A funny thing happened on the way to the chemo forum yesterday. I was at my doctors office, waiting in the chemo check-in line, which is slightly less tedious than the airport check-in line but with over sized emotional baggage and without the promise of an exciting destination at the end of it. Suddenly this elderly woman sidles up to me and whispers in my ear, "You look like a model", and then turns around and prances off down the hallway.
I barely had time to smile to myself and think, wow, I guess I must look good today. Now rather than just take the compliment for what it was and enjoy it I just had to start over thinking it.
First of all I could never be a model. 1. I eat food and especially enjoy carbohydrates. 2. I am wavering on double digit size clothes and by this I don't mean size 00. 3. I'm about twenty five years too late chronologically, a double chin and two ridiculous fake boobs to boot. 4. I don't get out of bed for less than the promise of three square meals and snacks in between. And 5. Do I really want to add an eating disorder and body dysmorphia to the already quite long list of medical issues ? Nope, I don't think so.
Then I sat down in the waiting room and looked around me. Most of the people that I see in my oncologists office are quite elderly, quite frail-looking, bald and obviously very sick. And then here's me waltzing in with a full head of hair (thank you chemo-gods), forty years old, and I guess compared to what they're going through looking pretty darn good. In fact, I think I could probably pass for someones caregiver truth be told.
It's funny though, years ago I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine who happens to be African-American. I can't remember exactly what we were talking about, but he described what it was like walking into a roomful of people and being the only dark face in the room. Even though he knew that no one was against him in any way, he just always felt people did a double take when they saw him, which always made him feel a bit weird. I actually argued this with him and said it couldn't be and that maybe it was he who just felt self-conscious.
Now six or so years ago in my first round of treatment I lost all of my hair. I wasn't one for wearing wigs preferring the headscarf route which I always thought looked pretty good. But what you see in the mirror isn't necessarily what other people see and I suppose you just get used to the way you look and don't really think about it in the security of your home. One day I boarded a crowded subway train, took my seat, and suddenly got an overwhelming sense that everyone was staring at me. I looked up and actually caught a couple of people staring directly at me with a look I can only describe as questioning pity. I must have looked bad that day I guess and I suppose my cancer patient chic' head wear wasn't fooling anybody on that train. I suddenly understood the feeling that my friend had described all those years ago. It was weird and quite unsettling I can tell you.
So I suppose to some extent that's what going on now whenever I go to my doctors office. Except now it's in reverse. I walk into that room and still look like the odd person out, but this time it's because I look pretty normal and I guess pretty healthy. But then they see the yellow patient wrist band and the hideous IV port coming out of my chest, and they know that I am one of them, but one who is fortunate enough to pass incognito most days.
It's the small mercies and little moments like this where I remind myself, that no matter how bad I feel physically or emotionally, there's always someone else who feels a hell of lot worse, and would give their eye teeth to be in my shoes.