Now that I’m going through chemo, I’m having a hard time differentiating between symptoms caused by the chemo (which I apparently need to report to my oncologist) and symptoms caused by my ordinary, everyday body revolting against me. Is this stuffed up head just allergies, or CANCER? Does my stomach hurt because I ate lentils of a certain age, or because of CANCER? Am I tired because of the stupid neighbor’s car alarm waking me up every night, or IS IT CANCER???
Lucky for me, I have been stalking keeping track of my friends’ illnesses for years. I now have a significant catalog of pals who react to things in the same way I do, which allows me to determine whether or not my symptoms are cancer-related or not. My friends haven’t caught on yet, because I keep it cool and casual. For example, a phone conversation I had yesterday with my friend Zoe, who tends to have the same seasonal allergies as me:
Me: Hey is there a lot of mucous in your face today?
Me: Allergies. Mucous. In your face. Are there?
Zoe: Oh. Yeah, my allergies have been pretty bad lately. What’s up? Wanna hang out—
Me: OK. THANK YOU. GOODBYE.
After my phone conversation with Zoe, I could rest assured that the chemo probably wasn’t melting my sinuses. Without my pre-cancer tendency to pay uncomfortably close attention to my friends’ sneezes, I’d be left googling my symptoms to see if I need to worry about them. You know that phenomenon where every symptom you google leads to a cancer diagnosis, catapulting you into an existentially painful universe where a scaly elbow means you have two months to live? That doesn’t go away once you actually get cancer. If you start keeping track of your buddy’s reaction to Taco Bell now, you’ll spend a lot less time screaming “WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?” into a pillow if you ever do get the Big C.
You have to get on this early. See, your friends might think it’s kind of weird if you all of the sudden have an interest in their bowel movements or their watery eyes just because you have cancer. You can pull the cancer card for a lot of things (not limited to the last chicken nugget in the 20 pack), but some people are just reluctant to hand over their medical history to you regardless of what uncontrollable cell division is occurring in your lymph nodes. They think it’s “creepy” or “rude” or “an invasion of trust and privacy,” which is why you need to plan ahead. Without further rambling, here’s my quick guide to creating your very own symptom catalog. You’ll need three things: friends of any sort (acquaintances will do in a pinch), notebook to keep track with, and a complete lack of inhibitions regarding social norms.
- Start small.
The next time you get bad seasonal allergies, test the waters a little. Throw out some bait to the first friend that sniffles—I like to cough and say, “Ugh, allergies, am I right?” If they respond with a, “yeah, they’re KILLING me today,” you’ve caught one. Take them out to lunch somewhere with a questionable health score. The next day, call them up complaining that the Pad Thai made you sick. If they’re sick as well, GREAT! You’ve found a two-fer! If not, rinse and repeat with a new friend. Keep going until you have one friend for every malady.
- Get organized.
“But Kelsey,” you ask. “There are so many symptoms to keep track of! How do you remember which friend is which?” Honestly, I don’t have a clear answer to this question—organization is a very personal thing, and everyone has a different system. Directly labeling the person with their affliction can be messy, and costs loads in tattooing fees. Personally, I find that color coding is an efficient and effective way to remember my friends’ medical history. If sensitive skin = purple, and my roommate Alexandra has the same sensitive skin I do, then I just yell “PURPLE!!!!!” every time she walks into the room. Easy peasy!
- Take early action.
Establish yourself as the paranoid one now so your friends won’t think anything of it when you start questioning their health habits. Claim you’re allergic to gluten. Pretend to break out in hives every time you touch a polyester blend. Dress up in traditional Indian mourning garb and sob uncontrollably whenever you walk past the onion section at the grocery store. Your goal is to make yourself seem as hyper-sensitive as possible so that it only makes sense when you ask your pal whether or not they, too, get achy joints in the cold. Your friends will understand that you, a perpetually sniffly person, just want someone to sympathize with. They’ll humor you and you’ll get the details in no time.
There you go. The quick-start guide to creating a living ailment library. I hope you never get cancer, but if you do, you’ll thank me when you’re wondering whether or not your forehead rash is eczema or another horrifying side effect of chemo that no one told you about.
*Do not stalk your friends. I am not responsible for any restraining orders, nasty looks, or wedding un-vites you receive as a result of this blog post.