Saturday, November 3, 2007

Welcome to the Cancer Life (Part II of III)

Read this first: Welcome to the Cancer Life (Part I of III)

I despised how people always asked, “How are you?” because I knew they were really asking about the cancer. Some people asked in a manner that suggested, “I’m glad you’re not dead, but I won’t be surprised when you are.” This often happened at Temple, where people knew me as the guy with cancer whose name was on “The List”—the names of ill people the congregation prayed for.

“No, I’m great,” I would respond.

“I’m so glad to hear that. Keep it up.”

Someone questioned me that same way just this past summer. I’d been cancer-free for over four years. I politely responded that I was doing fantastic, about to graduate, healthy as an ox and strong as a bull. But really, I wanted to break her fucking neck.

Since the age of eight I’ve saved every card people have given me and stuck them in my desk drawer. A couple weeks ago I read through and organized them. I noticed a few trends. Aunt Flojo always apologized for sending late birthday cards. My parents always wrote, “You are a great son and we love you very much.” My brother always finished with his signature logo, “JD Products” written inside a baseball diamond. And Zeke’s handwriting was always terrible.

I stacked them in two piles: cancer cards and everything else. My cancer stack was almost as high as the one for everything else, which included 15 years worth of cards for graduations, birthdays, Hanukahs, my bar mitzvah and more.

At the time I hated receiving the get well cards. I didn’t need or want the pity, support, or whatever it is that compels people to send those kinds of cards. I usually stuck them in my desk drawer without reading them. I appreciated that people cared, but I didn’t want them to think about me. Why aren’t they thinking about JD? What’s the difference between us? Nobody meant to upset me—they just didn’t know what else to do. I guess if they knew I was Superman then they wouldn’t have thought the cards were necessary.

Bill Clinton signature cardMaybe I’m getting soft in my old age, but when I looked through the cards two weeks ago, they meant something to me. All those people cared enough to send their thoughts and wishes, and in the case of some people like Zeke’s parents or my math teacher, a dozen or so times. My mom’s friend, who volunteered at the White House, sent a card signed by the president. It was automated, of course, and President Clinton probably wasn’t even aware of it, but still pretty cool. Zeke had my friends sign a card when I was first diagnosed. My older relatives sent what few thoughts they could muster. My young cousins even sent me some of their artwork.

Many of the cards were either words of encouragement before my surgery, a show of admiration afterward, or praying and pleading that I successfully make it through. Those were the most personal and touching. Although I didn’t entirely know or act like it, my surgery was a big deal. When I finally was sent home after two weeks, some friends came over to see me. One told me years later that after she left my house she began shaking and crying. I’m glad nobody photographed me directly after the surgery. I have an idea of what I looked like, but it’s nice not to have that visual image. Too bad some people still have it.

Keep reading: Welcome to the Cancer Life (Part III of III)


Anonymous said...

you scared me:(

but also inspire me