Thursday, September 25, 2014
Chemotherapy Leg Part 4
I've been told repeatedly that the road will get a lot smoother from here, but I've got a healthy amount of skepticism about that, considering that my overall health and well-being has gotten progressively worse over the past six weeks. It will be a pleasant surprise to not feel completely debilitated and sick, so I will do my best to maintain a positive outlook going forward.
What I want to discuss in this post is the proliferation of breast and other cancer tales told by celebrities and the pertinent details that are left out of those stories. The latest tale is being told by Joan Lunden, who was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which is the kind that is not driven by hormones (I have the hormonal kind). Lunden's form of cancer can be quite aggressive, and she is likely undergoing a treatment protocol that is equally as aggressive - as you can see by the image of the People magazine cover I've posted. She has, of course, decided to go public with her battle, and like other celebrities, she is doing so with a smile on her face, a perfectly airbrushed bald pate, and flawless makeup. There was a time in my life when something like this would not have bothered me, and I would have thought, "Good for Joan; she's fighting the good fight." Now that I am going through something similar, my attitude has changed.
Having cancer is not pretty. It is downright ugly both inside and out. Celebrities, public figures and even health care professionals try to dress it up and make it more palatable, but the reality is, it's profoundly awful. No amount of technology or cosmetics can hide the fact that if you have cancer, and are undergoing treatment, it sucks to be you. Being bald and not having breasts is the least of it; the obvious signs of the disease pale in comparison to what the treatment does to you in the effort to eradicate it.
Instead of reading about hair loss making her feel "less feminine, pretty, or desirable," I want to know what's going on beyond the superficial side effects. What I've learned since embarking on my own cancer journey is that what happens in addition to hair loss is what really tests your mettle. When those side effects present, you want to know that you're not the only one having such an horrific experience. For example, how tired is Joan? Is she able to get out of bed for extended periods of time after her treatments? What does her food taste like? How is she coping with chemo brain? Does she have any gastrointestinal distress that makes it impossible to be more than ten feet from the bathroom? Does said gastrointestinal distress make her sob on the toilet on occasion? I don't see Joan, or any other famous person addressing any of these, or similar questions.
What bothers me is that as long as it looks good, the ugly stuff can be swept under the carpet. We need to pick up the carpets and talk about the stuff lying underneath them; the vast majority of us don't land on magazine covers where the world can read about our warm and fuzzy warrior tales. Mere mortals like myself are the ones who can't get out of bed for too long and sit sobbing on the toilet because our stomachs are killing us. Maybe if a celebrity told it like it is, we wouldn't feel so bad about going through all this. Instead, we feel bad because our heads aren't perfectly bald, our skin isn't flawless, and we don't really feel like warriors. We feel like shit.
I have three more months of chemotherapy to get through, followed by six weeks of radiation after that. With four treatments already under my belt, the journey is a bit less daunting, but the road ahead is still a long one. I wish Joan Lunden well, as I do other people who are dealing with this disease. I also hope that I will read more of the "real" stories people have to tell, rather than ones that are made up of fluff and feathers. Let's try to keep it real; the realer it is, the more we learn. And the more we learn, the more we can do to remove the scourge of cancer from our lives.