I OUT MYSELF AT A CHECKOUT LINE

I am standing in the checkout line at the Berkeley Bowl Grocery and a woman with a friendly smile in front of me notices my Mount Everest pile of vegetables. “Wow, you must be really healthy to eat all that.”
“Well, these are actually for juicing,” I reply. I give myself a beat because I never know how people will react to my next sentence. “I was diagnosed with breast cancer last fall.” Talking about my breast cancer has been like a coming out process with one difference.

Your DOCTOR  tells you that you have breast cancer and THEN you work on accepting that you have CANCER! Next you tell your close friends and family and so on and so forth. When I first found out, I was sooooooooo in the closet about it!


I think there are two camps when it comes to how we deal with being hurt: cats or dogs. I had a cat who tried to behave like everything was okay until she couldn’t anymore. By the time she started to show that she wasn’t fine, it was too late.  Yup, she died–and pretty quickly too after I took her to the vet. It’s a protective mechanism from an instinctive place against predators who go after the weak.

Dogs on the other hand let you know if they are happy or sad, they’re transparent. A classmate who had breast cancer a couple of years back put it on her FB. Everyone knew what was happening blow-by-blow. I knew I couldn’t do that. I’m too good at hiding my vulnerabilities from others, I’ve had years of practice of being in control.

JESS3_Mindjet_Dichotomy_CatDog-2I read a book recommending that you should tell others about your breast cancer in person or at least over the phone. I pretty much ignored that advice and used email exclusively because I certainly don’t want to start crying in person nor over the phone–more issues about my need to be in control. OK, you can say it–control freak much?

In a slightly dramatic email, I tell my sister that I have breast cancer and am scared out of my mind. When she calls me, I ask her to tell my other sister to break the news to the rest of my family. I just couldn’t bring myself to inflict that  kind of pain on my parents. They gave me birth: they don’t expect that their child might die before they do:( Communication in my family can be complicated. We come together in crisis but, feelings aren’t expressed as part of our normal conversation. Probably why I am more cat-like than dog.

So it’s a big deal that I am about to out myself to this woman as her groceries are being bagged.  She handles it well: she apologizes–her way of offering empathy. Her next question is no surprise as she asks if breast cancer ran in my family? No, I reply. I add that “80% of women who get breast cancer don’t have a history of it in their family.  I didn’t think I could get it for that reason.”

Her smile fades. She’s really paying attention now. In fact, this woman who has a 26-year-old daughter has the lost innocence of a girl who just found out Santa Claus isn’t real. I have dissolved her cocoon of safety. Turns out she doesn’t have a history of it in her family either. This nice teacher lady with a college degree reveals to me that she hasn’t actually had a mammogram for over two years. The woman finishes paying and thanks me graciously for our conversation: she’s going to schedule a mammogram ASAP because she finally understands that we are all at risk.

I’m working on being more dog-like these days–see how much I am revealing in my blogs? It’s hard for me but, I am trying to be more transparent. Recently a middle school friend messaged me letting me know she found a lump and was anxious about the upcoming mammogram her doctor ordered.  She had been reading about my breast cancer journey on my FB. It touched me that she hadn’t told anyone else besides her husband. I’m glad I can be a resource for her.

 

3 Comments Add yours

  1. SmiLee says:

    Great thoughts! I’m a dog and fall into that 20% range of breast cancer patients.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the compliment and glad it resonated with you!

      Liked by 1 person

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