My Split Personality after Cancer
I sat in my Russian language class and the teacher corrected my classmate:
“No, pak (*pronounced rahk) means cancer.” She nodded in self approval. “Yeah, it means cancer.”
At that moment my carefully maintained composure for the day collapsed in pieces like if someone pulled out the wrong jenga block. Cancer didn’t mean the harmless zodiac sign to me or the mellow crawfish. It meant the last two and a half years of my life.
“Eva?” I heard through the molasses of my state of mind. “Eva!”
My eyes focused on the teacher: “Yea….Yes?” I stuttered. “What…I am sorry…izvinite”, I stumbled, my tongue refusing to cooperate.
“Pracitayte”, the teacher commanded, pointing to a sentence on the smartboard.
My eyes and mouth completed the task as if on autopilot because my brain sat frozen by the word cancer. No one knew my secret. They didn’t know why my hair was only 4 inches long. They didn’t know that my breasts were just silicone sacks covered by skin. They didn’t know why my eye got red with strain towards the end of the five-hour class.
I watched myself interact with my classmates and the teacher, with the cafeteria employees, with the language lab instructor. And no one knew.
It felt as if my brain was split in two. One half governed the outside persona while the other half was keeping the real me under control. And then something as simple as the zodiac sign description reduced me to a trembling mess of nerves.
I struggled till the end of my class, trying not to give in to the hot lava of panic that quietly rose from the pit of my stomach up to my heart and lungs, squeezing my throat and trying to fill my eyes with tears.
They are gonna think I am crazy. I took deeper breaths, focusing my eyes at the top of the smartboard. I managed not to cry.
I thought of telling them. Hey, by the way, I got two cancers, so if I sometimes freak out, don’t worry, that’s just a part of it! And then I would turn back to the board, ignoring their open mouths and shocked eyes.
But I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone. Having two cancers somehow made me feel faulty and inadequate. Like a factory defect. Like a broken toy. Like an unreliable car. If I told them, I would get those is she gonna die looks. I couldn’t manage going through every day deflecting those looks or receiving well-meant advice from others about cancer they saw on the Dr. Oz show.
So I kept my secret to myself.
Most of the time, it feels liberating, having everyone treat me as a normal human being, even if my hair is styled in the 80’s fashion of a 7th grader.
But then there are those times when the façade cracks and the cancer slithers out like a malicious snake. It waits for any opportunity. It looks at me from my cancer eye in the bathroom mirror, it reminds me of itself with a relentless hot flash caused by my cancer medication. It is sprinkled all over my brain like the finest dust and I must tread oh so lightly not to disturb it.
So I keep on cheering one part of my brain, propping it up, feeding it, pumping it for the fight. And I gag the other, I stomp on it, I push it under the lid, I strangle it, I weaken it any way possible.
It is exhausting. I live with two people in my head.