Cancer has the tendency to shove dilemmas in your face, or in this case, on your head.
I want to return to normal. That is the number one goal of my treatment, of my life. I want things to go back to the way they were before I was diagnosed with ALL (which stands for “all of the cancers”). I want to feel normal, act normal, do normal things, and look normal again. The problem with this, though, is I am NOT normal yet and won’t be for many months.
The easiest of the normals for me to return to would be “looking normal.” My facial hair has grown back normally and my head hair is on its way, despite a few thin patches. My loving girlfriend teases that I look like a baby bird waiting for its mother to barf dinner into its open beak.
I want my hair to grow back. I want to look normal again, but today I realized there is a price to pay for looking normal while not being normal.
I participate in market research studies where I get paid to sample products and give my opinions. Since all of my opinions are correct and I am willing and able to give them with extremely erudite elegance, I am the perfect person participant. I struck the jackpot this week when I was chosen to sample BACON. Not only was I given free bacon, but I was paid two hundred and fifty dollars to eat it. Life is but a dream.
I had to show up to the market research headquarters every day at 5pm from Tuesday-Thursday this week for an hour of bacon eating. The first two days went swimmingly, but there was a bit of a hitch on Thursday. Earlier that day I went in to the hospital for my weekly spinal tap (life is but a…dream?) where literally three people, completely independant of each other, told me I looked pale. These are people who had met me once or twice, so I must have looked as white as a ghost for them to speak up. The third, a nurse, asked me if I had been feeling light headed or short of breath, which I definitely had, so she suggested that I was probably anemic. Five hours later I had a few pints of a strangers blood coursing through my veins along with a bunch of antihistamines.
The unplanned blood infusion totally threw my day off. I was supposed to go home and pack my apartment for the move into the new house (which is incredible, by the way), but instead I smooshed face first into my couch and napped all day while the benadryl molested me in my sleep. Also, my body didn’t quite like the blood I was given, so there was an internal struggle between my cells and the stranger’s that left me with a series of side effects that need to be dealt with in and around a toilet.
After several hours of alternating between napping and partying in the bathroom, I was awoken from a daze by a phonecall from the market research company. I was already seven minutes late for the last day of the study, and I would not receive my compensation if I did not complete each day. I hurried my ass through rush hour traffic to get downtown while I played the scenario of my entrance over and over in my head. I was afraid that I would arrive too late and they would turn me away, so my excuse needed to be believable, be realistic and elicit sympathy. In other words, all I needed to do was tell the truth. Thanks again, cancer!
I got there a half hour late, and before anybody could say anything I blurted out “oh my god I’m so sorry. I had an emergency blood infusion early today, because of my cancer, and they drugged me up and I passed out on my couch and totally slept through the beginning of the study, I’m sorry.” Obviously nobody is going to turn me away for that, right? But when I said “cancer” I saw the woman look at my face and squint her eyes a bit. I’m fairly certain she was looking at my beard and thinking: “he doesn’t look like he has cancer…”
Thus you see my dilemma. I want to look normal, but if I don’t look like I have cancer then I won’t get treated like I have cancer. Yes this sounds kind of terrible, but the fact remains that I feel like absolute shit all the time and being treated a little differently goes a LONG way with my recovery. I’m not saying I deserve special treatment, but why the fuck would I turn it down if it’s offered? I’m disabled, damnit!
The thing is, nobody is gonna offer if I don’t look the part….
I’m not going to shave, though. That’d be dumb. This all goes back to the “cancer perception” I once spoke about in the midst of my steroid binge. I’m not acting, I’m not looking for handouts, I’m not going to go out of my way to use my cancer for sympathy, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to accept help when offered. If people don’t realize that I can still have hair while in intense chemo then they can deal with it
Besides, I kind of like the baby bird look. Maybe I’ll get lucky and some nice woman with puke some half digested worms into my open mouth. That’s all the special treatment I need!
Oh and yes, they let me into the study and I got my bacons and my monies, and they would have let me in regardless of the cancer.