Monday, July 1, 2013

Keeping the Cancer Card in the Deck

Two years ago, this is what I wrote.
And later, this...

Two years ago, yesterday, I heard my diagnosis for the first time. It's interesting to read my first two posts -- back when this blog was private. But there's nothing in that private post that I haven't said many times in this quasi-public space. But what's more interesting to me is that yesterday came and yesterday went and while I knew the date, I forgot its  significance. That's a good thing. It means I'm not living and breathing my diagnosis every day, which also explains why I'm not posting as frequently. If I had remembered the date I would have prepared the post I'd been planning about my goals for year three. Instead, this is the post I wrote yesterday...

* * * * *
Many times, I've played the cancer card in my head.

It usually goes something like this, "Ha, but if they only knew I was a cancer patient, survivor, whatever..." 

While there were a couple of times when I did voluntarily disclose my diagnosis --  when I had to cancel my dentist appointment, for example, or  when I had to bag out of a softball game because I was still tired from chemo -- it was only in the hopes it would ward off any further conversation. I suppose I could have simply said I had some "health concerns" but I'm pretty bad at being vague. Disclosing my diagnosis as an explanation of why I couldn't do something (get my teeth cleaned, play softball) gave it context, and, I suppose, helped cut to the chase. 

Last week, I had the opportunity for a completely gratuitous disclosure and I'm happy to say that I left the cancer card unplayed. I was giving a talk at a content conference and there was a perfect spot in my talk where  I could have inserted that I was not only a cancer communicator but also a cancer patient. It might have added a little shock value to the talk, and I was a little curious to see how the room would respond. Would they perk up with renewed interest? Or simply go back to discreetly checking their email while pretending to listen.

I never found out.  

There was little context to the disclosure and in the end, I didn't want to elicit any unneeded sympathy; I didn't want the perception of  my talk to be influenced by my health status. "That was a great talk ... for a cancer survivor."  No thanks. We may all need understanding from time to time, but we don't need pity.

A common theme I hear from people who are ambivalent about disclosing their diagnosis is that they don't want to be known as "the cancer girl" or "the guy with cancer." If the value of my talk is judged by my diagnosis, then by extension my value is defined by my cancer. I've touched on this theme many times in this blog. Once cancer enters your life, it unavoidably becomes part of you forever. And at times cancer can define your day or your week or your month, but it never fully defines you. 

* * * * *

The goals for year 3 post is coming, but if you have suggestions for cancer-related goals, please share in the comments.

--michael