You know how I can tell? Because, everybody who sees me tells me how good I look. That didn't happen before I got breast cancer.
I don't know if it's the mastectomy, the chemotherapy or the baldness that garners me compliments, but I highly recommend doing any one of the above if you are feeling a little low on appreciation for your loveliness.
Here is a little secret you cancer-free folk don't know - these compliments, which are universal, are actually a bone of contention in Cancer World. Some of the more peevish cancer patients tend to interpret that statement as "You look good compared to the way you used to look when you were healthy." Honestly, there are 20 page rants on cancer boards started by patients complaining that they know they look bad compared to their old selves, and yet are still receiving compliments. "How can people be so insensitive?" they ask.
They are, apparently, surprised to realize they were formerly ugly and confused and angry that cancer made them look good.
I can only imagine what these people would say if somebody looked at them and burst into tears.
Me, I know what that statement means. It means, "You look good compared to what my idea of somebody undergoing cancer treatment looks like."
We get a lot of our understanding of cancer from the movies or articles about people who have or are about to die of this disease. Their pallor, their vomiting, their weakness, the extremely dark circles under their eyes, their hunched thinness, their baldness and of course, their luminous eyes with long lashes - that is what a person with cancer looks like in our collective cultural experience. Cancer means death.
Death with eyelashes.
So when people are presented with a version of yourself that generally looks the same as before; maybe a bit paler and certainly with less hair (and no eyelashes), but mostly looking like you, they match that vision with their cultural expectations, and are surprised and relieved. Wanting to be nice, they tell you how good you look. Meaning, you don't look like you are at death's door.
(In fact, I'm still feisty enough so that the next person who complains to me about receiving a compliment will be a little bit closer to that metaphysical door than they know.)
I am paler, and I do have dark circles. I am missing hair and a breast. And eyelashes. But, although it takes me longer and a lot more thought, I dress well. I put on makeup. My scarves match my outfits. I am weakened but not out, and I smile. A lot.
I like it when people tell me I look good. You know why? Because, I do. Cancer made me beautiful.
My here and now
1 day ago