Feelings

We all have been there.

That moment when your ears get hot, your nostrils flare, and you can feel your tear ducts start to burn.

I have this moment every time I’m at the doctor’s office. I usually don’t mind filling out paperwork, probably because I have perfect handwriting and see it as an excuse to admire it (just kidding, sort of) but there is one particular question that I dread:

“Are your parents living? Mother _Yes _No / Father _Yes _No”

I tense up, because the question never ends there. What was the cause of death? How old were they when they died? What was their official diagnosis? How old where they when they were diagnosed?

Cancer. 58. Osteosarcoma. 58.

I happily check the “Yes” box for my mother, thinking, At least I still have one parent left! And then remember that I could outlive her. Children typically do.

Paperwork, I remember, is just a formality. They’re going to ask me again when I’m in the small room, sitting on the paper-lined table.

“Does anyone in your immediate family have a history of cancer?”
I nod.
He stares at me, his fingers suddenly hovering above the keyboard.
I clear my throat.
“My father died of cancer.”
He glances back down at the keyboard, trying to be routine.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he says quietly.

And then – The Feeling. Hot ears. Flaring nostrils. Burning eyes.

Please don’t make me speak again.
Please don’t make me speak again.
Please don’t make me speak again.

“What type of cancer?”
His question sends chills down my spine, and I take a short breath to keep my words even.
“Osteosarcoma.”
He stops typing again and looks at me.
“Osteosarcoma? That’s like, really rare.”
He doesn’t say it accusingly, like maybe I’ve gotten the name wrong – although I have been in the presence of doctors who have asked me again “if I’m sure” that was the right type – but rather, shocked.

I KNOW! I want to scream.

WHAT FIFTY-EIGHT YEAR OLD MAN WHO DOESN’T EAT RED MEAT AND EXERCISES EVERY DAY AND TAKES A HANDFUL OF VITAMINS AT EVERY MEAL DIES FROM ONE OF THE RAREST, MOST AGGRESSIVE FORMS OF CANCER THREE MONTHS AFTER HIS DIAGNOSIS AND AFTER CUTTING OFF HIS LEFT LEG AND HIP IN AN ATTEMPT TO CUT OUT THE CANCER?! 

But I am silent.

I nod again. The feeling starts to pass. I notice the doctor’s kind eyes and think, Maybe a lot of people get to check ‘Yes’ on the paperwork. 

“I know.” I simply say.

It’s really hard being the child of someone who died of cancer. Especially hard when it was quick, aggressive, and rare. It makes you question every bump, every bruise, every cough. Dentist? Twice a year. Dermatologist? Annual scan for moles. Ob/Gyn? Annual check-up. Primary Care? Please take my blood and make sure I’m not dying.

The truth is that it doesn’t get easier. You can talk to someone and put all of those feelings on the table – the worries, the anxieties, the stressors – but the feelings don’t go away. You just start to make sense of them.

The tricky part is that you might begin to understand these feelings, the way you might sympathize with friend or lover who’s wronged you. But sympathizing with these feelings doesn’t mean that you tolerate them. Or that you have to like them, or that you even have to agree with them. It’s just a matter of being conscious that they exist. They’re there. They’re here. They’re a part of you. They’re a part of me.

I still have trouble when I cough, or see a new freckle that wasn’t there last summer. I still have to take several deep breaths when boarding a plane, and I panic when my husband and I have to travel without each other. I prefer not to know when my mom is in the car for long periods of time, or when my niece or sister have doctor’s appointments.

I guess the defining moment of progress is the acknowledgement that these feelings exist. To stop saying, “I’m fine” when I know that these feelings are here. They’re not fine. They’re annoying. They’re a nuisance. They’re disruptive and frustrating.

Like Liz Gilbert says, fear can sit in the back seat. But it’s not allowed to touch the radio.

 

cred: Red Fairy Project 

SG//TWT

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