Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On Topic: I Don't Want to Be a Cancer Survivor Any More

Originally posted to The Huffington Post.

Nobody at the party I went to last weekend knew I had cancer. Not the deceptively attractive host, who's equally attractive girlfriend was out for the night with her, I'm assuming, equally attractive girlfriends. Not his friend, who was in town visiting from down under. Whose hip tattoos dripped from beneath the sleeves of his perfectly taut t-shirt. And not their friend, who asked me ever so cautiously whether I had a boyfriend. Yes. I smiled, flattered. I did.

But it's not surprising that nobody knew. What's surprising is that I didn't have the urge to tell them. That night, for the first time in a long time, I was just a girl, out with her girlfriends, hoping she looked good enough to get hit on.

That wasn't always the case. A few years ago, when the physical symptoms of cancer treatment consumed my body (less hair, more fat), I'd go to parties angry. Angry that these people carried on with their cheerful, carefree lives while other people waited patiently in hospital recliners for just the right amount of poison to fill their veins and save them from a disease they were once sure they'd be safe from.

I remember one party in particular. A make-up party. You know the kind. Where some well-manicured, blonde woman who drives a Mercedes tries to get you to join some mastermind's pyramid scheme, in the hopes of making money of you herself? She wanted me to buy paraben-free make up. Apparently the chemicals in my current make up regime were in danger of killing me. They might give me cancer! It was a civilized party with white wine and cheese and tablecloths, so screaming in her face "what the hell do you know about cancer, HONEY" hardly seemed appropriate. I kept my mouth shut and hated her silently through the rest of the evening.

Those were hard times. I couldn't stand it when people didn't know who I really was. Who was I? A walking reminder to the rest of the world that life can change in an instant. In case you didn't know, I wanted to tell them, it could get worse.

I kept mental tallies of 'those who knew' and 'those who didn't.' Everyone who didn't was just like that woman at the party -- one false assumption away from a stark reminder that actually, anyone can get cancer. And they can be young and healthy and ignorant. Like I was.

It's not like that any more. I didn't hate the friends I met at the party last weekend for not knowing. After all, it's been almost four years since my diagnosis. That's like the length of time long enough for your friends to start asking "When is he gonna pop the question?" or the duration of a really good television series (The OC, for example). It's also just long enough for me to have outgrown a little of my cancer survivor identity. If by survivor you mean someone whose crippling anxiety, broken body, and enhanced awareness of death and dying turns them into your resident Debbie Downer. Because when I go out with my girlfriends these days, I leave Debbie at home.

And wouldn't you know, it's so much easier to go to those parties and meet new people. I fit in again. I contribute to conversations on make up and men and bat my eyelashes when some innocent young man hits on me. It turns out, I like people. And they probably like me a lot better when I'm not lording their mortality over them. That's all I really all wanted this whole time anyway. To blend in. To look and act like my health and mortality rate is just like everyone else's -- normal.

And this is the closest I'm going to get. At least until my routine test results tell me otherwise.