I am a freelance writer and I write from the perspective of a 20-something, tall drink of manic-depression, proficient in barely passable French, with a face for radio. I’ve been unbelievably fortunate to have gone to school in Paris and to have visited many museums and famous monuments while there and travelling abroad. These experiences granted me the authority to be both pretentious and irritating.
[Please insert eye-roll here. I know you want to.]
The point of all of this is that I fit the description perfectly of one who was born of privilege and yet has been completely unaware of it. Truthfully, the word “privilege” has never set well with me. It takes me back to those teenage years when privilege was always associated with some sort of punishment – like “If you don’t clean the bathroom, your car privileges will be taken away for a week.” (As if that stopped me from sneaking out. They should have taken away my shoe privileges instead. At least they would have heard me cursing as I tripped over rocks in the yard while escaping out the back door).
I now think about the idea of privilege as a kind of inheritance.
And I’m not talking about the kind of asset-based inheritance a person receives when a parent or other relative passes away. Lord knows, my parents have drilled into my sisters and me that there will be nothing of that sort coming our way. My dad even went so far as to say that their life insurance doesn’t go into effect under suspicion of murder or suicide: So, to quote my father, “You need to make it look good.” He doesn’t have to worry.
There’s not enough there to warrant the effort.
When I say “inheritance,” I’m referring to my having been born into a loving (although quite dysfunctional) family with a deep connection to extended family and being surrounded by good friends and cats who adore me. And why wouldn’t they? I’m pretty adorable. And I taste like liver.
I’ve always had the intangibles of never having to worry about where I would sleep or if I would have dinner that night or if I accidentally swiped right instead of left on Tinder. I also had something that many families do not have – parents with the ability to be there to help us with our education and who could leave work at a moment’s notice without fear of losing their jobs.
The level of my privilege that I unknowingly experience every day is so matter of fact, that I have to stop and remember what I truly have been given.
Now, don’t hate me when I add this part. I also have the privilege of not working. (People living in the streets have become homeless for far lesser reasons; the only difference is that they don’t have an incredibly strong safety net as I do.) Not to mention, parents who would not only catch me when I fall, but then would remind me to be more careful because there’s nothing in their will.
The reason I am not currently working is because when I was 23, I was diagnosed with a very rare Stage 4 cancer. Some people celebrate their twenties with parties and drinking.
I’m less into mojitos and more into chemo cocktails.
What I have is called Metastatic Carcinoid. It’s a hipster cancer – you’ve probably never heard of it. This only confirms what I’ve always assumed about myself; I am literally one in a million. I got to add this diagnosis to the long list of my other ridiculous and complicated health problems. Not to brag but even before the cancer diagnosis, I’d already had 13 surgeries. My number is currently 19 – and I now have a sexy Frankenstein scar down my stomach, but it’s all right because vertical lines can be quite slimming.
The reality I want to get across here is that there are a significant number of people with cancer and other serious illnesses who go to their treatments and don’t have my privileges.
Many of them have to head back to work or worse yet, look for work. I have been through the ringer and frequently feel at least twice my age. Having cancer is not as fun as it looks in the movies and on TV! I’ve had some pretty bad days, but even I can’t comprehend the level of pain and anguish someone in my situation would endure without the constant help I’ve received.
My cancer has made me aware of the fact that I am safe, supported and have the possibility of a longer life because of my family and the health care I have been given. None of this did I earn. I inherited it. To be quite blunt, without my privilege, I would have died years ago. Which would be such a tragedy because I am so charming. And liver-flavored. Just ask my cats.