[cancer] Being patient in public with the big, magic cancer hat

I went out in public today for the first time as a Cancer Patient. I had emailed ‘s class list about this, specifically so other parents would know why if they heard questions from their own kids, or from her. Today was Mayfaire at the Portland Waldorf School, and and I went to see in the Mayfaire parade. (She wore her red panda mask which she’d recently made, over a green dress she and her mother had made.)

Various parents approached me differently. D—.’s dad (the donor of the salmon head) shook my hand and asked how I was doing in a very genuine way. Another parent who is a naturopathic physician offered sympathies, and to discuss chemo with me. Another parent gave me a big hug and talked about organizing the class community if needed serious distracting.

But there were a few other folks who saw me and turned away. I don’t imagine cruelty, not for a moment, but a lack of knowing what to say or how to approach me. I am being open about this, more so than is normal for a lot of people, and I suppose it makes some uncomfortable. I didn’t say anything to at the time, but maybe I should have.

I’m torn between acting very casual and putting this out front. When I asked one parent how she was doing, she said, “That’s not the question, how are you doing?” Yet I’m still a polite human, and it’s a genuine question from me. Being a Cancer Patient doesn’t excuse me from interest in other people’s health and well being.

It was all vaguely weird. Like I was wearing a big, magic cancer hat. (I’ve thought about asking someone to knit me a tumor hat — more about that later.) Everyone around me seemed so normal. And I know that in a crowd of several hundred there must have been a number of diabetics, people with Crohn’s or cancers of their own. We were all just people watching kids dancing.

So I’m torn between being a patient, and being a person. The answer of course is that patients are people, always have been, always will be. I’m just usually on the outside of the big, magic hat.

Now that I’m inside the big, magic cancer hat, I’m making it mine.