Cancer sucks. There is really no two ways about it. This two-word moniker has withstood the test of time, and even more impressively…social media time. Heck, it’s even making it to meme heaven.
The reason it has been so successful and continues to populate our social media platforms is because it’s true. And one of the biggest reasons that cancer sucks is because it changes our physical appearance…not just how the world sees us but how we see ourselves. We must wear the disease like an old, moth-eaten winter coat (unless your Mom used moth balls in that random closet in the guest room.)
Cancer is the only disease that comes from within ourselves and forces us to fight against….well…ourselves. And the world sees us as this bald, pasty-yellow, gaunt, meek, angry host that this parasite claims. I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to wear that coat. Perhaps it’s too small? Too big? Or maybe you don’t WANT to wear it anymore…you’ve outgrown it, maybe? And when you find that new, hip, slightly swanky coat, you will want to wear it everywhere (think of the song “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore!)
The Cancer Badge Of Honor
Cancer is the only disease that comes from within a person, generally through no fault of their own, that requires treatment which causes as much, if not more, harm than the disease itself. And because of this reality, there is a universal “free pass” that cancer patients receive upon embarking on this road of fighting cancer.
Think about it. Cancer patients are universally respected and prayed for. So why would you feel the need to hide or feel embarrassed about the physical effects that cancer and its treatment causes? Wear them like a badge of honor!
You are sick, and feel terrible, and sometimes look terrible. Own it! This isn’t your fault. You’re not in this situation because of poor decisions or bad planning or irresponsible choices. The special group of people that you’ve been invited to join…you know, those known as “cancer patients”… is a unique bunch. They represent every possible walk of life while also sharing something so personal, and painful, and potentially life-changing. Be a proud advocate of your new-found club!
There will be a specific moment where you look in the mirror and either don’t recognize, or don’t like, the image staring back. Meet the new, cancer you! Now, take some time to temporarily mourn the old, pre-cancer “you” for a bit…it’s inevitable and perfectly reasonable. You won’t be seeing them for a while.
But just like before, you have control over how this new “you” is presented to the outside world. And it is different for everyone. Some people embrace the baldness, while others invest in wigs or scarves. Some wear baggy clothes in an effort to hide obvious weight loss, while others welcome this particular change.
Embracing The New Cancer ‘You’
I would suggest going with what makes you comfortable and confident, but realize that you have nothing to hide or be embarrassed or ashamed of. You were dealt this hand; now play the hell out of it! Bald head or wig, sweat pants or skinny jeans, once you wear your cancer body with confidence, imagine where you’ll be once you return to your pre-cancer self!
My oldest friend, Amy Teague, and co-author of our book, Cancer Is For Old(er) People, followed a daily routine based on the following quote: “A little lipstick and some paint makes a woman what she ain’t.” She found that taking a shower and putting on make-up and dressing stylishly on days that she would be out and about made her feel well. Looking well was the consequence of feeling well…not the other way around. And isn’t this the ultimate goal?!
Personally, I did not like or want to wear a hat or cap to hide my bald head. Now, first off, I was 19 years old when I got sick. And don’t get me wrong, I did wear these things for functional reasons like to prevent sun burns or to keep from being cold. But I wanted to be in control of the hair loss and the affect it had on me, since the cancer and the chemo seemed to be controlling everything else.
Yes, it drew more attention to me…but only from strangers. Those I cared about (and vice-versa) already knew I had cancer, so who would I had be fooling anyway?
I eventually became proud of my bald head. It was like the ultimate tattoo that basically was telling the world “Nothing to see here…except a badass who’s kicking cancer’s butt!”
Think about this: why do many people get tattoos? Well, there are several reasons, of course, but I’d bet that a common reason is because tattoos are permanent visual representations of an important, even self-defining, event in one’s life. What better tattoo than your entire body while it undergoes cancer treatment?
I challenge you to learn to be proud of yourself…your body…the scars…the baldness…the weight loss or gain…the pale skin…etc. Why? Because you did not choose to have cancer but you can sure as hell choose how you deal with it. Show the world, and yourself, that cancer doesn’t define you or call the shots, you do!
It is said that beauty comes from within. What is more beautiful than a person who takes control of their physical appearance and lives each day to the fullest even when this damn disease is trying to say otherwise?!
Cancer patients have the opportunity to manifest the strength they’ve always possessed, although maybe hadn’t realized it, until now. Your changing physical appearance is just one aspect of the journey that will be difficult.
On a journey where you won’t be in control of many things, consider your body something that you WILL control, and love it in your own terms!
My head-shaving ceremony. Man, I missed those blonde locks!