I'm told I no longer have cancer, and I'm taking medication to prevent its return. But the long battle to overcome the side effects of surgery and chemotherapy is far from over. I wage another fight every day, and some folks are not helping.
It wasn't enough that I had to lose all my hair. Now that it's beginning to grow back, and I occasionally go out without my wig, I have to endure the unabashed stares of people who act as though they've seen a ghost when I approach.
I never dreamed that would happen. Cancer is so prevalent and there are so many people undergoing chemotherapy these days, surely folks everywhere have seen many women with completely bald heads and many more with hair at various stages of short or sparse regrowth. Can't they at least pretend to ignore it? I guess not.
In addition, now I'm bracing myself for more stares and probably even comments because now my fingernails are falling off. Yes, you read that right. The chemo killed not only my hair, but also the roots of my nails. They are peeling off in layers. Fortunately, it doesn't hurt, but it does look strange. And the regrowth is painfully slow.
I used to have nice, long natural nails, and I kept them polished so they were always attractive. Now, one by one, they are peeling off. They look as if I've bitten them down to the quick but, of course that's not the case, it's just what people think. It's very upsetting to me and makes me self-conscious, adding to my reluctance to go out.
I'm sure that I notice my ugly nails more than others do. I should just ignore the reactions of people around me, and I try to. Unfortunately, no matter how much I try, it's easier said than done.
The same is true of my weight. I gained about 25 pounds while on steroids as part of my chemo. Now I'm finding it really difficult to lose that extra baggage. I've lost five pounds but cannot seem to move beyond that set point. It's frustrating and defeating. I used to be able to diet and drop 10 or 15 pounds whenever I wanted to, and with minimal effort. Not so now. Thus, again, I feel reluctant to go anywhere, for fear that people are noticing and, behind my back, saying, "Gee she sure packed on the pounds."
So now I'm acknowledging one more side effect of all this - agoraphobia, fear of going out in public. I know I don't actually have it, but I'm in danger of developing it. I also acknowledge that all of this angst is just my foolish pride. I need to develop a thicker skin so I don't care what people think. Of course, that too is easier said than done.
I never want to reach the point where worry over what other people think destroys my ability to go places and enjoy life. I missed so much while I was sick and couldn't go out. Now that I'm better, I don't want to miss a thing. Life is too precious and fleeting for that.
So, world, go ahead and stare. Go ahead and feel repulsed. Go ahead and pretend that it will never happen to you. I don't care.
Instead, I thank God that I am recovering. And I remember what comedian Buddy Hackett once said. "While I'm so busy guarding all my grudges against people, they're out there dancing."
And so, I choose to dance.