Cancer Conversation

“What stage is her cancer?” the woman next to me asked at the beauty parlor.

“I think it’s two,” says another woman, one with foils in her hair.

“Laura, you had cancer, didn’t you?” says the beautician to me.

“I had breast cancer twice,” I reply.

“How did you get it twice?” asks the lady with the foils. “Did it just come back?” Remember, I don’t know this lady from Eve.

“The radiation from the first cancer caused the second one. The radiologist said I was one in a million.”

“That’s awful,” says the beautician.

The lady in foils and the other one commiserate with me. “That’s some prize,” says the lady with the foils.

After my hair appointment, I go to lunch, and what do I overhear? Another cancer conversation. Two men are discussing their prostate cancer, out loud, right there in the restaurant.

And over there in the corner, a family is talking about their grandmother’s colon cancer.

Cancer conversation, it seems, is everywhere. And it doesn’t even need to be in a hospital setting.

I would like to argue that it’s permissible to discuss cancer – all the nitty gritty questions –anything goes, while, I would argue, many diseases are still taboo. It’s not nice to ask if someone has dementia and what stage of the disease it’s in, but when it comes to cancer, people let it rip.

For instance, I don’t mind discussing my cancer; my depression, on the other hand, not so much.

It’s almost polite to talk about cancer — the Big C, the one you can die from. People want to know that you and/or your relatives with cancer are going to make it. Discussing cancer is almost like praying.

People also discuss cancer freely and willingly out of fear. Maybe if they’re versed in the illness, they’ll avoid it.

They discuss cancer as if it’s the plague, bad mouthing it to keep it away.

No one willingly talks about their Parkinson’s disease, unless they’re Michael J. Fox.

Cancer is a shared culture. We all know what a pink sweatshirt means and when someone is bald, especially a woman, we can guess what’s up. When you have cancer, you’re never alone.

With cancer questioners, I don’t feel the rage I feel for a stranger who is trying to get the scoop on, say, a person’s autism diagnosis, or MS diagnosis, for that matter. That is just so gauche.

So remember, talking about cancer is permissible these days, but stay away from other maladies. Otherwise, you’ll just look like a big, nosy idiot.

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