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cancer stories

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Things you’ll never know until you get cancer, any cancer:


You’ll either be an object of sympathy, or an antenna of sympathy. Or both.


“Keep up the fight,” or, “You’re a fighter,” or “You look like you’ve got this thing whipped.”


That’s what I heard after running Hood To Coast at 49 and felt like I was dying, repeated when I got cancer at 62. Be ready to hear it all, but more important, be ready to lend a little sympathy.


Once you’re a cancer guy you’re going to hear some of the most god-awful cancer stories from people who decide they’ve found someone to tell things to, like they just can’t bear not to tell.


And you thought getting cancer was all about you?


If you get cancer, you are the perfect audience for horror stories from civilians not in the ‘I’ve Got Cancer’ army. They think you’ve heard much worse. Maybe you have, but like any sane person with cancer, you’ve ignored it.


They think you are one of the few who can listen, even if you’re scared shitless about your own condition. If you are frightened to death, put it aside for conversations about someone’s friend’s son in law’s uncle’s wife who had a cancer scare but it turned out to be something else. Like a rash that went away.


It’s not about you, it’s about lending an understanding ear, and contributing something like, “I’m glad it worked out.”


That’s enough. Once you’ve said that don’t try getting back to your cancer story. I’m doing a favor here telling this. Instead of going over everything from start to right now, move away from your current history. Reviewing it over and over and over isn’t good for anyone. Starting with you.


Cancer stories equal fear, and telling your story out loud, or to yourself, scares the hell out of anyone listening. Like radioactive glow. Anything they add, or you add, turns fear into terror, the boogieman in the dark, and the unseen specter of the unknown.


Its talk about death, if you didn’t guess. That unknown. I’m spooked out of my skin just writing that last sentence knowing I’m not dying. Not today.


Should I tell friends the truth? Family? The truth that I’m not dying? Why ruin the equilibrium? If people think you’re dying, telling them you’re not dying just proves you’re a liar too disconnected from reality to know that you’re dying. The look you’ll see says, “Snap out of it.”


That’s the bottom line, the cancer line, living or dying, or dying slow, slowly, at least slower than anyone else with the same cancery shit.


Call it a profoundly profane moment when you hear cancer stories more screwed up than yours told by someone perfectly healthy. They just want to relate, man. To you. Why? Because it’s not about you.


(Short aside: I was at a rooftop party, circulating, enjoying the hell out of my survivor self for just being there with my wife. I told my hpv neck cancer story to a woman. She said, “How do you feel about genital herpes?” What was that all about, confession?)

The good news is it’s not about them, or more important, me. And I like that. More of you, less of me. I’ll take up the slack in conversation if you can’t keep up. That’s what polite bloggers do. They also write a 100K word memoir. Not about me? Who else would Licking Cancer, A Memoir be about?
About David Gillaspie

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