Say It Ain’t So, Joe

Late January 2020 – We’re standing in one of the museum’s backrooms, the drone of the HVAC system along with the faint backbeat of blues emanating from the interior speakers can muddle your senses…especially when you’re having a conversation.

How Are You Doing?

Joe, being Joe, asks a straight-up question: “How’re you doing’?”

I’m asked this question all the time. All of us are asked this same question every day. The question is typically asked out of politeness, not really out of concern or as a genuine inquiry. The questioner doesn’t want to know how you really are. The questioner simply wants to be polite or appear friendly.

It’s like asking, “How’s it going?” You truly don’t want the respondent to go into a thirty-minute soliloquy about what’s really going on in that person’s world. Again, you’re simply being polite. It’s almost like a greeting.

In my case, however, How are you doing? takes on a whole different dynamic. Folks in my life know that I have cancer – Stage IV to be exact – and they also know that, at present, I’m beating the odds. Most of them also know that in December 2018 I had a heart attack.

So, How are you doing? almost becomes a Yeah, I want to know how you’re really doing cancer-wise, but I don’t know if I really want to hear the truth. I’ve actually noticed some people start to cringe or slightly wince – like they’re in pain – as I begin to respond. It’s a subtle thing, but it’s there in their facial expressions. Along with a more noticeable sense of relief when I tell them I’m doing fine.

Which is exactly what I tell Joe. I ramble a little, but there’s a lot to my condition that’s not so easy to explain. I’ve written before about how people look at me in disbelief when I tell them I have cancer – Stage IV cancer as a matter of fact.

Joe looks at me pretty much like he looks at everyone else – like he’s sizing you up. He tells me that he’s glad everything is going well. We banter a little more about living with cancer. Finally, Joe responds, “I know exactly how you feel.”

No Joe, I say to myself, you really don’t.

Say It Ain’t So

Say it ain’t so, Joe is an idiom used to express disbelief, disappointment, or even grief upon learning some unfortunate truth about someone or something. (The Free Dictionary Idioms)

The saying comes from the infamous Chicago “Black Sox” scandal when baseball hero Shoeless Joe Jackson admitted, under oath, that he and other team members cheated during the 1919 World Series.

My disbelief and disappointment stem not from learning some unfortunate truth about someone, but more from an unfortunate truth about something: People truly don’t get it.

They simply don’t get what I’m going through.

A Journey and A Nightmare

Having Stage IV cancer is both a journey and a nightmare.

I don’t expect people to pity me – in fact, I don’t want anyone’s pity or sadness. There are so many more people with cancer who are in dire situations. I also don’t want your prayers or your “qualifiers:” God’s blessed you or You’re so fortunate.

I already know I’m lucky to be alive. I don’t need to be reminded of it.

In early November (2019), I met up in Jacksonville, Florida with some college buddies and their spouses. While it was a great weekend, I still felt isolated and a bit frustrated that no one asked me how things were going. Sure, a few of them asked How’re you doing? Or, even, You look great! But no one really asked the question that is easy to avoid: How is your cancer?

There’s never a good time to discuss cancer. There’s never a good time to sit down and have a long discussion about a cancer patient’s prognosis. People are never sure what to ask or how to respond. What they don’t understand is that most cancer patients want to be asked How’s your cancer? They want to be able to give an honest assessment – the good along with the bad. We’ve already had to come to terms with our situation. As I like to tell people when they do ask – It is what it is.

Little Milton gets it. Just say nothin’ and enjoy the music.

I’m not being cavalier…as I just said, I’m lucky to be here. But it still frustrates me how so many people in my world just don’t get it. For the most part I look fine, but I AM sick, unfortunately very sick. I think people don’t see me as someone who is dying, or at least they don’t want to think about death and disease. It’s difficult. In fact, it’s a nightmare – if you let it become a nightmare.

Be Careful What You Say

On the other hand, many people don’t know what to say or ask, or simply don’t want to say something stupid or insensitive.

I understand that, and I also understand that it seems everyone has been impacted by cancer. But you don’t know how I feel and you don’t know what I go through every day. Just like I don’t know what others with cancer go through. It’s my disease…it’s my cancer.

Say it ain’t so…but I have cancer, and I’d be happy to tell you about sometime.

Thanks, as always, for listening.

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