Elephants And Tea - March 2020 - 20

Survivorship

OUT OF THE BUBBLE

The Office Was
Quieter Without
You Here

I

BY M A L L ORY C A SPE R S ON

n the spring of 2011, I went through several rounds of chemo to rid my body of
Hodgkin's Lymphoma. During treatment, I maintained my graduate school
schedule consisting of teaching, classes and research. That summer, deciding
that I needed a little space to recover, I took a few months off. While my body
felt OK again, my emotional well-being was still fragile as I walked back onto
campus that August. I hadn't returned to "normal" and no one had yet explained to
me that my "normal" would never be the same.
That first day back, I walked into a mostly empty office; mostly empty besides
the single filled chair near the door. Upset by a friend's last-minute cancellation
of a coffee date, I entered the office and immediately began a lighthearted rant
explaining my disappointment. The response I received shocked me. The office
where I'd spent much of my first year of grad school, developing friendships with
my fellow students, became nothing short of hostile territory. The headphones of
my listener went on, he explained that I shouldn't be complaining to him since
he could do nothing about it, and he told me, without the least bit of humility,
that the office had been much quieter without me there over the summer. The
office had been quieter, and much more productive, apparently. My heart sank
in my chest as he turned to his computer monitor, not in the least bit moved by
his own words. My world was rocked. I put my things down, walked quickly
out of the room and downstairs to the ladies bathroom where I cried into the
mirror by the sink.
Thoughts ran through my head. I shamed myself for ranting at all when I could
have entered the office on a more positive note. I shamed myself for talking when
I could have been quiet. I shamed myself for desiring a friendship that obviously

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MARCH 2020

was no longer there. I was enraged, that after
everything I'd been through, he could be, to
put it plainly, so mean.
In two minutes, the conflict, to my still headphoned office mate, was over. I had ranted, he
had responded accordingly, and no one had
been hurt. I spent the next few weeks replaying
this event in my head and rethinking what I
expected out of my friendships.
Over time, I had several contemplations.
For one, I spend lots of time with people that I
actually gain something from. I make dinners
with friends, watch movies with them, go on
hikes and other adventures. Just because I spent
much of my day in an office, or just because a
friendship had once existed, didn't mean that
this colleague had to be my best friend, or that
he had to be any kind of a friend at all.
Most importantly, I decided that just because
he didn't require mutual respect between the
two of us for a friendship to exist, didn't meant
that I couldn't require it.
I discovered that my hurt, disappointment
and anger had little to do with the office mate,
head-phoned into isolation after our tiff. I realized that to many, I may have downplayed the
despair, grief and sometimes uncontrollable
sadness that I had been feeling during and after cancer. I almost began to shame myself for
this and then stopped. It was for me to decide
who to share these feelings with - and no one
else mattered. Friendship or not, expressed
transparency of my feelings or not, I deserved
respect. I had been through hell and back.
The period of time I spent going through
treatment and the summer I spent recovering
had changed the world for me, but not for my
office mate. To him, life was still the same, but to
me, the world had irrevocably changed. Young
adult cancer had created a bubble around me
that altered the way I perceived other people,
the way that time moved, and what I considered
to be important. To my office mate, today was
a day like any other, but to me, today was my
grand re-entrance into the life I had before
cancer. His time has marched forward in the
same way it always had while mine had taken
a gigantic pause as I fought for my life during
treatment and recovery.
This pause, this bubble of altered space,
cannot be undone. It is for me to decide how
I engage with those around me, knowing that
their existence is without this same bubble. It
is for me to decide how I move forward. And
I don't care anymore that the office had been
quieter without me there. l


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Elephants And Tea - March 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Elephants And Tea - March 2020

Contents
Elephants And Tea - March 2020 - Cover1
Elephants And Tea - March 2020 - Cover2
Elephants And Tea - March 2020 - 1
Elephants And Tea - March 2020 - Contents
Elephants And Tea - March 2020 - 3
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