One of the best and worst things about traveling home for the holidays is to see people you haven’t seen in awhile. It’s a time when everyone tries to come home, a time when people gather. There are parties.

Everyone wants to look and present their best selves at these parties. I’ve been known, in the past, to hit three parties a night. The only limit is my refusal to spend a small fortune (think, roughly a bottle of Vinter’s daughter) on lyfts - don’t drink and drive people - and my own rapidly waning energy.

I used to dread these parties in my early 20s because I had no updates. My life was chugging along. I had no glamorous career, no dramatic makeover montage, no significant other. My favorite part of the night was getting ready with whatever friends I could entice for a combination of pre-party (sigh, drinking before drinking, those were the days) and grooming. The grooming was of course my favorite part. All my friends know I would like nothing more than a reason to touch your face and/or Hair. But I digress.

Because now I dread these parties for an entirely new reason. My life is in some ways very dramatic - I just moved to Denver! My other is very significant, and I’m so obsessed with him and proud of him that I would happily take out a billboard. My job is medium glamorous (what with all the makeup and the skincare and the whole self-care) and I get to help people feel good about themselves.

There’s only one thing I really dread.

That question.

What I wouldn’t give to just get the compliment “wow, you look amazing!” without it’s ubiquitous cousin. “Are you better?”

Now, I am better. Which is to say that I am working every single day to live my best life, and possibly succeeding. I am surrounded by the blessings of eyes and a heart filled with gratitude. I definitely like myself better than I did from ages 11 to 28. I’m for sure doing one heck of a lot better than when I was going through “real chemo.”

This is not what they are asking me about. I’m not a dummy.

What they mean is, “Is that cancer gone?”
Are you in remission? Are you cured?

The answer to those questions is definitely No. I still get chemo every third week. I still have to endure tests, painful and embarrassing side effects, limits, humbling fatigue.

I do not tell people this. I just say No. I still have cancer and I’m still in treatment. I’m still doing really well - despite all of that previous paragraph - but once the cancer metastasized to the bone, the focus became healing and quality of life. I am healed but not cured. The one time I went off my chemo for any period of time (my mastectomy) they found a spot of cancer.

And while my scans have been clear for the last two years, we don’t know what will happen if I stop. My first bone scans were clear also. It could be just a few errant cells, waiting for the right moment to spring up and grow and infect other healthy organs and kill me.

I still have cancer.

But of course this makes for horrible party conversation. I should just lie and say that “Yes, I am better.” It’s not really a lie. I am better. Just not the way they intend.

So why don’t I do that? Why don’t I lie?
I work so hard to make the signs of my illness invisible - what do I get by telling the truth? Besides being the bummed at the party? Why do I feel the compulsive need to answer this question truthfully and in Great detail? It’s miserable for me also.

I cannot give my health to you in a neatly wrapped gift. I cannot give it to myself (although it really is all I want for Christmas?)

The truth is the only gift I have to give.
It’s why I share so much on the internet. Why I feel the need to constantly reveal myself in all my weird and snarky glory. I am fully and totally the only me I can be.

Old Dena would bend herself into circles to make sure people were having fun and happy. New Dena only does things that feel right in her heart - not always the easiest thing, or the most fun thing. Sharing my health story will hopefully educate people about the new reality of cancer, about what life is like managing a chronic medical condition, about how to like yourself and feel beautiful when the cards are stacked against you.

So yes, I guess the short answer is I am better, but someday I hope to be better better.