While standing in line, deliberating whether I should get a non-fat double cappuccino or a large drip with espresso, Claire said, “I have cancer.”
“How much cancer,” I asked.
“Enough to have an oncologist,” she responded.
“But not enough to plan a funeral, right?”
Claire picked up a snack and nonchalantly said, “So I’m told.”
“If you need chemo, I’m not shaving my head in solidarity.”
She rolled her eyes and uttered, “Duh.”
I asked if she told her family and other friends. She hadn’t told a soul; not because her shiny new diagnosis wasn’t newsworthy. Rather, Claire feared that people’s eyes would reflect cancer sympathy. And, they would treat her like a sick person, not a normal, as she described it.
Normal invariably remains an elusive dogma—to me anyway. That, and I was surprised Claire felt normal prior to her diagnosis. Having been friends for three years, she’s anything but normal (love that!). My curiosity always gets the better of me, so I asked.
“I never realized how normal life was prior to my diagnosis. I don’t recall striving for normal. By my definition, I was normal.” She explained and continued, “I am 35 years old, unmarried and don’t want kids. If anything, I’m married to my career. Being inexplicably diagnosed with cancer, I’m questioning all the decisions I’ve made that lead to yesterday.”
Angrily, I wailed, “Claire, do not tell me you’re one of those people who thinks you create and invite illness into your life!”
She rolled her eyes and uttered, “Duh,” followed by “Unfortunately too many people I know believe that.”
“86 them,” I said.
As Claire pressed on, she reached a fascinating crossroads. She wanted support, yet had a Valpak-sized catalog of fears about it. Ultimately, I learned the bedrock of her issue was that going through it alone felt less stressful. And that broke my heart.
Over the next 12 months, she was pleasantly surprised by her friends’ willingness to support her, free of judgment, and shave their heads when she lost her hair. Claire also made new friends.
Throughout her arduous journey, she reinvented herself into a new normal.
Whenever we get together now, we go to the same coffee shop for a large drip with espresso and the same snack she had the day after her diagnosis.
Katie Schwartz is a comedy writer, producer and essayist, among other writerly things. She collects vintage tchotch, not bodies, which is surprising considering her obsession with death humor. You can catch her weekly column at Monkeybicycle and other print work on Huffington Post, Exquisite Corpse, or here. If you’re not bored to death, watch some of her produced work at FKR.TV, FunnyOrDie or on the YouTubes.