One of the more difficult parts of chemo for me is looking sick. Weird, right? I mean, I have my vanities, as we all do, but for the most part I’m just as happy to schlep around in my pajama pants make-up free as I am to dress up and layer on my earrings like bangly battle armor. But looking sick? That’s a whole other proposition.
For as much as I (over)share, I’m a very private person. You can be certain that anything appearing publicly which seems, and often is, deeply personal, was first extensively mentally and emotionally curated. Am I ready to talk about this? Am I ready to forgive myself for whatever it reveals or to embrace whatever it brings? I’m pro-vulnerability, but I like to be ready for it. I do indeed see the irony in this statement, but because I’m ready to forgive myself for it I can say it aloud. I embrace my own contrariness. See how this works?
Looking sick is like walking around with my feelings flayed open all the time. I’ve invited friends, family and co-workers to ask whatever they wonder about because cancer is fucking scary, but knowledge and understanding can shine a light in that darkness. I’d rather answer questions, even the delicate ones, than be the subject of speculation. I also reserve the right to simply say, I’m not ready to talk about that right now, which has been a wonderful tool and which no one denies as an acceptable answer.
Basically, I’m surrounded by the best kind of people whom I trust to listen and understand, or when they can’t understand, to listen and accept.
But if you’ve known me for any length of time, you know I’m still putting pieces of my self back together from years of emotional and spiritual abuse within the church which eroded my ability to trust.. For a long time I inhabited the world like a tightly closed fist, unwilling to let go of any detail that might be used as a weapon against me, and unwilling to open up and let anyone in. I’ve come a long, long way since then, but that initial feeling of uncertainty whether I trust someone with anything other than my curated surface veneer remains. Perhaps it always will. As an introvert, I’m naturally reticant with new people anyway, making it difficult to sort post traumatic stress response from my own personality.
Which takes me back to looking sick, because people are curious; they will ask questions. I know I am well within my rights to say something isn’t their business, but I also know most people who ask questions are motivated by kindness. The cynic in me, the tightly closed fist, pushes back against that statement, but the softer, more open me is learning to see the universe and the people within more benevolently. I want to believe in the goodness in people. Even when I don’t feel it, I can choose it. I wage a constant battle against my inner triggers when I can’t arrange my external state to hide my internal battle. That’s vulnerability, and a bit of pride as well, if I’m being…well…vulnerable.
The reason I don’t look fine is because I’m not fine. Sorry not sorry if that is upsetting.
Listen, I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. That’s bullshit theology. But I do believe in every season of life, there are things to be learned and gifts for us to take away, if we choose.
I’m sharing these thoughts here in an effort to embrace what they reveal about me. Perhaps it’s a lesson on letting go of unnecessary armor from my religious experiences, so I can receive the gift of kindness, which I have, in ridiculous abundance. I look sick because I am sick which is no personal failing. I won’t pretend like everything is ok, like I am #blessed, like everything is working for my good. I’m in a bullshit mess with a bullshit disease, and it sucks, and I hate it.
BUT ALSO I am so damn lucky to have friends who lift me up ( like in Dirty Dancing), who tell me I am beautiful, who ask about my false lashes and bald head with curiosity rather than pretending like nothing has changed. Everything has fucking changed. All the changes are so emotionally exhausting that at least once I day I want to lie down on the floor and just quit. There are so many things to do that I just don’t want to do – really, a lot. But I do, and I can because of the brave folks around me who aren’t afraid to see the real me behind the earrings and the hats and the false eyelashes and simply allow her to be.
I’m so grateful for every single person who has sent me anything, but especially those who loudly and proudly chant FUCK CANCER with their words and with their gifts. I’ve never been more glad to be free of toxic religion so I can say exactly what I feel and hear it echoed back to me without fear of repercussion.
As for looking sick, I’ve decided to simply have as much fun as I can doing all the glamorous things I believed would make me look like a silly middle aged lady trying to deny her years. I’ve never shied away from my age (46 if you’re asking), but if you can’t be Joan Crawford’s protege when you have cancer, then when the hell can you, I ask?