Q: What do you say to your law school’s dean at your 40th reunion, when you know you have liver cancer and she casually asks, in a brief conversation at the end of a panel presentation, how you are?
A: You say: “Fine.”
Or at least that’s what I did a few weeks ago. I told some other people about my illness, but in general I didn’t go out of my way to do so. I had, I should add, described what was happening to me in my entry for the alumni book – but it turned out that not very many people were pouring over the alumni book!
Why not say more? Perhaps for these two reasons: First, the dean wasn’t bargaining on a revelation like mine. She was engaged in being friendly to hundreds of people whom she knew only slightly, if at all (that included me); she wasn’t in a position to process a disclosure like this one, and perhaps not in a position to respond properly to it either. I didn’t want to impose on her.
But also, second, I didn’t want to take on the burden of being a cancer patient myself. I was there to be part of the reunion – to reacquaint myself with people I hadn’t seen in many years, to see what my law school had been up to, and to have fun with Teresa. I wasn’t so much interested, I think, in revisiting my status as a cancer patient. So I wasn’t just avoiding imposition on others, but allowing myself the benefit of a bit of a cancer vacation too.
Perhaps these are the reasons that many people are quite private about their cancer diagnoses. I haven’t taken that approach at all (as readers of this blog know very well). But if this is what some people are thinking, I begin to see their point.
Meanwhile, the reunion was fun. And even though I actually knew quite a bit about what had been going on at the school over the past decades – since I’m a law professor myself – I wound up with enough sense of the value of the school and of my connection to my classmates that my wife and I made a modest reunion gift.