The first time I went to radiation with my Dad was the most normal experience of my Dad having cancer since my Dad was diagnosed with cancer. After my Dad went into treatment, another man waiting for radiation told me it was his second of forty-one treatments.
He and his wife were just getting used to the schedule, and he was an hour early for his appointment. I said, “it took my parents a while too but this is my Dad’s second round of radiation, and they eventually got the hang of it. It does get easier.”
It’s crazy to think in a radiation office is the time I’d feel the most normal. At a cancer treatment wing in a hospital, an appointment is an appointment and everyone knows what you mean without having to offer up every breath of air in your lungs.
“It’s my Dad’s last week of radiation… And he’s been going for the last two months, it’s his usual appointment, it lasts about fifteen minutes… It’s quick and they’re radiating a spot on his ribs and another on his back… Don’t feel bad about asking, it’s completely normal and you don’t have to say sorry, it’s just true… Because chemo didn’t work so this will relieve his pain and then he’ll go to Sloan Kettering to check out more clinical trials…” and by that time I’ve over-explained myself because answering a question about cancer seems to freeze facial expressions and mute vocal chords.
There’s no wrong way to be decent and tactful and I swear it’s okay to talk about it. Cancer has become such a squirmy word and weird conversation piece that always includes a segue, but why?
What if we talked about cancer with the recognition that it’s common, and came to agree that it’s shitty, angering, confusing and strange? It’d be less alienating to say, “I have cancer,” “my Dad has cancer,” “her Dad’s sick…” or, “my Mom had cancer,” and we’d all feel a little less weird and fragile.
We’d feel safer.