Talking in Tongues and Awkwardness
Jessica Baladad is the first breast cancer patient to create an app that allows women to advocate for their breast health. She’s a 3-year survivor who became a passionate advocate after a practitioner dismissed a malignant lump during a clinical exam. Thankfully, Jessica had been in the habit of doing self exams since she was 18 and eventually received a proper diagnosis. After 16 rounds of chemotherapy, 24 rounds of radiation, a double mastectomy, a hysterectomy and a 10-hour flap reconstruction, Jessica spends her life as a champion for women’s breast health advocacy through her company, Feel For Your Life. You can learn more about her and her app at www.feelforyourlife.com.
People treat you differently when you have cancer.
At 33 years old, my friends really struggled with the news because it made them face the reality of their mortality. And they weren’t ready for it.
After announcing my diagnosis on social media, many of my peers reached out with sentiments of concern and curiosity. There were waves of grief tourists and cancer muggles who made assumptions about why I was diagnosed — anything from punishment from God to my vaccine choices — but among the disquisitive came comical ignorance.
A few weeks into treatment, a friend checked on me via text and asked if I needed anything. I assured her that I was doing well, all things considered, and thanked her for reaching out.
“I have a question for you,” she text me.
“Go ahead,” I said.
“Do you ever touch it. The tumor?”
“I used to touch it a lot, but I don’t anymore. Not since being diagnosed.”
“That’s probably a good idea. You don’t want it to spread!”
Her response sent me into cackling laughter that activated my vagus nerve and made me dry heave. Thankfully chemo killed my appetite, so I managed not to puke.
By month three of chemotherapy, my hair was nonexistent, and my eyebrows, eyelashes and nails were deteriorating. I looked like a hungover alien that had just done a stint in court-ordered rehab. On the rare occasion I went out in public, people looked at me like I had escaped from a circus freak show.
One day my husband stopped at a gas station on our way home from treatment, and I was craving something to drink to get the taste of metal out of my mouth. Being in a post-chemo stupor, any inhibitions about my appearance ceased to exist, and I proceeded to walk into the gas station to buy some water.
As fate would have it, or perhaps the convenience of living in the Bible Belt, I was detained by an over-saved Christian who was all too eager to offer prayer over me. Now, I’m also a Christian, and faith has played a vital role in my cancer journey, but at the same time, my conversations with God generally don’t cause a scene.
I stood in line to pay for my drink and could feel someone’s eyes staring into the back of my bald head. A middle-aged woman adorned in a green turtle neck with a “pro life” pin attached at the heart prayed over me in audible whispers that suggested God had sent me into her life that day. I had a feeling we were about to have a gaucherie exchange.
The closer we got to the counter, the louder she prayed. I turned around and saw that her eyes were closed, and she began to sway back and forth with her hands raised over me. I needed to pay for my drink, and there was only one line open, so I would randomly insert “Amen” into her prayer, hoping it would prompt her to finish. As other people turned around and noticed what was going on, and I would just shrug my shoulders and smile politely.
When I was next in line to pay, I picked up some extra snacks for my husband and put them on the counter to pay. I heard an abrupt, “AMEN!” and thanked God she was finished.
My items were scanned, and the total came up on the register: $6.66.
My eyes widened. I shook my head as it dropped into my hand. The woman behind me didn’t miss a beat. She fell to her knees, raised her hands and started speaking in tongues at my waist. I only had $5 in cash on me, so I put the water aside, paid for my husband’s snacks and left. I didn’t even wait for change. I walked away quickly with one hand cupped at the side of my face, and the attendant behind the counter stood there befuddled. I turned around as I walked out the door, and the woman was still on the floor violently stammering.
I got in the car and gave my husband his snacks. He was confused.
“Thanks for this, but why didn’t you get something?”
“I had some water but changed my mind. It probably would have burned my mouth.”
He assumed it was a reference to chemotherapy.