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So I’m having my first close brush with breast cancer, and I have to say that it’s bringing out the heartless bitch in me. I have to figure out the balance between sarcastic cynic and compassionate saint. I’m happy being a cynic (or as happy as a cynic can be), but I have a vague feeling that I’m occasionally verging on being a bad person.

A woman at work — I’ll call her Ann — has been diagnosed with Stage One breast cancer. This is bad. Cancer — ALL cancer — is bad.


She came up to the daycare this week, along with her husband & teenage son, and there was a long, 5-minute group hug of like 4 or 5 women. There’s tears & snot & loud sobbing, and I just feel annoyed. And then she comes into the nursery where I’m feeding the critters lunch, and goes around & gives each one of the babies long, lingering hugs… patting their faces and saying their names over and over like she’s saying her last farewells. She was acting like she was heading straight down the road to the funeral home after she left the daycare. Her face was so tragic, and she was moving in slow-motion. As uncharitable as it sounds, I felt like she was maximizing the dramatic effect, playing the role of tragic heroine.

As soon as Ann left, one of my coworkers — I’ll call her Jane — came flying into the nursery and grasped the counter for support as her knees buckled, and she held her head and started wailing. Freaked all the babies out. Like she was all bent over in a standing fetal position. I actually did an impersonation for Bobby, Jen & Tom last night because that’s the kind of evil girl I am. Jane isn’t even good friends with Ann. She’s one of those who inserts herself into every bad situation… if something bad happens, she figures out how she’s related to the victim. It makes her feel important.

I felt like I was in a bad Lifetime movie.

The behavior was inappropriate for Stage One. It just was. As soon as Jane’s wailing had quietened down to a low moan, I said “You do know Ann’s Stage One, right? There’s pretty much a 100% chance that she’s gonna be fine.” And the crying stopped dead in its tracks. Like I had hit the “off” button. She didn’t resume until she went back into the other room. Guess I wasn’t an appropriately sympathetic audience.

I’m going to be subbing long-term for Ann because she’s taking a complete leave of absence for an undetermined period of time. They’re doing a segmental mastectomy & immediate reconstruction, and then a few rounds of chemo just to make sure. She might be back in 6 or 8 weeks. Or 12. Or never.

I’m aware that I sound like a cold-hearted bitch. But here’s the deal. Cancer sucks. It does. I watched my mother vomit from the chemo on her way to work & then work a full day, and I watched her stay strong & graceful in the face of a Stage Four diagnosis. She set an example that I can only strive to meet if/when it’s my turn. She never played the tragic heroine… not even when it was fully warranted. And watching her killed a lot (ok, most) of my compassion & tolerance for drama.

I hope, I really, really hope, that Ann is ok. I hope she pulls her shit together for the sake of her teenage son, if for no other reason, because right now, she’s freaking him right the hell out. You could see the sheer terror on his face. I hope that she’s a statistic, because the stats for Stage One are really great. I hope that this is a blip on the wide-shot of her life. I hope she comes out of this with new, perky boobs and an attitude to match. I do.

And I hope I don’t bite my tongue all the way off & bitch-slap Jane in the process.