’t really bother me, but after four years, a sort of cancer-fatigue has set in. I’m tired of talking about it. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”; being asked the obvious question. Still, if I’m going to keep pretending that my coast is semi-clear, I’d rather not be reminded that five hundred years ago, that coast/that horizon represented the end of the world.

This first paragraph was yet another attempt by yours truly to offer some insight into the thought process of a cancer survivor (OK, maybe just this cancer survivor; or a person with some issues, although I would deny that). The related point being that there are the obvious problems being a cancer patient (need I elaborate?) and then there are the less-than-obvious, almost subliminal-type problems which can just as easily ruin your day—a nd night, as much if not more than a chemo-cocktail infused straight into your body for six hours every three weeks can.

And just like the Philadelphia-born comedian, David Brenner, used to joke about mosquitoes: “It’s not the ones you hear you should worry about, it’s the ones you can’t hear.” So too with cancer. There’s plenty to worry about that you know—or think you know or have heard about, or maybe have even anticipated: lab work, diagnostic scans, biopsies, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, doctor’s appointments, etc. But it’s the down time, the private time alone and away from all the people, places and things with which you’ve grown familiar and dare I admit, accustomed, that becomes cherished. Then, when you least expect it, a courtesy question inquiring about your overall health, not even one particularly cancer-centric. Still, the question takes you (at least it does to me), right back to cancer central. The one place—I try to avoid. The one place I never imagined I’d be, and now that I’m there often, the one place where I’d rather not be reminded that I semi-reside.

Four years post diagnosis, I realize this jackpot I find myself in is hardly a winning hand, and it’s more than a bad dream. It’s a reality. Yet avoiding the nightmare directly—and indirectly, as often as possible, has been my M.O. I can’t say I’ve been particularly successful doing so, but I’ve had my moments and have made my peace. However, it’s the random nature of the spoken and written word that occasionally has undercut my emotional foundation. A foundation built on a lifetime living and learning, trying not to make a bad situation worse; and one striving to not be irrational, unreasonable, illogical and ill-prepared for all that life throws at you. I ceded control four years ago and now when I’m asked, ‘How I’m doing?’, I’m always reminded how fragile and unpredictable life can be; “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” as Cerphe used to say back in the day, on the original WHFS.

I know—and appreciate—that you have to ask. Please understand that sometimes, I might not feel like answering.