I come from a comparatively small town. It seems as though everyone knows everyone, and no matter where you go you are bound to run into someone you know. Living in such a small community means that news has the ability to travel fast. However, after being back home the last two months, I have found that people either know about your situation and want to ask questions, or surprisingly have no clue what is going on. So, as I do my day to day errands and run into people I haven’t seen, my conversations normally go something like this.
Them: Hey Katie, It is really good to see you! Are you in town visiting?
Me: No, I am actually taking some time off.
Them, being nosy (I am a very nosy person, so I understand that they want all of the juicy details):
Oh, are you working or something?
This is where it gets tough. I can either tell them I have cancer, or lie and say, "Yes, I am trying to save money for school." I have yet to lie to anyone, so, I somehow find it in me to plaster a smile upon my face, desensitize my situation into something like a bad cold, and respond, "I actually just found out that I have lymphoma, so I am spending some time at home trying to get better.”
I look at this conversation and hate it. It is not that I care if the whole community knows I have cancer or not, because the truth is that I do have cancer, and keeping it a secret in this town would be very difficult. I would rather they hear it from me than from someone else. I guess the part I hate is the fact that I feel the need to put on a smile and act like it’s a bad cold.
What is my other alternative? I mean what would you do if you ran into someone whom you had not seen in awhile, and all of the sudden they broke down and said they were battling cancer? I mean, come on, plenty of people are battling cancer and surviving every day. Why shouldn’t I be strong?
I think that’s where it truly becomes tough for me, and not so much the fact of telling the community or having the whole community know. It is the fact that I feel like I need to be strong. People constantly tell me “Be strong Katie, and hold your head high. You can get through this.” I believe this statement and I believe I can beat this, but truthfully I don’t know if I am this strong all the time and I don’t know how to get that across to people. In fact, it was not until a recent conversation with my ex boyfriend that I realized just how often I don’t feel strong.
The conversation started off with a simple “How are you doing?” I responded with my confident voice, “You know, surprisingly well. I feel okay right now and am just trying to make it one day at a time.” He responded “Katie be honest with yourself, I know when you are not doing okay, so don’t try and sugar coat it for me. So I am going to ask again ‘How are YOU doing?’’ I stood there silent and in shock. I have answered that question a number of times. It didn’t matter whether I was truly feeling okay or not it was just an autopilot response I use. So I looked at him and said without the smile on my face and fighting back tears. “I am scared! I tell people I am okay because I don’t know how to tell them otherwise without breaking down like this. But, then they act like nothing is wrong when sometimes I just want a hug and reassurance everything will be okay.” He then said to me, “You silly, of course they act like nothing is wrong. Even when I look at you and see you interacting with others and hearing your responses to that question I often don’t see the sick Katie that you are, I see the same old bubbly girl I have seen for years. How do you expect people to know you need reassurance when you hide it?”
He hit it right on the nose with that one. How can I expect people to lift me up in my times of need when I hide it?
So my questions to you are, how can you answer the everyday question, "How are you doing?" without losing it to someone you only kind of know? And how can you express to someone that sometimes you cannot be strong and may need a little reassurance?
I'd love to hear your thoughts, because I can't put my finger on how to deal with that one...