This is an open letter to every woman in a waiting room or chemotherapy room who feels compelled to share her every thought on treatments past or present: Don’t.
I thought about this after reading some mordantly funny tweets from Anna, who blogs at the Cancer Culture Chronicles and started another round of chemotherapy this week.
People seem to fall into one of two categories. They’re either determined to scare you out of your wits, or they get into a twisted kind of one-upmanship. One of Anna’s tweets was about a woman who was bragging about her good veins. Seriously? Does she have a bumper sticker on her minivan that says, “My veins are honor students at Oncology West?”
Anna’s running commentary reminded me of my experience before having my first-ever surgery, a wire localization/outpatient surgery. (I’ll translate. My cancer was so early stage there was no visible tumor yet, just tiny clusters of cancerous cells. They used a mammogram to guide a wire into my breast, which guided my surgeon to the bad cells so he could try to clear them all out.)
The woman who was having the same procedure just ahead of me talked absolutely nonstop, like a Chihuahua after one too many lattes. And why is it that these women never have pleasant voices? Anna likened one of her waiting room companion’s voices to a buzzsaw. This woman was a dental drill.
She had an opinion on everything from surgery to my socks. I had decided I was going to own this experience so I had on a loud pair of smiley face socks. When I didn’t remove them as recommended, she said, “You’re supposed to take off your socks!” Great. A loudmouth and hall monitor.
This woman felt compelled to tell everyone about the sheer hell she and I would be going through. The stereotactic biopsy I had leading up to this was not wonderful, and the thought of having a wire inserted into my chest was getting me worked up into a pretty good lather. So were some of the women waiting for a mammogram.
After she had us sufficiently terrified of all things breast-related, my nightmare companion went on to describe how a vaginal biopsy was the most excruciating pain you could ever experience. At this point I wanted to punch her, but I just shrank into my chair.
The one silver lining was the kind woman who came over and put her hand on my shoulder after the loudmouth finally left. She said, “When people tell those kinds of stories, I’ve found it’s best to just stay in your own little bubble.” When they called her away, she smiled at me and said, “Remember, stay in the bubble.”
Her kindness has stayed with me, and I hope I have managed to repay it, through my writing if nothing else.
Equally high on the kindness chart was the nurse who told me getting the wire inserted into my chest would be comparable to a needle stick for a blood draw, and she was right.
So if you happen to end up sharing space with the bragger, the buzzsaw or the fearmonger, just remember, “Stay in the bubble.”