One of the things people never really warn you about with a cancer diagnosis are the awkward conversations.
There’s the unpleasant business of telling your family, friends and co-workers. There are the “how are you feeling” questions that during chemo you want to answer, “like a steaming pile of shit just flattened by a tank.” But you don’t because you’re Southern and too polite for your own good. There are the conversations with your oncologist about how menopause is affecting your sex life. SO much awkward.
And the thing is, they don’t end with the conclusion of treatment.
This week, I went to a conference for work. I saw lots of people from the industry I cover who’ve seen me go from a long-haired blonde to a pixie-cut redhead to the blonde, curly mop I’m sporting now.
Because I never made any sort of public announcement about my cancer (because that would have been super-awkward), most of them have no idea what I’ve been through or why my hair has changed so drastically.
One sweet gal remarked how much she loved seeing all the hairstyle changes over the past year. She was genuinely complimenting me, so I just smiled. But inside? So awkward.
Another time, a colleague from a previous job who now works for one of the furniture companies I write about remarked on my short, curly hair. “Is it naturally curly?” She asked, having always known me to have straight hair. “No,” I responded. Later I laughed, realizing she probably thought I’d cut my hair off and permed what was left. She probably thought I’d lost my mind!
I could’ve just told these people the truth. I didn’t cut my hair; it fell out. And when it finally grew back, it was curly. Because of chemo. Because I had cancer.
But like I’ve said before, that’s a giant turd to drop on someone. It stops the conversation. It changes the tone. It makes people feel…awkward.
Just like I’ve learned to talk around my dead mom when new people ask about my family, I’m learning to talk around my cancer. Not out of shame or anything like that, but just to make things easier. When things have been so hard, a little ease is worth any internal awkwardness I may feel.