Tuesday, April 30, 2013

So, How are You?

Once upon a time, "how are you?" wasn't such a loaded question. Nor wasv"how are things going?" Or, "hope you're well?" Or "how's the family," for that matter.

When you think of it, "how are you?" is an impossibly broad question if you think about it literally. Of course, most people don't think of it literally, but then, I'm not most people. I have a need for accuracy that I've been told by at least one person in my house, can occasionally stretch my stories to a somewhat unbearable length. Matthew, fortunately, has inherited this gift. While his brother is the talker of the two, if Matthew actually gets going on recounting, say how Messi scored in a recent Barcelona game, the story might take longer than the game, even with stoppage time. But you will know everything happened before -- and after-- that goal with preciseness, if not conciseness.

Which brings me back to, How are you?

The meaning of the question lies in the interpretation of the answerer. And for someone who feels the need to be fullly truthful in their answer, that can be tricky, leading to long answers and awkward exchanges. When I was first diagnosed, I always took the question, often asked by caring people with a tilt of the head and a touch on the arm, to mean: "I'm so sorry you have cancer. How are you dealing with it?"

When I was going through treatment, I heard the question differently. It sounded to me like: "Oh, you're going through chemo? But your hair is not falling out. And I saw you running last week. Are you really going through chemo? Because if you are, you seem okay. Are you?"

But now, as I'm a day away from three months post chemo, I'm almost ready for the meaning of "How are you" to return to its rightful place on the shelf of available small talk.

Almost.

There are still times when someone I haven't seen in a while will use the question, asked with a pronounced emphasis: "How are you?" to let me know that they know -- to inquire without inquiring, to ask about my cancer without having to say the "c" word. When you think about, it's a lot less awkward way of asking, than, say, "So, how's the old cancer doing?" as if my lymphoma was a bum knee that's been bothering me.

In the past, I might have tired to answer with an honest description including the results of my latest scans, and the details of symptoms related and unrelated to lymphoma. But after two years of being asked the question by a growing group of people in the know, I've learned to save the boring details for Dr. L, and answer, instead, based on my interpretation of the question:

"I'm doing well. Thanks for asking."

--michael