Loose Lips Sink Ships, They Say
If you’ve followed along this far, you no doubt have come to the correct conclusion that I am an over-sharer. “Sharing is Caring” was one lesson never lost on this girl. It’s a good thing, too. For one thing, having a whole boat load of health issues means that you have to discuss, at length, the finer tunings of your body. And believe you me, I have. When I’m not talking about my own bodily functions, I’m often talking about a dog or cat’s. My preoccupation with poop can’t be helped- poop is a great indicator of health. Think I’m lying? Think again. Specifically, back to your last medical or veterinary appointment- I guarantee bowel movements (or lack thereof) were discussed in the first 5 minutes. If they weren’t- get yourself a new doctor.
While I can certainly discuss crap ad nauseum, that is not my intention today. (Though I would like to point out that I have said on more than one occasion “Poop is my life.”) I’d like to try to explain to you (and maybe to me) why I feel the need to tell it like it is, more so than anyone has asked or wants to know. My most basic and to-the-point theory on this is my Dad, his upbringing, and how it influenced mine. It’s entirely possible that my mother contributed to this as well, but I don’t remember it from her so much as my father. For him, I think the combination of being Irish-Catholic and from Boston meant that you kept things to yourself. If anyone in my immediate family was having an issue of any kind, you just didn’t talk about it to anyone else. Perhaps part of this is his generation, or maybe I’m explaining it in various ways when in fact it’s just part of his personality. Some people are very private, I am not. If I lived in the days of the Town Crier, I’d be it, except that instead of spreading news of the world, I’d just be talking about myself.
My father’s Irish-Catholic roots are the best explanation that I have. Maybe it’s just my own vision of what Irish-Catholic families are like- a certain stoicness no matter what personal turmoil you may be experiencing. In a way I do try to model this. I think there is much to be said for walking head first into adversity. What’s missing for me is the purpose of keeping it all so hush hush. Surely, this is a personal trait of my own. I don’t like holding things in- never have. The containment that plenty of folks find necessary and natural feels like slow torture to me. If I’m really happy about something, I want you to know. If my life couldn’t possibly be failing any harder, I want you to know that too. I need to get out the good as well as the bad.
A favorite example of mine: When I was a kid, maybe 5 or 6 years old, my parents brought my siblings and me into the den to announce that they were going to separate. I remember very clearly my father saying “This is not to leave this room.” Sure enough, the next day, at Show and Tell, when it came to be my turn to do the showing or telling, I did some serious telling. I think this was merely a mistake- that I had forgotten to bring in something to show, and I was just trying to keep the activity running smoothly by announcing “My parents are getting a divorce!” My poor teachers. I vaguely remember them quickly moving on to the next kid and whatever boring crap he had brought along that wasn’t nearly as interesting as my parents splitting up. But then, you can’t please everyone.
I think some people would hear that story and think it was sad, but I think it’s hysterical. That’s my sense of humor, but to me, it’s just one of those great defining moments. I feel like that little anecdote sort of sums it all up. “Oh wait, I’m NOT supposed to talk about that? Well, why not? It’s much more interesting than the weather.”
When I learned that I had cancer, I had to figure out who to tell, how to tell them, how much to tell them, and so on. You don’t really think about these things so much with most other personal problems. Before then, I never needed to tell anyone about any health problem of mine unless I absolutely wanted to. Most illnesses are pretty invisible to the people you see in your daily life. I was about to have chemotherapy- people were going to notice that I no longer had hair. For once, I wasn’t sure about who to tell this to. In many ways it felt like a very personal thing, but how personal could I keep it even if I wanted to?
That’s what it came down to- I didn’t really want to hide it. Some people don’t want any one knowing that they are ill, and I can understand that. Having had a host of problems, I knew that I didn’t particularly relish those sad looks people would give me over the issues that were, for me, just part of my life. But cancer? Damn. I felt like if I was going to have “the big C” then I was going to be damned sure that I reaped every possible benefit that I could get out of that bad boy. I was going to play the old Cancer Card for every last dime I could squeeze out of her. And once my hair fell out and I took to wearing scarves, I was more often than not pleasantly surprised by the kindness of strangers. People I didn’t know would approach me and wish me luck or tell me about their own fight. I had this warm fuzzy feeling that people actually cared.
And those were strangers- the support I got from the people I knew was overwhelming (except of course, from my husband- but I will say that the kindness bestowed upon me by everyone else made my husband’s neglect easier to handle.) The first couple of weeks after my diagnosis, I got cards and care packages from near and far on a daily basis. People brought meals, little gifts, and helped me with my pets. Sometimes, people just came and sat. There was one day, during my first batch of chemo, the really nasty stuff which the doctor described as the “worst possible chemo that you can have” when I was laying on the couch with my bald head, too sick to read or even watch anything. My friend who became my Roomie came in, looked at me and said “Aren’t you the picture of health? For a 90 year old man!” Ah, but I am nothing without the tough crowd I surround myself with.
But I digress. The first thing that happened in what was to be my physical transformation, was my “chemo cut.” I knew I would lose my hair (despite the fact that scores of people insisted on telling me that I might not because so and so didn’t and blah, blah, blah) and I figured that losing short hair would be easier than pulling out small ponytails of hair. I had had long hair all of my life. Before this point in time, “short hair” for me was a half inch above my shoulders. Who knew that I’d actually like my chemo cut and get boatloads of compliments about it. I have to admit, when this happened the first time I went into my local Starbucks, I was awfully amused. I think one of the girls even said something about the next time I got my hair cut and I laughed saying it might be awhile. I decided that I would tell the people at Starbucks. They saw me a few days a week, they knew my name, knew my husband, many of them had met my dogs. It was a bit awkward, but I felt like it would be even more awkward for me to show up with no hair and have everyone wonder. I was glad to get it out and one of the young guys who worked there thanked me for telling him, explaining that he would have wondered but would’ve never been able to ask.
Then there was the library. Again, a place I visited a couple of times a week. One of the women who worked there had been in the dance class that my husband and I had taken before our wedding. So, when I came in one day wearing a headscarf, checking out books about chemotherapy, she put her hand on mine, looked me in the eye and asked “Aimee, how are you?” The way she said it was so sincere and with such concern, it was all I could do not to well up. Maybe some people would’ve felt that their privacy had been invaded, but I didn’t feel that way for a minute. She was clearly worried, not just some nosy woman asking about my business.
Now, it isn’t so obvious. I don’t have to tell anyone about what I’ve been through these last couple of years. But, I don’t know. Keeping it all inside isn’t me. No, I’m not screaming it all from the rooftops, but it certainly isn’t a secret. I feel like all of this stuff, good and bad, makes me who I am. And I think I’m pretty damned awesome.