When I go in public, I wear my wig that looks pretty much like my pre-chemo hair in color and style. It is a decent wig in a modern cut. It doesn’t stand out and flash “wig” in neon lights. I blend in with everyone else. No one pays any attention to me. I feel like my old self. And, at first glance, I look relatively healthy. At my last Chemo Infusion, I had on my wig, makeup, and had clothing on in bright Spring colors. Plus, I am chubby. No gaunt cancer look for me! One lady receiving Chemo stopped me as the Chemo Nurse was leading me to my Infusion Chair next to hers. She asked me if I was a Cancer Patient. When I told her I was in my fourth month of Chemotherapy, she said, “Wow, you look the picture of health. I would never have known.” That did make me feel better, I must admit!
Never having worn my ”cancer turban” in public before, I decided to do so for 3 days to gauge people’s reaction. I wanted to see what kind of sympathetic response I might get! Hmm, I must have needed a little attention! So, for my experiment, I donned my gray Cancer Turban, did not put on any makeup or draw in any eyebrows, and wore sort of pale, washed out clothing. I had ”Cancer Patient” written all over me.
My first stop was the local Rite Aid. On my way in, I could see people catch me out of the corner of their eyes and then with a little humor and a little sadness, I watched them try to avoid me. Inside the store, I got stares, looks of sympathy, and avoidance. Mostly avoidance. The check-out gal that normally waits on me, said nothing, absolutely nothing. I don’t think she even asked if I had the pesky little Wellness Card!
Then it was on to a medical class regarding Lymphedema presented at a local hospital. The seat next to me was the only one unoccupied in the entire group of 35 people, and I had arrived 20 minutes early! One person even stood rather than sit down in the very visible seat next to me. I did feel like a leper. Maybe people really do believe that cancer is contagious? The shocking part of this hospital visit was that most of the people in the room had been through Breast Cancer! After the presentation, the only woman who spoke to me had on a cancer turban!
The next day, I took a bigger step. I decide to arrange to see friends that haven’t been overly sympathetic during my Breast Cancer journey as they have always seen me in my “cancer wig” get up looking pretty healthy. When they first saw me, I saw the look of shock and surprise on their faces. It was the look of, “Oh I guess this really is far more serious than we thought.” I could tell they felt very uncomfortable around me, and a little worried I might die in front of them! It still makes me laugh to think about this!
Then, on my way through town, I ran into another acquaintance. The very odd part of this encounter was, although she knew I was battling Breast Cancer, she never brought up anything about it, asked me how I was, or what was happening. Plus, I had not seen her since I was diagnosed. She started babbling nonsensical stuff about her life and family. I felt how uncomfortable she was, and I could not wait to get away from her!
Then it was on to the drive-thru window at my local Wendy’s. I ordered a sweet potato and side salad. When I went to pay at the window, the poor young girl had a look of shock on her face. She delivered the news that they were out of sweet potatoes, would I like a white potato? I said, “No, I would like a refund please.” She then stated they had to give me a white potato. Her manager came up, took one look at me, and promptly gave me a refund.
The person that was the most understanding, was a Clerk at my local Post Office. She took one look at me, and said “what is going on?” I told her I had been going through Chemo since December. She was visibly shocked because I always wear my wig when visiting the Post Office. Postal Clerk Kelly gets the award for being the most understanding person on my 3 day experiment. Immediately, she asked me how I was feeling, if I felt comfortable where I was receiving treatment, and told me that Chemo wasn’t for the faint of heart. I knew she had experience with cancer. She proceeded to tell me about her father and his cancer journey.
I am thankful I took the time to do this experimentation. Time and time again, I found when I wore the cancer turban, I felt physically ill. It is one thing to walk around bald or with your Cancer Turban at home, but another to publicly wear a billboard that says “Hey, I am a Cancer Patient.” I immediately felt the sad and confusing energy of those looking at me, and I internalized their emotions. Wearing my wig, I feel like a Cancer Survivor. Doing my little study has been an important revelation to me
The American Cancer Society has a free class they offer to female cancer patients around the country called Look Good, Feel Better. (www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org) They teach you how to put on makeup, draw on eyebrows, and compensate for “that cancer look.” Also, they provide you with about $300.00 worth of makeup to help you do so. I realize there is real merit to this philosophy.
From now on, I am going to take the time to look good even if I don’t feel like it. I will put up with the wig, even though it can be hot and uncomfortable. Every Cancer Patient is different and every one’s reality is different. For me, I learned I would rather blend in and feel normal. Dressing like my healthy self, makes me feel better!