I’ve never been especially social, but I’ll admit my energy for socializing took a nosedive after I was diagnosed with leukemia. I find it especially draining to be with people I haven’t met before. I can’t blame cancer for my dismal capacity for small talk.
This brings us to last Monday, when I attended a lovely Seder with a mix of old friends and people I had not met before. J. and I enjoyed the company and a great meal, even though I couldn’t bring my fantastic challah, but I was knackered by 8:00, so off we toddled to bed.
When I meet new people, I struggle with whether or not to disclose that I’m sick. I especially dread the “What do you do?” question. Of course I could say I’m a psychologist and leave it at that, but this answer seems evasive since I’m not really working and my bigger job right now is staying well. On the other hand, I don’t just define myself by my illness(es), and I don’t want others to either. I worry if I tell people that I’m sick, especially when we first meet, that that’s all they’ll think about. I also hate seeing their faces drop, which happens without fail when I share the news. I hate that panic or pity or whatever gut reaction they unwittingly share.
Often I find I need to reassure the other person that I’m fine because really, on a day-to-day basis, I am. Sure, I’m not working, but I’m also not sitting at home moping, or at least less often than I used to. I run errands, I see friends, I go to yoga, I walk my dog, I cook and bake up a storm, I even empty the dishwasher or do a load of laundry every so often. If I’m not up to going out, I have the loyal companionship of my sweet pooch, who follows me adoringly around the house and nestles into me quite nicely when she’s allowed on the couch. And don’t forget hardworking J., who heads off to work as I’m just rolling out of bed. Really, in the scheme of things, I’m pretty lucky.
Last year, I spoke to a cancer survivor who mentioned that, many years following his diagnosis, he realized he didn’t feel the need to tell everyone he met that he had cancer. Sure, his cancer had been wiped out with a bone-marrow transplant, but still, he’d been through a lot. I’m not sure I’m ready to stop telling people altogether, although I hope I’ll get there. The truth is, whether I like it or not, leukemia is a big part of my daily life now and affects my functioning in so many ways.
Last Monday, it felt a bit weird to go through the evening without mentioning my illness. At the same time, it was kind of fun playing pretend. I might try the charade again sometime. Maybe I’ll just have to get out there and socialize a bit more so I can practice.