The other day I found myself sitting in the dentist chair for my semi-annual cleaning and checkup. I had been putting it off for quite some time because I hate going to the dentist. Let me rephrase that, I hate having dental work done. This is sort of mind boggling even to me. I mean I’ve had a bilateral mastectomy for crying out loud, been through chemo, endured numerous reconstruction surgeries (among others), successfully delivered three babies with no pain reducing medication what-so-ever (why no pain med I do not recall now). So clearly I have a decent pain threshold and yet, I really don’t like going to the dentist and I avoid it whenever possible. Go figure.
I started having tooth pain over the holidays, so I decided to not put it off any longer. But this post isn’t about going to the dentist per se. It’s about setting boundaries when out and about in the world sharing (or not sharing) cancer details.
At this latest appointment, I had a new hygienist and I really liked her. She was the chatty kind, which is fine with me; in fact, I like it because it distracts me. So of course as we were getting to know each other a bit, she inquired about what I do. Always a ‘dangerous’ question for the person who works from home, like I need to prove that I’m working or something…
“I’m a writer,” I said thinking I’d leave it at that because I didn’t really wish to go into all the cancer blogging/writing and such details. I’ve learned that sometimes less is more, plus, my mouth was wide open.
But she was persistent and kept asking me what I write about.
“I maintain a blog and also write for other various publications,” I responded between instruments and rinses.
Again, that persistent thing. “What’s your content about?” she wanted to know.
And so I finally said, “Breast cancer.”
Then, of course, there was that moment of silence. Have you ‘heard’ it?
She then almost immediately went on to call me courageous, which seemed pretty ironic because there I was sitting in a dentist chair feeling quite cowardly. Next, she went on to tell me about a family member of hers who had been diagnosed with breast cancer (early stage) a while back and whose cancer has come back. I mention this because she also said something along the lines of, so and so caught it early and followed everything by the book and still, it came back. This suggested to me once again that yes, in fact, there is a line of thinking out there that implies, ‘just catch it early and you’ll be fine’ and taking it even further; if you just ‘do cancer right’, it shouldn’t come back. It’s not quite that simple.
Metastatic breast cancer is never anyone’s fault. I just had to say that. And I did, though not in those exact words of course.
Well, there was still more cancer talk and I must give my new hygienist credit for asking me if I was comfortable with being called a survivor. For some reason she seemed enlightened about that word’s heaviness for some of us. We also had the discussion about the word ‘cure’ and how most of us for whom the situation applies, instead use NED (no evidence of disease).
Yes, we covered a lot of ground in that mostly one-sided conversation; keep in mind my mouth was mostly wide open as I was getting my teeth cleaned. Like I said, she was chatty, but mostly in a good way.
So I am wondering again, when you are out and about in the world, just how do you handle sharing your cancer details? Of course, our dentists do need to know this stuff for various and obvious health-related reasons. But the hygienist? Maybe not. It was totally my choice to share. I didn’t have to.
Do I need to work on setting sharing boundaries?
I went through something similar with my first post-chemo haircut and then again when my favorite stylist left. My hair is weird, so I often find myself trying to explain it to stylists, when in fact, I probably wouldn’t need to share the cancer side of it. So mostly I don’t share with ‘hair people’ anymore because; well, it can be tiresome after a while to keep talking about the big C when out and about, don’t you agree?
And yet, I’m torn. Why?
Because I always like to take any and every opportunity to listen and find out what others are thinking about breast cancer and also to share my opinions and yes, hopefully inform when appropriate of course.
But how much is too much and when do you just say nothing at all?
I’m still trying to figure out this thing called survivorship.
One final thing…
Regarding that tooth pain I mentioned, there’s a root canal in my near future. Oh boy.
And it’ll be with a new specialist. I wonder how many details I’ll need/choose to share this time.
How many cancer details do you generally divulge?
Do you take every opportunity to listen, learn and share, or do you prefer to ‘keep quiet’?
And okay, I have to ask, has anyone had a root canal and if so, how was it?
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