The Cancer Prom

Last night, I was invited by a friend to be their guest at a fundraising gala for the American Cancer Society, a lovely and generous gesture. I was worried about getting all dolled up for a black tie event. All of the gowns I had from my days as a fundraising executive seemed odd and old fashioned, so I bought myself a new dress, suitable for a frame still carrying some extra treatment pounds. I also splurged on having my makeup done professionally since it had been about a year since I wore makeup on any consistent basis and I thought I needed help. There wasn’t much to do about my short chemo curls, but so it goes. The end result wasn’t quite “silk purse from a sow’s ear” but it was the best I could do with what I was working with and I thought it was passable. I didn’t feel beautiful, but I felt better than I had in a while. I asked my husband to take a photo of me before I left and to send it to our children with the caption “mom goes to the cancer prom.”

Fast forward to the event itself. Having managed fundraising events during my career, galas aren’t my favorite thing, and often feel quite fake to me, excuses to get dressed up and show off one’s wealth, and this one was no exception. While the cause is theoretically a good one, and I’m sure that those who came and donated had their hearts in the right place, it all felt so far away from my experience of cancer. As I looked around the room, I saw only one other bald or semi-bald head, and while I know that looks can be deceiving, I found myself wondering about whether there were others in the room who had experienced what I had. Yes, there seemed to be many whose loved ones were touched by cancer from the speeches and remarks, but even those hit some strange notes. The honoree for the evening decided to focus his remarks on cancer statistics, including the fact that 600,000 people would die from cancer this year (which he repeated multiple times). This left me feeling sad and empty, and wondering if he understood what sort of impact that would have on someone who is a cancer patient.

As the festivities wore on, I found myself thinking about the sponsoring organization and my experience with them, which has not been terrific. During the majority of my treatment, I knew nothing of their programs and services, and if I’m honest, I don’t think any of them would have helped, as I’m not much for sitting around in a support group and bemoaning my fate, and I didn’t need a wig nor rides to treatment. I learned about them through the same friend who invited me to the gala, and thought I might be able to help others through them, and so I reached out, thinking that my 30 years of marketing and fundraising experience might be of value. They had no idea what to do with me and didn’t seem to even know how to talk to a cancer patient without offending them, and so a volunteer role that I would be interested in never materialized. With this in the back of my mind, I did wonder last night about where all the money that was being raised was going and whether it would do any real good or if it would be better spent on funding cancer research.

Nevertheless, I was glad I went, it was lovely of my friend to invite me, and it was nice to be out and about in a fancy dress with makeup on.

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