Thursday, September 8, 2011

What Does Cancer Look Like?

Lately as I've been out and about more - people are remarking at how GOOD I look.  I still have all my hair and the effects of the first chemo aren't readily noticeable anymore - so, I no longer look like death slightly warmed over.

Even I think I'm looking pretty good considering I have breast cancer and am in chemo.  Which makes me wonder what someone with cancer is supposed to look like?

I don't know that I had any expectations, necessarily, of how I'd look but I guess I just thought I'd look "sicker."  But I don't know, exactly, what "sicker" looks like.  I still have all my hair (which, at this point is just getting ridiculous!), my complexion looks great, my skin looks great, my hair is shiny - I don't look sick!

"Dying Young"
I saw a movie once with Julia Roberts called "Dying Young."  The young man in the movie, played by Campbell Scott has cancer.  Blood cancer I believe.  The movie is really good but it's heart-wrenching.  The two fall in love, of course, but you know he's dying (the title sort of gives that away). The movie paints an ugly picture of cancer.  Rightfully so, because cancer is ugly.

I think of that movie a lot these days.  I even put it on my Netflix list to rewatch.  Is this what cancer usually looks like?  Is this what cancer used to look like?  Has medicine evolved enough that now people with cancer don't look sick?  I have a friend in chemo for colon cancer (shout-out to Beth - Woot!) and she looks amazing!  I've seen pictures of her and no one would ever know she's sick.  No one would know that I'm sick.

And, in a way, I think that's sad.  Because perhaps if those of us with cancer looked sick, the world would treat us differently?  Better?  But, on the other hand, I don't need strangers knowing my business - so maybe it's good that we don't look sick!?  I'm not sure.

Maple Bar with Bacon - YUM!
Yesterday, I stopped to get doughnuts for the family.  I was nearby an incredible doughnut place (at a doctor's appointment - of course!) and couldn't resist.  I was in the store ordering and a woman with 3 young children came in a few minutes after me.  This woman and her children were INCREDIBLY rude.  The children were everywhere and stepped on me and bumped into me and had their hands all over the display case glass (and these children were young elementary age - old enough to know better in my opinion).  This mother did nothing.  I actually had to stop ordering and just let them finish because the chaos was too much.  Then, as I was walking out holding a big box of doughnuts - she held the door for her children and then dropped it on me!  Really, rudest person I think I've seen in a long long time.

As I got in my car scowling and praying for Karma to give her a swift kick - I wondered if she would have treated me differently if she knew.  If that woman had known what I've gone through the last few months, would that have given her pause to, perhaps, hold the door for me?  To treat a fellow human more kindly?  Maybe not...

But, sometimes I think the world is harsh enough and, maybe, if people knew what I've been through...what my friend Beth has been through...what thousands of other cancer patients have been through...maybe...people would be just a little kinder to each other.

Sometimes a person's struggles in life are obvious - but sometimes they aren't.  And maybe that should give us all pause to be just a bit kinder to each other because you never know what that person is going through.  Which in turn made me look at the woman with her young children and try not to judge her too harshly - I know nothing of her daily struggles.  Heck, she could be a cancer patient herself; she didn't look sick and neither do I.

But, I still wished for a little bit of Karma to teach her a lesson...I'm only human.


  1. Yeah, you have to hope she drops her donuts in the parking lot or something. ;) But you're right - you never know what each person's struggles are. Maybe their dad just deployed and she's doing her level best to keep her sh!t together, or she's going through a messy divorce, or one of the kids has a non-obvious developmental problem and gets the others riled up or...

    But your reminder is 100% on point - we should all try to be kinder, because you just don't know who you're failing to hold the door for, or who it is in the car ahead of you drifting over into your lane. Could be texting, or maybe his glaucoma is acting up, or just got news that his puppy died. Or his donuts got run over in a parking lot. ;)

  2. Here's her karma: she has to take those kids (the ones with no manners and no boundaries) home with her!

    There's this quote, and it's attributed to a dozen different people, so I don't know who said it originally, that I like:

    "Be kind. Everybody you meet is carrying a heavy burden." I think about that a lot, especially as I get older and have had more and more experiences where I found out after the fact about someone else's burden, and wished I'd known.

  3. Nicely put. Once the hair comes out it's all over. I will be interested to see your post a few weeks after that happens. (my oncologist told me my hair would fall out 21 days after I started treatment and it was just about exactly that.)