The longer I stay NED, the more insulated I feel from the reality of cancer. I’m also distanced from the reality of being a survivor, because my every waking moment isn’t consumed with cancer, anymore. I still think about it, at least once a day, but I’m also finishing my 5th semester of school. I’ve been writing two songs a week, for the last 12 weeks. Finals are coming up. I’ve been plagued with self doubt, and worry that I’m not good enough, lately. This is a delicious privilege, afforded only to those who don’t have to spend every day, trying not to die.
I’m getting too comfortable. I feel like a ticking clock, sometimes. I got up to perform in my Stage Performance Techniques class last week; I’d promised myself that I would be brave and honest, and tell the story behind my song, so that’s what I did. I stood in front of my entire class, and told them that I’d had stage 4 cancer, that it was really hard, that I’d gained a new perspective, and written a song about it.
I thought it was the right environment for that kind of honesty. My teacher goes on and on and on about his airplane, his famous family, his friends at the Harvard Club, his money, and the death of his Mother. Another girl introduced her song, as one that her very ill Grandmother sang to her, when she was a child. She was on the verge of tears her whole performance, and I admired her guts and her honesty, and her willingness to be that vulnerable in front of us. I was honest and owned my vulnerability, in front of a room full of strangers. I sang and played well and, when I was done, my teacher told me that I’d made a mistake.
“People may not want to hear that..start by telling people that you’re fine now…don’t ever be ‘sick’ in front of your audience…don’t make them feel like they need to ‘rescue’ you'”. Pages ripped from the “what not to say to a cancer survivor” playbook.
I felt conflicted and guilty, at first. How could I be so disconnected from both the “normal” world, and the house of horrors that is cancer treatment, that I’d lost sight of how traumatic it can be to receive this kind of information about someone you barely know? I thought about keeping my mouth shut about cancer, from now on, about editing the liner notes of my new album, and just not explaining the meaning of the title. Who am I kidding? Life is tough enough. Nobody signs up to hear about this stuff. Then it got more personal: the story is nothing, compared to how ugly and unsightly my scars are–on the outside and on the inside. How will anyone ever want to get close to me again?
Almost a week has passed since then, and every day my sad-flavored conflict has been replaced a little more with anger and indignance. I think my teacher was just ignorant. He didn’t understand how cruel and insensitive he was being. I’m not going to stop talking about what I went through. I owe that to the one person in the room, whose been through what I’ve been through, but who feels alone, because the masses tell her to be quiet, lest she disturb the good people of the world, with her pain and her trauma. Nobody should have to live like that. Carrying that burden alone is the worst kind of loneliness there is.