‘How Are You?’ Isn’t the Same After My Cancer Diagnosis


“How are you?” you ask as we meet in the hallway.

“Pretty good.”

“OK.”

“Hanging in.”

I see the questions and surprise in your eyes.

“Wait, I thought you had cancer and were on chemo?” they might be thinking.

I could tell you how I’m tired, or how my fingers tingle from the cold, especially if it’s cold and rainy, how my hands are cracked, peeling, flaking, burning — tight and shiny.

Or how I have to catch my breath after getting up to cross the room.

I could tell you that sometimes I’m foggy or distracted.

Do you want to know about the occasional constipation? Or hurry calls? Probably not!

Or the weird, bland, sandpapery feel in my mouth — not a bad taste, per se, just kind of blah. Food just isn’t as fun.

How about the way my port sometimes gets tender, or irritated when my bra strap rubs against it the wrong way.

Or how when I’m wearing my pump how I have to deal with the intermittent buzz and the annoying pressure of the thick band of elastic around my waist, like I’m wearing Spanx, or a really snug corset.

And if it’s Tuesday, the day after my chemo session, how my cheeks will turn bring red and I’ll feel flushed for the rest of the day — maybe Wednesday, too.

And then there are the visits to the lab, where I get to be a pincushion for a zealous phlebotomist. Some of the bruises are legendary.

And don’t even get me started on the inability to shower for those days. Yeah, I do get to bathe, but it’s just not the same as the feel of nice, hot water running over my head, across my shoulders and down my back.

I’d like to swim, but the water at the pool is probably too cold — even in the so-called “warm pool.”

And I really miss drinks filled with ice, but don’t want to risk the same pins and needles in my throat that I get in my fingers when I pick up a soda can or grab something from the freezer case in the supermarket. Yep! I’m the one wearing gloves to grab frozen french fries out of the case.

You may have questions you aren’t asking.

No, I don’t have nausea and I still have my hair, but it’s drier now — and thinning, probably getting grayer, too, but that may not be the cancer.

I could tell you all of those things, but you may have already walked on.

I’m sure you care, but you may not want me to give you the “real” answers.

So I respond:

“Pretty good.”

“OK.”

“Hanging in.”

And you know what?

I am!

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Thinkstock image by Jason Reed/Ryan McVay

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