The Big C

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The Three Cathy Jamisons

"Cathy," says the group leader, out loud as though it couldn't pinch or burn, as though it doesn't make you feel naked and alone, "Do you have cancer?"

For a second the whole world slides away; for a second this woman seems unimaginably cruel. Cathy smiles.

"Wow, really buried the lede there. Yes. Yes, I do. Uh, melanoma. Stage IV."

The room goes silent and they all recover, after a moment. Sheila partners her with Leon, a friendly man of around her age: "Leukemia," Leon whispers happily. "Stage II."

CANCER IS THE PASSPORT TO THE LIFE YOU WERE MEANT TO LIVE, screams the poster on the wall. Cathy Jamison begins to realize she has made a truly terrible mistake. They can see it in her posture, her nervous nod to Leon.

"Well, good for you for coming, Cathy. As we say, cancer is a gift! It allows you to speak up in your life and say, Hey life, this is what I want!"

A truly terrible mistake. "Before you speak up, you have to find your voice," says Sheila, dashing off her glasses in one thrilling movement and sparkling a smile at Mitchell, Mitchell with the throat cancer, Mitchell who holds up his microphone and speaks in robot monotone. Mitchell, who has found his voice.

These people are a family but they are not her kind of family. She's spent so much time dividing herself up into the places she needed to fit. She's shaved off little bits to make life easier for everybody else. That's all these people are doing. She doesn't want to be three Cathy Jamisons anymore, or eight, or fifty-two. She wants to be the girl who loved summer, who loved the sun, who burnt her family strong before she left. One Cathy Jamison for every single circumstance, and that means authenticity, and that means being angry when you're angry and sad when you're sad and honest, honest all the time.

First, they'll do a mirroring exercise: Listen to your partner, tell them what you think they're thinking. Learn to be less alone. Learn to hear and to be heard; to validate and find your voice, together. Your happy, grateful voice. Leon loves this one, and smiles hard at Cathy Jamison.

"This morning I was thinking how great it was when Carl brought me my cappuccino in bed, how lucky I am to have him, and how kind he has been to me since I got sick. And it's just really opened us up as a couple." Built for two; the passport to a life. Cathy stares at Leon, trying not to weep for him, trying not to run screaming from the room. He speaks so fast, he does the work, he knows what is required in this group. Cathy's not as good at it and Leon must remind her, to mirror him.

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The Big C

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