Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Breast Cancer Girls: to Out Oneself at Work or Not ? Pros and Cons

If you don't tell the folks at work, you have the fun of being the local Rorschach test. 
I just met up with a colleague who hadn't seen me since my wig--we had to give an exam together. He's a scholarly Irishman, entirely buried in his work, so much so that I was counting on him not noticing anything different about me. But he glanced up from his coffee with that startled look--followed by a look of horror--the one typically preceding a remark from one of the secretaries about what a nice new hairdo I have. With frozen politeness that belies the shock they can never quite hide, they say, "Short for summer, right?" and I smile back and thank them. 
This guy said, nervously, "Well, now, you've really remade yourself completely!" His eyes flicked me over and the scholar in him took over--having processed the data, he felt driven to assess: "Was it a mid-life crisis, now?"
I smiled. "A mid-life crisis is as good a name as any."
He smiled back as if he now knew just what the situation was: "Well, now, don't worry--it'll be over soon!"
See? Rorschach test. He looked at the ink blots and thought "menopause." I'm kind of flattered. Yeah, as in, "Gee! I look young enough to be just starting menopause?" 
If you go ahead and tell the folks at work that you had cancer, you never get to hear stuff like this, and I must say, I enjoyed hearing it. 
I didn't tell because I didn't want people rushing up and asking how I was, with a look of tragic fear in their eyes that screamed, "Are you going to get so sick I have to teach your courses for you or give your exams, or worse yet, clean up some mess created by your cancer-riddled brain?" Or maybe they'd do what I would have done, in fact, did do, when another colleague came down with breast cancer. I wondered what she'd done to deserve this. Not that she'd done anything. But she must have had an unhappy this or an angry that or taken too much whatever. I would much rather have thought she'd done some preventable thing than feel the full force of how unpredictable life is. Only I am predictable: must have been the clomid I took to increase fertility. Or the red wine. Or drinking out of plastic bottles. Or using lipstick and hair dye. Or . .  .
So, for me: tell your family. They will help you through an illness. But the folks at work are unpredictable. If they're like me before I had cancer, I wouldn't tell them. 


  1. How much to share with co-workers is always hard. I wouldn't either.Here from Power of the Pen. Best wishes.

  2. Thanks. And not sharing does make life more interesting: the guesswork surrounding my "hairdo" is fascinating.