It’s chemo. I’m not marked by the Devil.

By 2012 you’d think people might be used to seeing other people with cancer. Bald heads, no eyelashes or eyebrows, sometimes gaunt, sometimes using sticks or frames to walk. There might be more awareness that folks having chemotherapy can be any age because cancer isn’t fussy about who it grows in and it’s growing in more and more of us.  I thought people would be more used to seeing it,  they’d be more aware.  I can understand kids staring, they aren’t to know about the horrors of cancer or the physical changes chemotherapy brings. But adults?

I’m lucky because I stand tall and walk around unaided. Most of the time I’m “normal.” The only visible signs I’m dealing with cancer are my hairlessness and very pale skin.  I cared about the hair at first, when my scalp was sore and tingling. I cared when I could run my hands through and find them carpeted in golden strands that I hadn’t even felt detach from my head.  Seeing my hair all over my hands made me realise I was sick, very sick.       I don’t care about it now, it’s just hair, I’m doing fine and I’ve adapted.  I’ve always been good with different and this is just a different, more streamlined version of me.

My head gets cold and most of the time I wear hats. I like beanies and slouchy berets. When the temperatures drop a little lower I’ll pull out the fake fur and have fun rocking a cossack look, long boots, big coat and furry hat. Winter is a good time to do chemo from a head-gear point of view.   I guess I am a bit thinner than I was before but I don’t look malnourished and I’m pale in a fashionable Twilight kind of way without the sparkles. I would’ve liked sparkles.

I put on make-up when I go out and I’ve developed techniques (thanks to a very special friend) to disguise my lack of brows and lashes.  I confess I’ve never been brilliant with cosmetics hence my need to ‘phone a friend but occasionally I manage to impress myself. If my patience holds up and I get it right I can make myself look feminine in a cancer-chic kind of way.  I smile and laugh, I’ve got good posture and I walk fast. I’ve always walked fast because I’m tall with a long stride. So even if my speed has diminished a little I often find myself overtaking other folks on the sidewalk.

That’s when they stare and I wonder what it is they’re seeing.

This staring isn’t reserved for the sidewalk. People stare at me when I go to the shop or for a stroll.  They stare when I go to the hospital too. Inside the hospital where sick people go to die or get well again. Surely I’m allowed to be bald in hospital, the place that made me bald in the first place (!) so that I can get well again?  The hospital staff have seen it all before, they don’t notice my hair has gone and even if they do they aren’t bothered by it.

When I have to engage with a stranger at a check-out or in a filling-station the staring from a distance turns into a look of panic, pity or repulsion.  Sometimes its as if they’re thinking she’s coming this way,  sh*t, she’s going to talk to me.  Well of course I am because I don’t want to get arrested for shop-lifting. D’oh!  So I smile, say hi and act normal.  I am normal. I want to pay and be on my way like any other ordinary customer.   A few times cashiers realise I’m not marked by the devil, it’s just cancer and chemo fecking me up a bit.  A few times they ask how I am and I tell them I’m having treatment and overall I’m doing well. They seem to understand and I wonder if their lives have been touched by cancer too?

But a lot of the time people just stare, they don’t ask how I am or say Jeez, I feel for you, good luck with everything.  I wonder if I’ve been marked by the devil  😦                       Christ-on-a-Cracker if I take my beanie off 666 is going to be branded on my head!  Don’t worry, I’ve taken a good look from all angles and it’s not on my head. I’ll look elsewhere.

I accept it’s a little strange to see someone relatively fit and youngish looking with no hair but I’m not the Anti-Christ.  It would be nice if people could get over how I look and see that underneath my hat I’m just another human being getting on with my simple human life.  I won’t bite, I’m not contagious so if you ask how I’m doing I’ll say I’m doing well and thanks for asking 🙂 I wouldn’t be buying petrol if I was about to drop dead and it’s illegal to build your own funeral pyre in this country. Using petrol would definitely be a no-no.  So trust me, if I take off my hat (I won’t) I do not look like this. I will not drag you to hell.

For some extra insight into being different, my sister in arms HighinBrixham has a very funny post here: http://highinbrixham.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/im-normal-youre-too-furry.

And a poignant and touching insight can be found here mywifesfightwithbreastcancer.com/reactions   at Angelo Meredino’s website.  Angelo photographed his wife’s cancer journey, this link shows people’s reactions to her.  Jen lost her battle and Angelo is a 38-year-old widower. I feel for him.

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3 thoughts on “It’s chemo. I’m not marked by the Devil.

  1. Thank you Tracy. You have a gift for writing. You had commented on my blog and suggested I read this post of yours…. I actually already had read this and think that we think alike!
    Thank you for the suggestion. Keep your beautiful head up. Bald isn’t so bad and hair does grow back!

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  2. I follow Sandi, I can cope with the cynical side after working in IT for over 15 years. IT can be a cynical profession. This will sound bonkers given everything else but I’m not brave enough to have a tattoo either. I’d be worried about having a henna reaction (bonkers, I’m on more drugs than ever)! I feel sad for people who are confused or concerned by me, but I still have to buy groceries so I’ll be out in my hat(s) come rain or shine. It’s not like I’m walking around naked, that would be scary 😉

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  3. I can only imagine but I would think this would be one of the hardest parts of not having hair. The outside world interacts with you a lot differently than it did before. It sounds like for you, since you are also young and relatively energetic, that you get a confused response from people.

    Have you read Sandi Weisenberg’s book or blog, “Cancer Bitch”? (http://cancerbitch.blogspot.com/). She was diagnosed as a 50 something year old New Yorker, professional writer, and university writing instructor. Her response to chemo? She shaved her head and had a friend do a henna tattoo all over except for one section where she had her tattoo, “U.S. out of Iraq.” She’s a bit on the cynical side at times but an excellent writer. Plus, what’s not to love to love about a woman in her 50’s taking control of her appearance and putting herself way, way, way out there. I can’t say it’s what I would do, for one it would scare my patients, but I do admire her courage.

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