I’m not the kind of person who gets offended easily. Not for myself, at least. I suppose I was different when I was younger, because I remember my feelings being much more sensitive then. I’ve grown up, I guess. That, and I have a natural attitude that inclines me to give most people the benefit of the doubt. I just don’t want to believe that people out there intentionally set out to cause others pain. Not most of them, at least. Call me naive, but it’s the way I am. I consider it a gift from God. I’d rather assume the best of others and be occasionally wrong, than to always assume the worst and be constantly right!
Having said this, I will have to admit that I DO get offended on behalf of others. I don’t know why. I just absolutely hate to see someone else hurt. I want to defend them, to rush in like some kind of avenging angel and protect them from the cruelties and insensitivities (however unintentional they may be) of the world.
– I can’t help but mention the vision that has popped into my head at this point. For whatever reason, I am thinking of an angry mother hen, feathers all ruffled, voice growling out a warning to anyone who dares to threaten her chicks.
Yes, I had chickens when I was a child. Yes, I have them now. Yes, I have been pecked by an angry hen who did not like the idea of me getting near either her eggs or her young chicks. And yes, I know chickens aren’t particularly scary, but seriously, they can have a very impressive attitude!
Okay, so back to what I was saying. Since getting my diagnosis and spending so much time on the CSN website, I have found myself occasionally surprised and even flat out appalled by the idiotic things people have said and done to other cancer patients. The most blatant example of pure idiocy is a story I can’t help but repeat. First, let me point out that being bald is hardly the worst problem that comes along with breast cancer and its treatment. As side effects and consequences go, it’s pretty tame. Still, as women a lot of our identities can be wrapped up in our hair. Long or short, whatever the color, it is a major part of who we see ourselves as being. So to have it all fall out is no picnic. There’s always the wig option, but seriously, the vast majority of survivors who have tried wound up abandoning their wigs because they are flat out uncomfortable. Face it, when you’re dealing with the myriad of side effects of cancer treatment, the last thing you want or need is to be uncomfortable just because you don’t want to look like some kind of weirdo. So wigs are often out and that means hats, scarves, bandannas, etc. These may be better than a wig, but they’re no picnic either. My wonderful chemo has sent me into chemically induced menopause, which basically means I’ve got all those symptoms along with the standard cancer/chemo ones. Can anyone out there say hot flashes? And I’m not just talking a little warm, here. I’m talking about a full on rush of heat so intense that I have often been quite sure I am physically melting. What does this mean? It means that if I happen to be out in public and am wearing a scarf or bandanna or hat, my head begins to feel like it’s trapped in a sauna on an August day in the Amazon. It’s not only uncomfortable, it’s disgusting as I tend to sweat like mad. Just plain gross. So I tend to ditch the head coverings the moment I get into my car.
All this is to point out that I am not brave enough to just go without anything at all on my head. (The CSN girls call it going “topless.”) I don’t mind it with people I know well, but it just isn’t something I feel comfortable doing in public. I imagine that may change over time, however. Because the self-consciousness might just give way to frustration with the discomfort of always being too hot or too itchy, or too SOMETHING. Generally, the head covers start disappearing pretty soon after most of the ladies start growing hair back. This can take MONTHS even after finishing the chemo, but eventually it does happen. So imagine yourself finally having a little hair after months of being bald and uncomfortable. Do you dare to go out in public with it that short? If you do, you might get this kind of reaction.
This is a true story, as testified by the lady it happened to. She was out at a coffee shop minding her own business. She was in line to get her coffee and a fine, upstanding example of society was in line somewhere behind her. He apparently took issue with her very short hair, because he just could not keep his mouth shut about it. Loudly enough for everyone to hear he said, “It doesn’t matter how short that lesbian cuts her hair, it still won’t make her a man.”
At this point I imagine I would be mortified. I can just see myself turning away and slinking out the door in abject horror. But not this woman. Not this wonderful, brave woman. She calmly finished getting her coffee, then sat it down and turned to face the idiot with the big mouth. See, she’d lost both her breasts to the monster. And in an act of bravery that I can barely fathom, she opened her shirt to flash her mastectomy scars at him and said, “I’m not a lesbian, I’m a breast cancer survivor.”
And out the door she goes. She didn’t mention it in the post, but I sincerely hope her departure was accompanied by cheers and clapping. It should have been.
This is one extreme example of just how idiotic people can be. There are others that are similar. Parents who hug their children close and pull them away from cancer patients because they either make the same mistake as the coffee shop guy or because they somehow seem to think that the illness might be contagious. It’s disturbing to imagine just how mean people can be. I have NO interest in getting into a theological discussion here. I’m a Christian and I believe that homosexuality is wrong. That said, there is absolutely NO excuse for the kind of behavior I have heard some of the ladies on the CSN describe. Rude is rude, period. Treating someone like you think they are sub-human is never, ever okay. You don’t have to condone anyone’s lifestyle, but you certainly don’t have to make them feel like dirt either. Especially when all your assumptions are wrong!
I still want to believe that most people don’t intentionally try to cause others pain. I want to make excuses for them, to try to see things from their point of view. But honestly, how self-centered does a person have to be to focus only on themselves when someone else is the one with cancer? I am blessed with a husband who has no problem taking care of me. He loves me, bald or not. He will hold me, encourage me, comfort me, whatever I need. He offers me the support and love that any spouse should. I am forever thankful that God saw fit to bring us together all those years ago.
If the family members I have lost through the years (mother, father, sister, and mother-in-law/best friend) were still here, I know each of them would support and encourage me completely. I don’t even have to wonder about it. Again, I have been blessed with family that loves me. And I have friends who love me as well, and who have already offered me so very much in the way of support and encouragement. So it just flat out breaks my heart to read stories of others who are not so fortunate. It makes me angry to see a woman (or anyone) who is already in the middle of what might just be the fight of their lives have to also deal with the sheer agony of a parent, spouse, sibling, etc. who only makes things more difficult. Another example.
One of the ladies on the CSN mentioned something her father did. She is absolutely beautiful, by the way. Before her treatment, she had lovely long, blond hair, close to waist length. She has stunning blue eyes, too. She’s about as gorgeous as anyone can be. And her smile is just plain fantastic. She’s the kind of woman who would light up any room she walked into. Even without her hair, she’s going to always be beautiful.
So her father was over at her house, along with her sister. He mentions her beautiful her sister is. Then he does it again, and again, and again. They two sisters are looking at each other, trying to figure out what he’s getting at. Then, as he’s getting ready to leave, he looks at his daughter, the one with breast cancer, who is bald because she is fighting for her life, and says, “You could be be beautiful too, if you’d just grow your hair back out.”
Seriously?! Needless to say, she was both stunned and hurt. Who wouldn’t be? But she was brave enough to stand up for herself. To point out that she wasn’t bald by CHOICE, as if any woman (outside of crazy Hollywood actresses and musicians) would choose to be bald. It just amazes me that anyone could be so idiotic and cruel.
I wish this was the only example I could offer. But there are so many others, so many wives facing the fight alone because their husbands can’t man up and deal with it. So many daughters whose parents have better things to do than hold their hands in them midst of their fear and uncertainty. So many sisters who just don’t have time to be there for each other. It’s tragic to me. Tragic and shameful.
I just wish I could reach out and hold each of the women I have encountered who have been so hurt by those who were supposed to care for them. I wish I could somehow smack their husbands, parents, siblings, co-workers, upside the head and jar a little sense loose. But it doesn’t work that way. I’ve certainly witnessed it in my own life. People are selfish. Instead of focusing on the one in need, the one they claim to love and care about, they can’t get past their own wants. My favorite excuse is, “I just can’t take it.”
Really? YOU can’t take it? But the person suffering from cancer can? I have never been more angry in my life than the times I have heard someone say that. Because it isn’t about YOU! Wow, what arrogance it takes to say such a thing! I always want to come back with, “yeah, well I didn’t want to ‘take it’ when my mother was dying and I was a 17 year old girl having to hold her hand and try to tell her it would be okay. I didn’t want to ‘take it’ when my sister called me to let me know she was dying from cancer. I didn’t want to ‘take it’ when my best friend and mother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer, either, and needed someone there just to hold her hand through the whole mess.” It infuriates me to this day to hear those words spoken or even implied. Because I know first hand what it’s like to have to set aside everything, including your own fears and worries and emotions, so that you can support someone else who you love. It’s what grown ups are supposed to do. It’s what family is supposed to do. And anyone who has ever said they couldn’t take it and then walked away from someone in need should be ashamed of themselves.
Wow, I’m on a rant tonight! I need to just quit before I dig myself into some kind of hole. I guess I just want us all to take a few steps back and look around us. It’s very easy to get caught up in day to day life. Realistically, our own issues and problems can sometimes be almost more than we can take. But the fact is, there is a measure of relief in helping others. However stressful our life may be, whatever issues we may be facing, no matter how big or small, we can find some peace from them when we take our eyes off ourselves and focus on someone else instead. Telling yourself that your problems are just all you can handle at the moment is a bit of selfishness. Because whatever you’re dealing with, there’s someone else out there who’s facing something worse. Something bigger and badder. I have cancer, but it isn’t terminal. It may come back someday, it may even kill me if it does, but there are others who already know the worst of what cancer can do. There are people who have walked into their doctor’s office thinking they had a lifetime ahead of them and have walked out with the burden of a terminal diagnosis. There are children who are fighting this monster before they’re even able to walk on their own.
I have been and continue to be blessed. I am thankful for every moment, for every friend and family member who loves me, for God who never, ever abandons me. I am thankful that despite my current crisis, I can still look to God with faith and trust and know that whatever comes, He will carry me through it. And I am thankful that I am not so self-centered that I can’t see past my own problems. I am thankful that I have compassion for others, that I hurt when they hurt. I am thankful that caring about others, thinking of and praying for them, helps me to not be so selfish. I am far from perfect, but I hope that I never make anyone I love face a trial alone because I’m too self-absorbed to help them.