Barfing in Public and Other Cancer Stories

Barfing in Public and Other Cancer Stories
I tried to make it to the bathroom, but I didn’t. Strangers watched me barf. I’d left my wig at home, and I was bald with a few strands of Rasta-matted hairs protruding wildly at odd angles or glommed like wet paste onto my head. My T-shirt was stained, and the sweatpants I wore were hideous. I could feel people staring at me. A man I’d never seen before said he’d clean up my mess, and my husband led me to a chair where I could wait out my nausea. I was having one of those cancer moments that required me to surrender and let everyone else do the work of supporting my existence. People talk about the pain, uncertainty, disfigurement, and even the financial toll of breast cancer. But what sticks with me is the raw vulnerability it exposes. As a kid, my straight-laced parents taught us not to “air our dirty laundry.” I learned that the baser needs of our human journey are best kept private — that the crude and emotionally taxing aspects of life are best not exposed, especially for girls. So, when breast cancer hit and I found myself vomiting in front of an audience, it’s fair to say I was uncomfortable. And not just physically. Even as I was overcome with the mind-bending stomach upset that only chemo can induce, in the back of my brain, I was lucid enough to be humiliated about doing it in front of people. In addition to feeling like crap, the severity of my disease scared the hell out of me. Was I going to leave my child without a mom? What about my husband? Was it my time to die? These are thoughts I’d learned to share with my journal, not with the wider world. At that moment, though, cancer took that luxury away from me. I displayed my angst right along with my vomit. “Don’t worry about it,” the stranger said as he walked by w
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