I went down to the local YMCA yesterday, as I’d signed up to give blood last week for the first time in years. The med tech was going through the list of questions they ask you – you know the ones if you’ve ever given blood, it’s like a high-risk version of “Never Have I Ever” – when I found myself surprised by one of the questions.
“Have you ever had cancer?”
I had to answer yes.
It’s no secret that at the age of 26 I was diagnosed with a soft-tissue fibrosarcoma on my chest, and that it was a completely life-altering experience. My life had been hectic and stressful prior to my diagnosis, but nothing out of the ordinary; I was working a full-time job that, while the pay wasn’t great, it allowed me to move out of my parents house and into an apartment with a friend of mine from undergrad, and between the job and student loans, it kept me afloat while I went to law school at night.
Life is what happens when you make other plans, of course. Both my girlfriend at the time and my roommate had been bugging me to go in and get a strange scar on my chest that had begun to grow, but I was so busy I kept putting it off. Finally I went in and they decided to remove a portion of it in order to biopsy it, and I joked for the two weeks following the surgery how my scar kind of looked like a vagina, until I went back to the doctor for my follow-up visit.
That fucking doctor. I swear, when I saw 50/50 the other week, when Joe Gordon-Levitt’s character found out that he had cancer, I was transported back to when the doctor looked at me and kind of shrugged, saying, “well it’s not exactly benign.”
How do you respond to something like that? Besides, “well what the fuck is it then, if it’s not benign? It’s fucking malignant? What’d I do to deserve this?” Or, like he said in the movie, “I don’t understand. I’m a good person. I even recycle.”
The thing is, I beat cancer. I’m not going to go into the horrors I had to go through while I was being treated; it’s not important. The important thing is that it’s gone, and I’m still here. It’s something that happened to me, but I don’t let it define who I am.
But yesterday I was confronted with it again. Apparently it’s not like when you get a tattoo or a piercing, and you have to wait 12 months in between your next blood donation – certain kinds of cancers can preclude you from donating blood ever again. Even if you’re in remission, or even if there wasn’t any hematogeneous metastasis.
It made me angry. How can this thing that I’d put behind me, something I’d successfully beaten seven years ago, come back to haunt me now? After I’d finally put my life back together to the point where I’m happy where I am and what I’m doing? I can’t even give a pint of fucking blood, now?
I’m sure that the question upset me to the point where it made my blood pressure go through the roof. The med tech nearly fell out of her chair when she took my pressure, though I’m sure the 3 cups of coffee and 1500 milligrams of Excedrin I took this morning when I woke up with a migraine probably helped contribute. I actually came in over the limit because of it, which meant they weren’t going to let me give blood that day anyway. They told me to give it 24 hours and come in again, but at that point I was ready to roll up a hundred dollar bill and start doing lines of Xanax off a stripper’s ass.
I know it’s a health precaution. They don’t want to take blood donations from someone who could have cancer cells floating around in their hemoglobin; it’d be even worse than the HIV infections from tainted blood in the 1980’s, especially since now HIV can be controlled and cancer is still being treated with the same kind of medical expertise that was present in the Dark Ages. On a purely rational level I even agree with the policy; the needs of the many, and all that.
On an emotional level, though? It sent me back to a place I thought I’d been done with for years. Maybe I’m not as over it as I thought I was.
Or maybe it’s not something that you really ever “get over.” It’s just a part of you. Not the biggest part of you, but it’s still there. Lurking in the shadows, waiting to bite you in the ass in a moment of vulnerability, like your credit score.
Still, I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I’d never been diagnosed with cancer. I’d probably have ended up finishing law school and ended up a miserable alcoholic, working 80 hour weeks just so I could help some corporation fuck over clueless schmucks whose only crime was believing their loan officer when he told them that they wouldn’t have any problems paying back their mortgages. Worse yet, I could have ended up working as Mitt Romney’s speechwriter.
Dodged a bullet there. Thank god for cancer, I guess.