I have dim memories of sitting in front of a TV with a rounded screen inside a blonde cabinet and rabbit ear antennae positioned on top. Art Linkletter’s House Party is playing in black and white. The show regularly contained a segment in which children were interviewed. Invariably they would say something cute and funny, which gave the segment its title, “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” Later Bill Cosby had television show based on the same idea using the identical name. What made these shows especially entertaining was the unexpected nature of some of the responses. Sometimes a kid would say something disarmingly honest that made Art stop in his tracks. Pause. Then the audience would explode into laughter.
When I was first diagnosed, the only person I told for several weeks was BF. The ruse was up, however, when after attending several doctor’s appointments during the work week, my secretary found an appoint slip for a Hematologist. She didn’t pry. But I knew that I was going to need her able help in juggling my schedule since the doctor’s appointments were multiplying. Going to the doctor had become a part-time job. So, I told her. I then adopted the policy of telling people on a need-to-know basis, the first group consisted of close colleagues, siblings, and good friends. I was generally hesitant to tell people before I knew that a transplant was going to be available. How would I tell someone that there is no cure? I couldn’t imagine, and I preferred to await the approval for the transplant and the identification of a donor.
I dreaded telling people about my diagnosis. In large part this was because of the unpredictability of the responses. Sometimes I was thrust into the role of the therapist setting the grief stricken person at ease. I was struggling enough with coming to terms with the diagnosis myself. Therapeutic distance was not something I had attained. Other times the message was easily and calmly absorbed. The person listened thoughtfully, expressed concern, asked good questions, and then we moved on. But in not a few cases it was much more difficult. Shock and anxiety would pour into the person’s face. I could imagine them wanting to fumble to reach for their Xanax. My own precarious equilibrium could become unsettled. Their fear was, of course, some cocktail of care for me and the appreciation of their own vulnerability. The proportions would vary with each person.
I knew that I had to tell MF once it was relatively certain that I was a candidate for a stem cell transplant. The familiar dread returned. I steeled myself. BF was away. After serving him one of his favorite dinners of fresh pasta and panna cucina sauce, I began, “Remember how we sometimes talk about my anemia.” Between forkfuls I conveyed a few of the details of the treatment, induced immune system death via chemo-therapy, hospitalization, surgical masks, good prospects of a cure, the whole business. With his mouth full, he paused, reflected, and said, “Oh, it’s like AIDs caused by chemo-therapy.” He swallowed and shoveled in another bite. I gulped. “Uh, yeah…I guess you could say that.” I hadn’t really thought of it that way, and I was not particularly eager to do so. But, given my limited knowledge of the course that AIDS runs, I had to admit that it seemed about right.
I was anxious about the next move of the dialectic. He was processing. “When is this going to happen?” “Well, maybe not for another 6 months, maybe even a bit longer. We don’t yet know exactly. I need a donor, and there’s no big hurry.” He chewed and reflected again. “Good, then I can procrastinate worrying.”
Done. The line was much longer than the ride. The conversation moved onto other topics.
I would have welcomed something stronger, but I was glad to have at least a glass of wine to drink as I reflected on his equanimity. I’d like to credit his parenting. But whatever the source, it had made things easy. And I was grateful. Procrastinate worrying. He made it sound so simple.