When I first realized that I might have cancer, I felt immediately that I had entered a special place, a place I came to call “The Land of the Sick People.” The most disconcerting thing, however, was not that I found that place terrifying and unfamiliar, but that I found it so ordinary, so banal. I didn’t feel different, didn’t feel that my life had radically changed at the moment the word cancer became attached to it. The same rules still held. What had changed, however, was other people’s perceptions of me. Unconsciously, even with a certain amount of kindness, everyone—with the single rather extraordinary exception of my husband—regarded me as someone who had been altered irrevocably. I don’t want to exaggerate my feeling of alienation or to give the impression that it was in any way dramatic. I have no horror stories of the kind I read a few years ago in the New York Times; people didn’t move their desks away from me at the office or refuse to let their children play with my children at school because they thought that cancer was catching. My friends are all too sophisticated and too sensitive for that kind of behavior. Their distance from me was marked most of all by their inability to understand the ordinariness, the banality of what was happening to me. They marveled at how well I was “coping with cancer.” I had become special, no longer like them. Their genuine concern for what had happened to me and their complete separateness from it expressed exactly what I had felt all my life about anyone I had ever known who had experienced tragedy.
Journal name not available for this finding