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.