So, how's that working out for you?

On November 1st, in the year of our Lord 2008, I followed my normal daily procedure and went to a small nearby restaurant for breakfast. Breakfast is a big deal for me these days. In the Pre-Cancerous Era, work began at 6 o'clock in the morning and breakfast generally consisted of coffee and more coffee. Honestly, I'm seldom hungry in the morning. It's just one of those things.

After the diagnosis, work was a non-starter and breakfast became mandatory. The number of medications I'm required to take varies a bit, but the minimum amount of morning pills is four. On a bad day, post-chemo, I might take up to nine at a time. (I also have meds to take in the afternoon, at bedtime and there are a few more in the 'as needed' arsenal.) Taking them on an empty stomach is not optimal.

So, that brings us back to the restaurant. I like the place. It's an easy door-to-door shamble on a sunny, warm day. The waitresses and regulars know me by name. It's seldom very busy when I go in, so I worry less about catching some bug while my immune system is out of whack. (Technically, I'm supposed to wear surgical masks out in public, but how could I eat?) It's extremely affordable, the food is quite good and it gives me a chance to get the heck out of the house. It's my little slice of daily sanity.

Anyway, on the 1st, I was sitting there eating eggs, (scrambled,) toast, (white,) and bacon, (just-right-crispy-good,) when the door opened and a man walked in. At first, I was too busy writing my first dose of literary schlock for National Novel Writing Month to take much notice of him, but eventually it occurred to me that he was going booth to booth doing the handshake schmoozy thing. Ah. A candidate making the pre-election day rounds. Things like this happen in small towns. Seriously, the last time we elected a mayor, the only candidate who didn't bother to attend a Q&A session hosted by the local charter school kids got eight votes. Eight. You schmooze or you lose.

Anyway, inevitably, the guy entered my peripheral vision and I looked up benignly.

"Hi!" he said with the kind of smile that suggests that the bearer has to apply ice-packs to his strained facial muscles every night before bed.

"Good morning," I replied and accepted his proffered hand in a brief, but warm shake. I think he'd been practicing. It was a good handshake. (I didn't spoil it by hauling out my mini-bottle of antibacterial hand sanitizer until after he left.)

He sized me up, clearly trying to fit me into some sort of niche so that he could, you know, relate to me. I have to admit that a bald chick wearing a "Cancer Sucks" baseball cap does not blend well into the normal constituency demographic. For all I know, he was trying to figure out whether I was going to live until election day. Cause, you know, otherwise, why bother?

"How are you?" he asked, buying time and focusing mostly on my hat.

I know my right eyebrow twitched, but I answered obediently, "Fine, thank you. How are you?"

"Great, thanks," he said, and went on manfully, "I just wanted to stop a moment and introduce myself. I'm [Insert Name Here]. I'm running for [Insert Office Here].

I nodded encouragingly. I'd seen that name on a million yard signs, and brochures featuring his face had been shoved into my storm door at least ten times. For a candidate whose platform seemed based on saving the planet and ecological responsibility, I'd always wondered if the ghosts of all those trees sacrificed on the alter of his saturation bombing style of publicity haunted his dreams at night. I should have asked him.

He paused a beat, then asked offhandedly, "Uhm, do you have cancer?"

"Why yes, Mr. [Insert Name Here]," I said without audible sarcasm. "I do."


"Non-hodgkins lymphoma," I added helpfully.

I really expected him to trot out some homily regarding health care or insurance. I mean, those are things candidates presumably have some sort of position about, right? At the very least, I thought he might do a little *tsk* of sympathy at life's unfairness.

What he said was, "So, how's that working out for you?"

How's that working out for me?

I think he was tasting his bunions before it was entirely out of his mouth, but sometimes you just can't stop that runaway freight train. I can relate. I've said a few astoundingly inane things in my time. We all have. It was just his bad luck that it happened on the campaign trail while dealing with a cancer patient of all things. At least there weren't any reporters around.

Hey, I was nice! I smiled. I told him, briefly, that I was undergoing treatment and that the treatment was going well. I don't know if he ever heard me, because I think his internal replay was absolutely writhing at the stupidity of his question. He wasted no time in extricating himself from the situation by wandering off to introduce himself to a couple he'd already introduced himself to. It was sort of cute.

But it does bring up the question: is cancer a subject you really want to broach with a cancer patient? Or should it be considered a conversational 300lb. gorilla to be avoided at all costs?

For this cancer patient, it's not an off-limits subject. Not at all. I don't mind people asking what I have. (Keeps them from staring at my chest and speculating whether I lost one or both.) I don't mind questions. I do try for the most part to keep my answers informative but reasonably short. Unless you really want to hear phrases like 'anterior mediastinal mass' or get a play-by-play recitation of my latest CAT scan adventure or a monologue about nausea, brevity is best. Well, if you're reading my blog, maybe you do want to hear about all that stuff, but its probably not appropriate for the man-on-the-street. I am cognizant that there is such a thing as "too much information." I'm okay with that.

Really asking is better than speculating. After all, it's my 300lb. gorilla. I'm not going to let it throw bananas at you or anything. (Although it's not my fault if you feel like you've tripped on a peel.)

Oh, but if you're wondering if I voted for Mr [Insert Name Here], I'm afraid you're going to have to keep wondering. I don't talk about things like that.

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