My latest coming-out shirt

White t-shirt with dog prints in a rainbow colour.

My first coming-out-as-a-dog-lover shirt.

Don’t tell me you think I’m going to talk about that again. Haven’t you heard enough about that side of me? It’s no secret. You’ve seen my very comfortable dog-walking shoes, my plaid park shirts, my fall vests. So no, I’m not talking about that kind of shirt. I had one of those once, when I was just coming out, if you know what I mean. The shirt shouted out to the world how much I liked girls dogs. I donated that once-beloved shirt to charity many years ago.

No, I’m talking about another shirt altogether. Remember that Light the Night Walk to raise funds for blood cancers? With this walk came a snazzy blue shirt specifically for those of us who are either patients or survivors. I consider myself both, since, although I still have the disease, leukemia hasn’t killed me yet, and I don’t expect it to for a while. Although many people checked one off, I left the boxes by “patient” and “survivor” blank. (We’ll just skip my ruminative struggle over this decision.) The women pictured below, who are sporting said shirt, were more confident in their status, as you can see:

Two leukemia survivors with dog sporting light the night t-shirts.

Two happy survivors with shirt.

Let me remind you that leukemia is a fairly invisible disease. There are many people in my daily travels I know by face if not by name, but I don’t know them well. Most of these people don’t know I have leukemia because I haven’t told them. Were I to wear this shirt in public, I would be telling them, wouldn’t I? Do I even want them to know? Will their knowing foster questions or pitying looks? If I wear the shirt, I can’t walk around with my precious little secret, and sometimes I like having a secret. I think my secret makes me mysterious.

As we often do, J. and I have very different views of this whole shirt-wearing thing. (If all our views were the same, we’d get kind of bored of each other, don’t you think?) I view the shirt as a call for pity, which I really don’t want, not at all. Why else tell the world I have leukemia except to evoke pity? Would it not just be attention seeking to wear the shirt proudly, just like I came out all over as a (gay) dog-lover when I wore my rainbow paws shirt many years ago?

J.’s outlook is much more positive, as always. She believes that by wearing this shirt, I’d be showing that there are people around who are living–and living well–with leukemia. I  know I’m not the only one; I’m just not astute enough to spot the others without their blue shirts on.

Maybe we leukemia survivors need to develop some way of recognizing each other. There’s gaydar, which I was definitely born with, by the way; could there be something equivalent for leukemia? A spontaneous offering of blush to mask the anemia? A fatigue-revealing irrepressible repetitive yawn-fest? A secret handshake–fist bump?–followed immediately by compulsive hand sanitizing? There must be something, just like there were vests and comfortable shoes in the day, to help us recognize each other without the help of a t-shirt. Let me know if you have any ideas.



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