This has been an interesting week for me as a member of cancer's inner circle. One of my favorite blogger friends, Mary Tyler Mom wrote a controversial, heavily thought inducing piece regarding the possible creation of a bald Barbie doll for little girls with cancer to enjoy. (There is a facebook page, Beautiful and Bald Barbie, Let's see if we can get it done). Having had the agony of losing her beloved daughter Donna to cancer at the age of 4, MTM had a lot to say about the doll. It gained national notoriety. She rocks. Read here:
Through the reactions and comments to the blog she was sent the following link, written awhile back by a breast cancer survivor. "A Little c" wrote of her annoyance at the Facebook status that asks people to repost if they care about cancer. I admit I've reposted it before but not because I am afraid people will don't think I care. I reposted because I did lose loved ones to cancer and if that was my public way of honoring them a bit, so be it. After reading this however, I understand what she is saying and won't be reposting that:
That blog was as close to perfection as MTM's. You see, As a cancer survivor who has visited hell and back, I know only too well so much of what both speak of. In MTM's case, I do not know the agony of watching my child go through cancer but knowing what treatment is like first hand, I could slightly begin to imagine it and can't imagine anything worse.
There are people who have not been affected by cancer in some way. But those that have are members of a different circle. We that have have every right to be bitter, angry and sad if we so choose. We have every right to feel anything we want. We earned it. I watched my mother die. I watched my brother in law die. I watched a dear friend die. And so on and so on. And had I not had the blessing of best of outcomes, I too could have died. People that have not been touched closely by cancer may have a hard time understanding the complexity of emotions that we in our "circle" feel. We don't like being in this circle, we didn't choose it. It chose us.
What we don't choose either are the comments people make, well intended or otherwise about our plights with the disease. No, you can't imagine what it's like. No, your child is healthy and mine is dying. No, you absolutely cannot imagine what it's like. It's just hair? No, it's not. It's much more than that. You can't imagine. You are so lucky that you don't need a mastectomy. Lucky? Right. I can't wait to have lop sided boobs, scars and live with the worry that the cancer will come back. Opt for a mastectomy? You think I should? Really? Let me think about that.
When I realized I was going to have to go through chemo and lose my hair I was traumatized. My hair was my crowning glory. Bad hair days always bothered me. We've all had them. The idea of no hair days was unimaginable. I bought caps in every color as I never wanted my bald head to be seen. I even bought a sleep cap as I didn't want my husband to wake up to my bald head. He said he didn't care but I did.
So when I started getting the "it's just hair" and "it will grow back" comments I wanted to punch someone. I wanted to challenge those people to shave their heads. I also would have had to have them shave their eyebrows and pluck out all their eyelashes as well. Then they could see if they felt as though it was "just hair". When you shave your head at least there is a shadow. When you LOSE your hair there is nothing.
That baldness was a daily reminder of the disease. Waking up each day to the sight of my alien looking self, bald in every place you can think of was cancers way of trying to beat me down. But I was blessed. I beat IT down. Others are not so blessed. Others fight and fight until there is no fight left. Donna fought. Mary Tyler Mom and Dad fought with her, for her. My mom fought and fought until she had no fight left. And when it's over, no matter what the outcome is you have become a member of the circle.
We are a hopeful bunch, us members. We aren't all doom and gloom and angry and bitter. My dear friend Jackie, who I met in treatment gave me the best gift. A book called "There's No Place Like Hope" by Vickie Girardi. On the inside cover she wrote to me "We may have cancer but cancer doesn't have us". Amen to that. (I held tight to that book at her funeral)
We don't let it own us. But we do live differently.