“How are you doing?”
When you’ve been through a serious health issue, you hear this question a lot. And it’s a good thing, because it means people care about you, but it’s a difficult question to answer.
Last September, after my first mammogram, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 40. My doctors and I didn’t mess around. In the span of a few short weeks we engaged in a flurry of tests, each week bringing a new doctor to the table until the course was set. A double mastectomy, and no looking back.
Then came six weeks of recovery, and really, a very lovely time reconnecting with people. Old coworkers, family, friends near and far. My children will forever remember that period of time not as one in which I was ill, but as the period of time in which I could cook, because so many people brought us casseroles and soups and family recipes.
After that, there was the “readjustment to work” phase. I was humbled by the need to rebuild my stamina, the slow work of getting back into the grind. There’s no time for thinking. No time for woe is me. Busy is good.
But then, things sort of settled into “Life As It Is Now.” There are no more items to tick off my list. Nothing to do, which is eminently frustrating, for reasons I categorize as indicative of a Type A personality. Doctor visits have become less frequent, I’ve adjusted to my new physical reality (more or less), and really, it’s almost as if nothing had ever happened.
That’s how I choose for it to be.
I choose this non-emotional state because mental illness and crippling depression run in the family genes (ironically, breast cancer does not). Because of this, I feel as though I always have to have a watchful eye on where my head is.
I know what a negative disposition can do to a person. I’ve seen people I love not get out of bed for weeks, cloaked in the mental fog of doom. If your reality is all in your head, I choose, every day, to be happy. In spite of what difficulties the year has held.
I wonder, sometimes, if this is a good thing. If my brain is protecting itself by simply not dealing with the seriousness at hand. But the choice has been made--I’m going to choose joy, I’m going to live, and I’m going to live well.
I'm going to annoy everyone by being the most cheerful cancer patient there ever was.
When people ask me, “How are you doing?” I admit I’m at first a little startled. My well-being, cancer, is not something I’m thinking about, really. Not until someone asks me that question. I’m too busy with the logistics and urgencies of life--working full time, with a young family, and a rich (although perhaps unreasonably busy) personal life as well.
But once it’s been asked, I send mental feelers out to assess all points of my being, checking, “How’s it going down there?”
And each time, I come back with the same report. I’m doing great. Actually, really fantastic.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit how well I’m doing—I know I’m one of the lucky ones. There’s a darkness, a guilt that wants to poke around in my business.
I try not to let it. I focus on the lucky part, instead.
Erin Gadd is the director of public relations for the Parma City School District and writes the “Mommy Wars” column for the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. You can connect with her on her blog at erinlgadd.wordpress.com.