The Neutral Zone

A funny story: When I got the result of my biopsy (positive for invasive lobular carcinoma), I called my friend Rebecca (not her real name) in Paris because she wanted to know the result. Rebecca and I were as close as friends can get. In the decade since we’d met, we had told each other big secrets. We had seen each other through divorce and heartbreakingly bad relationships. We had endured (or were enduring) our kids’ teen years. We were so close, in fact, that we could tell each other the real truth instead of  the “girl truth,” which is truth that isn’t really true; but merely supportive.

A year and a half later, I’d had my surgery, chemo and radiation. I also was working full time as a single mom with two teenagers. I was, to put it mildly, distracted.

One holiday weekend, I’d made plans to go biking with Rebecca. On the planned Sunday, I sat at my kitchen table, gazing out the window at my dying California pepper tree and wondering how I was going to cut it down. The phone rang. I sipped on my grande non-fat latte, planning my route up the pepper tree, mentally marking the sequence of cuts. I ignored the phone.

The next day at work, I looked at my Outlook calendar. “Bike Ride with Rebecca,” was the text I’d put in the Sunday box. My heart sank to my socks. Shit! I had forgotten about the bike ride!  I called Rebecca. She was pissed, as expected. I apologized profusely. She wasn’t appeased.

I went to work and sent an email. Again, apologizing profusely. My memory, since chemo, has become a plastic knife in a drawer full of Henkels precision blades. If it is not in writing, it does not happen. If it is in writing, it might happen.

Rebecca wasn’t buying my apology, and she told me so. Then she sent me an email that provided further explaination. She wrote that it was clear that I didn’t have my priorities straight. I was stunned.

My ex was friends with Rebecca. After several months of silence between me and Rebecca, he and she ran into each other at a trade show. Whe the topic of me came up, she expressed her disappointment in my skewed sense of what was essential and what was not essential in life. She said she had been there for me totally and was disappointed in my lack of appreciation. She compared me to her friend, Alice, who had done cancer so gracefully, effortlessly. Alice, apparently, did not forget her appointments.

I guess it’s not really a funny story. As I sit here writing, I still feel the sting of those words and am filled with bitterness, defensiveness, incredulity, unforgiveness.

The main point of this story: There is no way to adequately explain to someone who has not been through cancer how tired, forgetful and distracted you were and still may be.

This holiday, I had a similar experience. I had forgotten something important, and the repercussions were intense. The fallout has filled me with rage.

I called my best friend Sharon in Tallahassee. “How are you?” She asked. I told her the truth: “I am a venomous bag of hatred.” I told her about going to church (for the second time this year) and crying at the music’s lyrics about forgiveness. I’d been praying to be forgiving, but all I could feel was misunderstood and royally pissed off.

Her advice: Stop trying to forgive. It doesn’t come from you anyway. Just live in neutral for a while. Stop thinking about how mad you are. How right you are. How wronged you were. Just put it on a shelf for a while.

So that’s what I am going to do. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Unless I forget.

9 Responses to The Neutral Zone

  1. Jenster says:

    This post pisses me off (partly at stupid chemo-brain and partly at Rebecca) and makes me sad all at the same time. You’re friend has good advice, though. Just hang out in neutral for a little while.

  2. Alice did cancer gracefully and effortlessly? Who was supporting Alice? There’s not a person in the world who can do cancer perfectly without a helluva support team.

    Minor point, I know, but I hate such high expectations.

    It’s not easy, and it’s not easy afterwards, and I’m sorry that this happened. Forgetfulness is a side effect for some (not all – no one has the same experience) and it sucks.

  3. “My memory, since chemo, has become a plastic knife in a drawer full of Henkels precision blades.”….Oh how I love this line–I’d steal it if I could remember it haha… Hmmmm, poor poor Rebecca, See to me she is the one who lost out, not you. She lost a great friend because of self-righteousness and she obviously lacks any ability to see beyond her own selfish needs. That’s a lonley place to be because unfortunately, one day, the tables will be turned and she will be trying to explain her mis-steps to someone else. I have run into so many people like this in my life–before and after cancer–but it was having cancer that taught me to let them go and concentrate on the truly good people in my life. Your friends advice is spot-on–love it and I will remember that for a long time–Neutral is always best.

  4. Lahdeedah says:

    I love you strong, powerful and (sometimes) forgetful women! Thank you for being here and thank you for your smart, compassionate words.



  5. jaydub26 says:

    We are all trying our hardest to be as good as we were BC (before cancer) but unfortunately the memory is one of the things affected. ‘BC’ I had an almost photographic memory and it has been confusing for my children to tell me things and me not remember them. The memories that are laid down now are fuzzy instead of crystal-clear. Sometimes they feel as if they are as insubstantial as clouds when I reach for them in my mind. I read a study that actually showed a decrease in grey matter for women who have undergone chemo (fourth headline down on this page from the National Cancer Insitute) Hurray for Alice that she managed to escape these side effects but for many of us they are all too real. I hope your friend reads this post and realises what a self righteous….. she is being.

  6. Lahdeedah says:

    Jaydub…thank you for that article and the phrase “insubstantial as clouds.” That’s *exactly* it. I’m just gonna have to cross my fingers that the article you sent is right and that I’ll regain some lost territory 🙂

    I hope you have a wonderful new year’s eve and a fantastic 2011.

  7. justenjoyhim says:

    I hear ya. I had a “friend” ream me out last year on a whole bunch of things that are apparently wrong with me. It’s very hard to forgive, especially when you’ve done nothing worse than being a fallible human being.

    As far as those who do cancer gracefully — they infuriate me, to tell you the truth. They’re either hiding things from others or also hiding the truth from themselves as well because cancer is NOT graceful, or happy, or peaceful, or WHATEVER.

  8. annie says:

    There really is no way to do cancer gracefully. Whoever claims to be is fooling themselves. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh but the daily treatment for almost 5 years has convinced me of my LACK of grace. The pills to manage side effects leave me stupid. It’s as simple as that. The people who matter in my life are simply appreciative that i’m still here…substantial grey matter loss or not 🙂

    We have to allow ourselves moments of anger, fear and neutrality because in the end we are the ones living with this completely ungraceful disease. We have to use the energy for our families rather than making other people feel better about our diagnosis.

    If that sounds crabby and selfish it’s because I get far too reflective as I approach one cancerversary and hope for another.

  9. Lahdeedah says:

    I hear you, too, Judy. Cancer is not graceful, or WHATEVER 🙂

    Annie, I like your honesty.

    Feels good to know there are women out there who are being real about this cancer thing. I’ve had moments of grace, but in retrospect they were either God moments or moments when I had seamless support. But who can sustain that?

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