You know the little voice that tells you in the middle of a conversation that you are having with someone that you are a lot smarter than they are? Perhaps it’s hubris, but it happens on occasion. I have recently recovered from breast cancer. I’m on the other side of this deal now, having finished radiation a couple months ago. Now, when people I know (or people of people I know) get a new diagnosis of breast cancer, I contact them and at least lend an ear, share my experience and listen to theirs. I feel like it’s the least I can do, because no one can really do jack shit for someone who has cancer other than be a friend. I had long-lost friends and new friends check in with me during my cancer experience and it meant a lot. Thus, I commence with my do-gooding. Only, the old adage, “no good deed goes unpunished” starts replaying in my head as the following conversation unfolds.
A friend called to advise that her cousin has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. I haven’t seen the cousin in twenty years, but the friend and I have been friends so long that the friend and I are practically family. Only better than family, because the friend doesn’t bug the ever loving shit out of me. That’s an entirely different rant, however. Those with breast cancer really are a sisterhood, even though I fucking hate that word. All I’m saying is that ball sack cancer just isn’t getting the same community support from fellow scrotum cancer survivors. Cousin and I get through her cancer discussion, her biomarker test results, surgery information, etc. I encourage Cousin to call me after she’s spoken to the surgeon and assure her that everything sounds good so far. We wrap up the discussion and then we get to the awkward part where we remember that we don’t know each other very well. I’m squirming to get off the phone and making a mental note about the next time I talk to her to have a planned interruption after ten minutes. Sorry! Gotta pick up the kids! I realize too late that breast cancer is where our similar life experiences begin and end.
As she’s talking, I keep wanting to correct her grammar and will her a better vocabulary all the while thinking what a bitch I am. She is nice enough, but nice has never been compelling enough to keep my attention. I need snark. I need wit. I’m trying to get off the phone when she downshifts into small talk. She asks, how are you feeling? Fine, I say. How are the kids? Kids are fine, I offer. What about your son? I ask, The one with autism? Yes, she responds. What kind of autism does he have? Only the best kind, I think. Instead I say, Do you mean is he verbal? Yes. Is he verbal? Oh, yes. Quite verbal. Insatiably verbal, in fact. In addition to a seizure disorder, OCD, ODD and autism, he’s been recently diagnosed with ADHD at the ripe age of 8. We’re still working on the meds to try to equalize his behavior so I won’t have to buy so many dishes. He shattered two bowls just last week because I wouldn’t let him have five cookies on top of the three he already stuffed in his mouth before I could stop him. I may need to replace a kitchen chair too. Wow. He sounds like a handful. Well, he can be, but he can also be incredibly sweet and affectionate.
So this is the point where the conversation goes from boring and annoying to insulting and infuriating. Cousin with the new diagnosis of breast cancer (I am going to hell) is struggling to keep the conversation relevant so she launches off into a soliloquy about how one of her friends has/had an autistic son. Yes, there’s quite a lot of that going around, I say. The autistic son didn’t talk at all, didn’t communicate in the slightest. She continues without encouragement, the parents took him to someplace in Alabama or Louisiana and he underwent this therapy where they removed the toxins and mercury from his body. How nice for them, I say without conviction, realizing she has no idea what the fuck she’s talking about. She gushes: He takes like 20 pills a day now, and he’s talking! Totally cured! I was so impressed they knew what to do for him. Yes, I’ve heard about those therapies. As kids age, they often start talking. Have you ever thought about doing that for your son? It’s like when the stupid salesperson asks you if you would you like to save forty percent with your purchase today by opening a charge card. No! I want to pay as much as possible! Top dollar! Stop asking me inane questions I can’t answer without sounding like an asshole! I don’t want your fucking charge card!
What I want to say to the Cousin is: Are you fucking kidding me? Have you been watching Dr. Jenny McCarthy lately? What you are describing is chelation therapy, and yes I’ve heard of it, as well as the 100+ therapies out there marketed to desperate parents of children with autism. Did you ask your stupid friends how much of their life savings they’ve shelled out for this miracle therapy? Have I tried chelation therapy? No, but I have tried lots of other shit that had no effect from the Wilbarger protocol to hippotherapy. Don’t you think if mercury was known as the universal cure that autism wouldn’t exist? My son needs understanding, not a cure. He needs love, not judgment! Just because you know someone who has a child with autism does not mean you have any insight into my personal experience. Stop making casual conversation with me unless you’re going to say something intelligent. Fuck you! Oh, and sorry you have breast cancer. That sucks.