Unless you are one of those people who doesn’t know how the internet works, you’ve likely seen this viral video circulating around social networking sites, where a woman who is about to undergo a mastectomy dances with her medical team prior to having her surgery.
I have no issues with this woman and her dance party. I liked watching the video and it made me smile. I love a good dance party and I totally danced at odd times throughout my cancer treatment. When the urge strikes, I say go for it. Her display of joy does not bother me in the least.
What bothers me, however, is people’s reactions to this video. The video went viral because people LOVE seeing patients who have fun with their cancer. Patients who subvert expectations of being a cancer patient and who defy convention. These types of stories are the ones that spread like wildfire because we find them to be inspirational and uplifting. Thousands of people shared and commented on the video: She is so awesome! Wow, she is brave! What amazing courage this woman has! I wish I could be like her!
Okay, fair enough.
But I’ll tell you a secret: EVERYONE who gets their boobs lopped off possesses courage. We just all choose to do it in different ways. Sure, no one wants to see the video of the young mom being wheeled in her hospital bed, into the operating room, with tears running down her face, hopped-up on anxiety meds. Fine. You don’t have to see it. But all these women are no less courageous and no less awesome and no less worthy of being celebrated.
Our society loves showing the lighter side of cancer, and the people who laugh in its face. We need to perpetuate this “happy cancer” myth so that we feel we have some sort of control. If I get cancer, I will dance too, and I will be okay. Cancer’s not that bad.
But the truth is, most people aren’t dancing. Most people are scared as hell, and isolated and anxious, which is how I feel most days. I can tell you, as someone who loves to dance and loves giving the big EFF YOU to cancer, I most definitely was not dancing the day of my mastectomy. I cried. And I cried for many days after.
Last week I think I hit a new low of sheer misery. The fatigue that comes with chemotherapy is truly cumulative, and with each new treatment, it is growing increasingly difficult to do any of the things I once enjoyed. Such as taking a walk. Or lifting my laptop. Or lifting my head. The tiniest things we all take for granted have become incomprehensible to me. Memories of the past. Of a life I once lived, where my body would do whatever I asked of it, with ease. I feel as though I have been thrust into old age almost overnight. My bones ache when I try to move them. My body cries out for rest after walking up a few stairs. I wake up at night with hot flashes, my cheeks burning, thanks to the menopausal effects of chemo. Creases are starting to form on the outer corners of my eyes. My stomach and face are bloated constantly from all the drugs, making me look like I am five months pregnant. I can’t follow a basic conversation without losing focus, or feeling like I need to shut my eyes. I am an old lady. At the ripe age of 28.
It has been difficult for me to look in the mirror lately. I don’t like what I see. A bald, puffy face, with red patches all over my cheeks and glossy eyes. Is that really me? It is hard to feel healthy or strong, when the image reflected back at me is anything but. Lately I am starting to feel as though I will never get my old self back. I can’t imagine having life in my face again. Or having hair. It seems like appearance should be relatively low on the list of things to feel bad about, when you’re dealing with all the crap that comes with a cancer diagnosis. But it is proving to be one of the biggest challenges for me. Looks aren’t everything, but when you’re already feeling just about as low as a human can feel, it really does add insult to injury.
It is hard for me to look at pre-cancer photos of myself now. I feel very disconnected from the girl I see. She’s pretty, and healthy, and happy, and completely unaware of what is about to happen to her. It’s as though I am looking at someone else’s life, even though I know she is me. Did I really do all those things at one time? Did I really look like that? Did I really have hair? I want to go back into those photos, just for one minute, just to remember what it’s like, to be happy and pretty. To soak up those moments. Because they are starting to slip away from me.
I hope that eventually I can start feeling better about what I see in the mirror. View my reflection as an image of a brave warrior, rather than one of a sick cancer patient whose body has been continuously cut, poked, and poisoned. I don’t want to be that girl who cries when she looks in the mirror. I have never been that girl. I refuse to let her win. And anyone who knows me knows I always get my way.