When you catch cancer, suddenly you become something apart from the rest of the citizenry. First off, everybody showers you with love and affection. That’s cool. Really, really cool.
Most people don’t shovel hugs and kisses on you throughout the day unless you come down with something scary. Cancer, natch, is scary.
Which brings me to the second way you get separated from the populace. Right now I’ll bet everybody who knows me is thinking, “Thank holy Zeus (or Aten Ra or Ahura Mazda or even Jesus of Nazareth) I don’t have cancer.”
I know I would were I they. I know I have thought that when I learned a friend or acquaintance had cancer. I know I thought that when I learned my sister Fran had cancer. (Frances Ann Glab died in February, 2008. She was a tough bird.)
It’s not that I was glad they had cancer and I didn’t. I’m not a beast, for pity’s sake. But I recall stepping just a tad livelier after getting cancer news about someone else. Lucky me, I’d think, I’m free.
I’d mourn for the other person but I felt justified in celebrating my own dumb good luck.
I hope everyone out there who knows about my out-of-control squamous cells takes the time to celebrate their own dumb good luck. I’m happy to be of service. In this crazy, mixed-up world, you grab happiness wherever it pops up.
The vast majority of people who’ve commiserated with me about this thing have been caring and kind. No, wait — let me amend that: Everybody has been caring and kind.
There are those, though, whose advice or attempts to console me miss the mark. They mean well but I’m tempted to say, Thanks anyway, but, y’know, really, you don’t have to say anything more, okay?
Let’s call them the Clumsy Consolers.
● Clumsy Consoler #1: “Oh, my god, my brother-in-law had just what you had. Did he suffer! I have no idea how he did it. He said he would have gladly taken a drug that could have killed him if it would have just taken away the pain. He lost 92 percent of his body weight and he’ll never eat again except though a tube in his nose and….” Through all this, I’m listening and my anal sphincter is loosening from the terror and I have an urge to shriek like a schoolgirl and run off.
● Clumsy Consoler #2: “My sister’s ex-husband had just what you had. The doctors told him he’d have to go through all this torture but instead he read up on it and decided to just treat it himself. He eliminated all processed foods, white flours, and refined sugar from his diet. That was two years ago and he says he’s never felt better in his life.” At which point I’m tempted to say, Gee, thanks for the info. I’m gonna go right now to my oncologist’s office and tell him to take his MD and PhD and years and years of studying advanced intelligence about the most baffling disease to strike humans and shove it all. I’m gonna take the advice of some half-stranger I just met in a checkout line!
Only once thus far have I heard the line, “These doctors, they don’t know anything anyhow.” That’s once too many.
That line is pretty much the ultimate in anti-authoritarianism. That’s the weird thing about how the general public looks upon science these days. The greatest experts in whatever field you may choose — evolutionary biology, cosmology, oncology, you name it — all acknowledge there’s tons more for them to learn. They readily admit the sum total of all they know doesn’t come near to explaining everything there is to know.
But people want scientists to be priests — all-knowing, never baffled. When science is demonstrated not to have every answer, far too many people say Aha! See? They don’t know anything.
We’re an odd species.