One of my favorite little scenes in Glee’s “The Quarterback” episode, its tribute to Cory Monteith, was when Tina visits the school counselor and asks when she can stop wearing black. She feels wearing black for mourning makes her look too much like the goth she had been, an image she wants to shed. Emma gives her a brochure (another of my favorite bits in Glee) entitled, “It’s Not About You.”
This scene offers comic relief and it also reminds us that the banality and pettiness of life goes on, even in the midst of crisis. I don’t know if that’s reassuring or soul destroying, but I do know that it’s familiar.
After getting a cancer diagnosis, you can feel as if your entire world is different. Foods taste different, colors look different. Facing your own mortality, enduring treatments and their attendant side effects, coping with fear and insurance companies seem to dominate every waking moment of life.
The cancer community creates an expectation that cancer will be a catalyst for spiritual growth. Along with chemo and surgery, wisdom is somehow released into your body. You will begin to focus on the big things and let go of the inconsequential.
You are now a warrior, a hero, a survivor, a person to whom others look for inspiration. In my case, I’d say, please don’t look too hard because you may be disappointed. See, the shallow, “there must be order,” part of me is still strong after cancer treatment.
I still get really irritated when my husband and daughter put the salad tongs in the drawer with the wooden spoons and spatulas instead of with the silverware. When the woman in the dentist’s office pops her gum while complaining on the phone about her kid, the one destroying magazines right next to her, I still have first-person shooter fantasies.
Several months ago, I had a morning off and I got ready to do some cleaning. Let me tell you, I look like someone getting ready to clean when I clean. My hair is pushed back in a headband. I wear bleach-spotted work out pants and an old t-shirt with paint splatters on it. It has a drawing of a train smoking a cigarette that says, “The little train that didn’t give a rat’s ass.”
I clean like other people do yoga or run. I get into it. I do not mess around and no one messes with me. There’s no vacuuming the center of the room, haphazardly getting the big chunks. The furniture is moved, the corners and base boards are exposed. No spider survives, no cobweb remains.
That morning in May, I tackled the mudroom, the point of entrance for our house that also has the washer and dryer. Those suckers got moved out. I vacuumed under them, behind them, around them, through them. And I found treasure. Dimes, leaves, orphaned socks, a cat toy, big, airy hair balls.
As I pushed the dryer back into place, I realized that I hadn’t been as carefree or–I hate to admit this–as downright happy as I was at that moment in quite a while. My Facebook update that day was “Still shallow after cancer.”
I’ve had some big realizations since my diagnosis, and I hope I’ve gained some wisdom. But, it’s comforting, I suppose, to know that I’m also still the same old me. I’m still the same self-satisfied person who finds immense pleasure in cleaning the gunk out from behind the appliances.
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