I never thought we’d be so close. I knew you lived on the next street, hung out next door, visited the house around the corner and in the apartment building by the water tower but I never wanted much to do with you, to be honest. I didn’t think you’d be much of a friend so when I heard your name mentioned, I turned the other way.
Then one day, sitting my office, the phone rings. Elaine says these words: You have invasive ductal carcinoma. Cancer. Oh, shit. Suddenly you are not across the street any more. You are, with your smug face, your beehive hairdo, and your smudged pink lipstick, sitting in my house, in my living room, in my chair.
I really didn’t want a floozy like you hanging around. People talk, you know. They ask questions like where’d you come from and how long are you planning to stay.
Frankly, I didn’t think you would add much to my life. You didn’t seem like much fun, you took a lot of time, and that language. Oh, my God. That language. Words I had never heard before: drainage tube, lymphedema, Stage II, 2.5 cm, and the grandmother of all cancer words, metastatic. I could do without that vocabulary, thanks very much.
I did my best to avoid even being associated with you. When Kay handed me the gift bag containing the white fuzzy blanket with the pattern of pink ribbons, I shoved it back into the tissue paper. There must be some mistake.
The first time we went to the Andreas Cancer Center and I started reading the book titles in the waiting room, the posters, the magazines, I looked at my husband as if he had brought me to the wrong place. I don’t think I really thought this through, I said. And what’s with all the bald people?
My friends looked at me with admiration when I told them you were a house guest. You are so brave, they said. What an inspiration, they said. Really? I just wanted to go to Patrick’s, order a cheeseburger and a beer, and play Dwight Yoakum on the juke box. I didn’t want to be anybody’s damn inspiration. So, fuck you cancer, I said. Go squat in someone else’s house, will you?
You did outstay your welcome. I often wished you would pack your crummy polyester pants into that ratty brown, paper sack and climb back into the Greyhound bus. I did not want to get up every morning to see you sitting, once again, in my chair, drinking my coffee, reading my paper, my cat on your lap.
Eventually, though I never grew to like you, I stopped resenting you. I didn’t cringe every time someone said your name. I didn’t throw my keys against the wall when I realized you would be around for a while longer. I could see we would be reluctant roommates for a long time so I resigned myself.
Now that we have you moved into the basement bedroom, things are better. I don’t have to see you every day. I can move around the living room without tripping over your People magazine, your empty Bush Light cans, and your TV Guide. I’ve agreed to let you stay and you have agreed not to smoke in the house. We compromise, you and I.
I will even grudgingly admit that a couple of times, I have given you a tiny bit of credit. Like for introducing me to your former friends and dance partners, the ones whose homes you also occupied. You showed me how to do a mean four-directions dance on the deck at Knife Lake in late September. You introduced me to Karen, my cyber space soul sister from New Jersey. You have a motley crew of relatives who also seem to think it’s ok to show up on the doorstep…and stay for a long time…uninvited. We talk, you know, after you go to bed.
It’s been a rocky road, Cancer. I would never say you have been a blessing and I have been tempted to swat the people who suggest it. You are not a blessing, you with your sloppy, time-sucking habits and filthy language. But, you have afforded me opportunities, and for that, I can be grateful.