Radiation, day 6. Well, I’ll say this for radiation so far: not a big deal, no pain or major side effects so far, and a total pain in the ass. There’s nothing like having to get up early and get out the door by 7:30 a.m. in the winter (bad roads notwithstanding) to make you appreciate your nice warm bed and the joy of going nowhere in bad weather. But such is radiation. The fact that the entire procedure once I’m there takes all of 20 minutes, including getting dressed and undressed, does not escape me. My little community of other radiation patients who come at the same time includes two guys who have prostate cancer and who finish their 40 treatments tomorrow. Gives me something to look forward to 24 treatments from now.
I understand from my doctor that the side effects (skin irritation, tiredness) may start to kick in next week, so I’m preparing for that, while at the same time enjoying what energy I do have. What I am not enjoying is the fact that I lost most of my eyebrows and my eyelashes this week. Truly nothing says “cancer patient” like bald with no eyebrows and eyelashes. Some of the hair on my head is growing back as peach fuzz, and I was enjoying that despite the bald spots until this latest development. I had to get a bone scan today in the breast center where the waiting room was filled with women waiting for their routine mammograms, and I am sure I looked like the poster child for what you don’t want to have happen to you, and I could feel them trying not to look at me. Sorry ladies, but such is life.
I was telling another survivor about the brow/lash thing (and may I just say that I had envious eyebrows before) and how I was tiring of any pretense of covering up indoors in a turban fashioned from my impressive collection of scarves, and she told me to “own it” and that I was in fact a cancer patient and why wouldn’t I look like one? Good advice. I am a cancer patient, and clearly if my brows and lashes are still falling out, I’m not done with the effects of chemo, and if people need to look away, so be it.
But “owning it” goes deeper than not wearing a turban. It also extends to owning the experience of being a cancer patient and the impact it has on my priorities and values. I met someone yesterday who spent an extraordinary amount of time complaining about little things in her life, things that seemed trivial from the vantage point of cancer (yes, she knew I had cancer) and I wanted to say (but didn’t) “try cancer sweetie and all those things will seem like gifts.”
I’m bald and browless and lashless and for today, grateful for the perspective that being a cancer patient offers.