The funny thing about being a cancer patient is the expectation that everyone has about your appearance. What do you visualize when you think of someone with cancer? Skinny? Bald? Pale and sickly? Someone who is sad and barely clinging to life?
Now, what do you visualize when you think of someone with breast cancer? A bald warrior swathed in pink? A vibrant, smiling stick figure of a woman who has walked 60 miles for three days to really shove her middle finger at cancer? A wig-wearing, pink ribbon toting lady who may not have breasts anymore but f*ck you cancer she has a great attitude about life?
Just like everything and everyone in life, there is no one answer. Yet, it seems that we all have such solidified preconceived notions about what a cancer patient looks like, especially what a breast cancer patient looks like.
“You still look good” is the most common phrase I hear when I see people these days. I still look good? I was diagnosed on July 8th with stage 1 breast cancer. It is now the end of August. Guess what? I still look exactly the same as I did two months ago. And guess what else? I’ve had cancer for months, I just didn’t know it.
And that time I climbed ~2,100 feet up to Frankenstein Cliffs? I had cancer then. I just didn’t know it.
And that time I posted my best 5K time ever? I had cancer then, too. I just didn’t know it.
I know what the other person is trying to say when they say “You still look good” to me. It’s a compliment and a reaction to what is most obvious. I don’t look like I have cancer. I haven’t looked like I have cancer, but that is about to change.
I am days away from surgery, which will change the way I look forever. I will have weeks of radiation, which will leave a sunburn-like rash on my breast. Only a select few people will ever see those changes. Chemo is a question mark at this point. It depends on the pathology after surgery. But even chemo doesn’t always mean hair loss anymore. This isn’t cancer care from 30 years ago. Cancer care is advancing.
So what does a cancer patient look like? Like me. Like you. Like many of the people you see walking down the street.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” (even if they have good skin, straight teeth, and lots of energy).