Life after cancer: learning to be lighter

Life after cancer: learning to be lighter

If you’ve read this blog once or twice and don’t know me personally, you might not guess that I sometimes struggle to take things seriously enough. I’ve never been short of intensity or passion, but I’m usually the first one to make a smart-ass comment during a meeting.

There was the time when I was a “discussion leader” at a professional conference, specially chosen by a big-wig to facilitate a small group discussion after his keynote. The subject was teaching writing. Someone in the audience wondered whether or not we should think about the Meyers-Briggs type indicator as teachers.

If you’ve taken the personality inventory, you’ll know that you end up being an I (introvert) or an E (extrovert), an N (intuitive) or an S (sensing), an F (feeling) or a T (thinking), and a P (perception) or a J (judging). I know I’ll get hate mail for saying so, but I think the MBTI is about as reliable as my horoscope. Every time I take it I end up with something different. But, I’ve been labeled an INFP more than once.

In any case, as discussion leader, I failed to keep a straight face when this hapless audience member started talking about how “being a P” might prevent her from being the best teacher. It started with a smirk, but bubbled over into full scale giggles when she said (enthusiastically), “I think my P-ness gets in the way.”

Said the vicar to the actress.

My daughter told me this past spring that talking to me is “like talking to a 14-year-old boy.” That is not a compliment from a teenager who thinks boys her age are ridiculous. Still, it makes me the tiniest bit proud. Better than simply being uncool.

You’d think, then, that a woman who has to go to a urologist every three months would find great opportunity for sarcasm, mocking, and immaturity. The pee, prostates, and penises seem ripe for exploitation. (That’s what she said.)

Among the many things that changed after being diagnosed with cancer was my aptitude for shedding the passion and intensity and slipping into lightness. Sadly, I’ve never made my doctor laugh. Nor have I even tried.

My quarterly cystoscope was today. The dread and anxiety started ratcheting up a week ago. As the fear starts to take hold I feel like the smirks and giggles are being wrung out of me. I’d really like my doc to see the snark.

Last night I laid out my clothes. A black dress, linen sweater, black sandals. This morning  I used a hair dryer and styling gel and put on makeup. I looked like I was ready to attend a summer funeral.

Am I the only one who gets dressed up to go to the doctor?

Probably not. We do what we can to take charge. I want to look like a professional, someone who should be taken seriously. I think about the scene in “Pulp Fiction” where Samuel L. Jackson says to John Travolta, “Come on, let’s get into character,” as they prepare to kill an apartment full of people.

In the interest of building a strong doctor’s office character, I choose a book, usually something about epideictic rhetoric (don’t ask), to read in the waiting room. I always have in tow my three-ring binder, which is filled with past test results, questions, research, referrals.

For some reason, I seem to consistently bring something along to give to my urologist. Sometimes it’s newsletters from the Cancer Support Center and once it was a chart of the female urinary system. I don’t know what compels me to do this, but today I had a t-shirt from the Bladder Cancer Walk in May.

I carted all of the props to the car, resisted the urge to throw up and headed off. But on my way to his office I thought about how a person who wasn’t anxious would act at the doctor’s office. What would she wear? What would she have with her?

It was too late to change what I wore, but when I got there I left the book and the notebook in the car. I tried to get into the character of someone who thinks the word “penis” is funny (‘cause I do). I thought about the stupidity of dressing up to go to a doctor’s office where I’ll be naked from the waist down and covered in a piece of crackly paper.

I tried to get into a lighter character. So, when I handed him the t-shirt and it flew out of my hands and across the room, I giggled inside that my first instinct was to pursue it. If I’d done so, my crackly paper drape cloth would have draped no longer. Instead of feeling inept or mortified, I decided to seek out my inner 14-year-old boy and imagine the whole scene.

He speaks to me with the same grave seriousness that I bring along with me to these exams. He unfolded the lurid, urine-colored orange t-shirt and said, “Wow. This is great. Thanks.” I almost laughed because he was so earnest.

There were no jokes, but for the first time we had an actual conversation, about his new baby and my high school daughter. I was able to actually breathe and ask a few questions without a voice wobble.

My goal for the next cystoscopy in three months is to wear something casual and bring something funny to read. I’m learning to be lighter and learning to choose a character that is a bit more at peace with the world.

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