Sunday, December 13, 2009

Awkward moments with cancer

Yesterday I went to delightful Tessie’s birthday party – to refresh our collective memories, Tessie is my brilliant goddaughter, and despite her stubborn refusal to eat Yoplait yogurt “for the cure”, thus potentially saving her godmother’s life, she is an eternal delight.

In any case, all the usual suspects were there, including Motya’s brother Pavlo, who I haven’t seen since probably LAST year at Tessie’s b-day party. I would say I know Pavlo (and the whole family – Motya’s mom was my teacher in Ukie school way back when) pretty well, as we used to all hang out and he dated an erstwhile friend of mine, Kate, for a while. This would be Kate who I’ve known since high school, though we hadn’t talked in a while when she friended me on FB, after which I sent several notes to her via FB, and she never responded.

Okay, so are we completely bored yet with the whole social networking update? Yeah, me too. But the background is integral to the story, so bear with me.

So, I’m at Motya’s yesterday during the party and chatting with Pavlo in the kitchen, who mentioned that he heard from Kate via FB, and I made some sarcastic comment about “oh, isn’t that nice, she’s continuing to blaze her way slowly through FB, ignoring people as she goes along.” And he excused her by saying that she’s “not very good with the computer stuff” or some such crap, or not on there very much, to which I say – what, she hasn’t been on in the last year? And she knows about The Cancer too, because mutual friends who are total gossips know, so I’m sure she knows. Yet somehow she’s still living her high school Queen Bee persona and expects me to, what, show up on her doorstep with a strudel? Beats me.

Then Pavlo mentions that he spoke to her over Thanksgiving, and our conversation takes an odd turn.

Me: You actually talked to her? Well, next time you do, why don’t you work into the conversation something to the effect of “so Kate, how are your friends with cancer doing who you haven’t spoken to in 2 years?”
Pavlo, chuckling: Oh sure, yeah, right, huh?
Me: Come now, I’m sure you can work in the friends with cancer bit, right?
Pavlo, looking completely befuddled: Sure, I guess, huh, what?

Then it hits me. He has no freaking clue what I’m talking about.

Me: Oh. My. You don’t know about The Cancer, do you...
Pavlo: WHAT cancer??
Me: No one told you that I have The Cancer?
Pavlo: What??
Me, shaking my head sadly: That means you don’t read my blog – so you’ve been missing out on all that fun and hilarity all this time too – it’s a regular laugh riot over there!
Pavlo: Fun and wha...?
Me: Well, at some point you have to laugh about this stuff.
Chris, Motya’s husband: Laugh or cry....
Me: Exactly!
Motya: Hey, The Cancer is the best thing to ever happen to you! Otherwise you would have run out of things to write about by now.
Me: So true! Well, maybe not. I seem to find my material everywhere. But there’s no denying that The Cancer has proven to be a veritable goldmine of stuff to write about.

By now Pavlo clearly thinks we’ve all lost our minds. But so far this hasn’t even been the Awkward Part. Because then we chat a bit, he asks your basic questions (what kind of cancer, what treatment, etc.), then says something sympathetic, accompanied by a rub on the arm, like “I’m so sorry to hear it.” Then later as I’m leaving, we hug and he gives me a comforting “Hang in there...”

And quite frankly, that’s the awkward part, because really, the sympathy and condolences are sooo last year, whereas this year we’re all about the jocularity. Or trying to be. Maybe that’s the anti-depressants talking. But the sympathy stuff, at least in person, that seems to fit more when you’re newly diagnosed and dealing with the shitty bad news. Not that the average person could be expected to know this, not at all.

(As an aside, I don't think I'm so important that news of my having The Cancer would spread like wildfire instantaneously - I just figured that by now Pavlo would have heard something or other, via osmosis.)

So in keeping with my overtly helpful nature in all things cancer, and given the fact that the holiday season is upon us and festive gatherings are sure to ensue, I’ve put together a few Holiday-Appropriate Tips on Dealing with the Cancerous Person in Your Life. To wit:

1. While Pavlo was kind of a dork, the fact that he made an effort to say something was touching and sweet. So I don’t actually fault him for that – because what’s worse is saying nothing. Being like Kate, for example, and for whatever reason disappearing. That’s far far worse. Even if you worry you’ll sound like an ass, just speak up, for god’s sake! Express sympathy! Whatever! With a few exceptions, as in.....

2. Even if a person is carrying around an oxygen tank and has hospice on speed dial, never ask them “Are you terminal?” Yes, someone asked me that last year, and granted he was drunk, but still, that’s no excuse to ask something so completely asinine. If that’s what comes out of your mouth when you’re drunk, don’t drink.

3. Roll with it. If your Person With Cancer (PWC) is in a joking mood and makes a comment like “so do I get the last turkey leg? Because I have cancer, you know...” while making the Sad Cancer Face, don’t get all appalled and up in their kitchen about it. Just say the natural thing, which would be “No, of course not, everyone knows dark meat causes cancer. Oops, that train’s left the station, hasn’t it? Here you go!”

4. Speaking of the SCF, do NOT try to usurp the SCF for yourself. That is the sole proprietary right of the PWC, and that is non-negotiable. There’s nothing worse than sitting at a table full of people all making the Sad Cancer Face and the little thought bubble over their heads is clearly saying “Boy, I hope this isn’t her Very Last Christmas. How sad would that be?”

5. Don’t go yammering on about how tough your life is, what with having SO many parties to go to, and SO many gifts to buy, and gosh, when will there be time to polish the silver for your own party, and blah blah blah. Because then I’ll be forced to try to trump you and will bitch about my own life, about how I still need major surgery in January and gosh, when will my money tree start producing so that I can pay my thousands of dollars in medical bills, and gee, what the hell is this MBE thing already and I SO hope it’s not a fricking brain tumor, and I wonder how many more side effects of FatSurly I’ll discover, etc. Invariably, I win.

6. Do not tell your PWC what they should or shouldn’t be doing “for their health.” Yeah, it’s the holidays, it’s stressful enough as it is, and we’re dealing with our mortality here, okay? Just pass the booze and shut up about it.

7. Most importantly, make sure you load up the PWC with extravagant gifts. Because you never know what the future holds.........okay, not really. It was worth a shot though.

I will add to the list as needed, but in the meantime, it’s a pretty good place to start.

No comments: