The Invisible Disease

Before my diagnosis, the words ‘cancer patient’ conjured images of someone hooked up to a chemotherapy line, wearing a head wrap to cover their bald head.

It is true that all too many patients are still having to undergo chemo. But, thanks to advancements in research, many of us are now able to survive on targeted treatments that don’t necessarily yield the most obvious side effects (while they are working). I am grateful for this, and for everyone’s benefit, I will keep my own side effects a secret. Well, except for the one that makes me feel like I’m at a rave. That one is fun to share.

I often talk about how it can be difficult to navigate such a devastating disease when it’s not particularly evident to the surrounding world that you may be suffering. Among the group of cancer patients I interact with at Trekstock (a charity for young adults with cancer that I am working with), one person aptly described her frustration with securing a seat on the tube given that she does not look physically disabled, and is not old or pregnant.

Fortunately, I am well enough these days that I don’t require anything ‘extra’. Nonetheless, I have had my own moments of confusion about navigating the exterior world with the big C. Queue: exercising and dating with cancer, 101.

I joined a gym in January, and it has been excellent for my physical and emotional well-being. I’ve always been a member of a gym, but somehow it was a scarier undertaking in light of my new reality.

With that new membership came a one-on-one session with a personal trainer – which I never scheduled. I didn’t want to reveal to the trainer my health condition because I thought it might make them uncomfortable, and because I would rather not be identified as the one with cancer. On the other hand, if I omitted this important health information, I risked their being suspicious of my (low) level of fitness. Option number two was unwelcome because I still have an ego to keep in check (sadly the chemo has not wiped that away). Confronted with two undesirable options, I decided to forgo the free session.

But, then came along an attractive employee at the gym who’s way of flirting with me/getting to know me (I presume) was to schedule that session with me.

So, I said yes.

And I went.

And somehow it all went ok.

But, it really brought to the foreground my indecision about when and how to tell the people I meet about this ‘thing’.

I’m still working on this one, but the trick, I believe, is to remember that everyone has their shit, their past, their imperfections – and mine just happens to be a bit more complex. Hopefully, that will make me more interesting to someone, someday.


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