Monday, April 15, 2013

How to offend a cancer patient

I know, I know. The chemo poisons that are still floating around my system are probably making me irritable.

And so are the nasty little side effects that keep springing up to drive me mental, just as I think I'm over it at last.

Like, the indigestion and reflux the moment I try to eat normal food. (Agony.) My doctor friends tell me that gastritis is a common lingering after-effect of chemo, and also of massive doses of antibiotics; oh joy! I hit the jackpot! Looks like I'll be shoring up the share price of Gaviscon and Mylanta for some time yet.

And then there's the hideous pain in my gums after I decided I was ready to eat some solid meat again last night, instead of pureed slops and mince. I had NO sleep, thanks to that little misjudgment. My teeth might be ready, but my soft tissues beg to differ.

I won't even mention the exhaustion. I know that's going to last a long time, and it's only going to be made worse by the radiation therapy that starts on the 30th. But I will say that in trying to get back into the swing of things on the farm, I've found that I can do exactly half the work I used to in the same time- and then I have to collapse and rest.

(I would have collapsed and rested earlier, actually, but I couldn't really leave my Bear with his arm halfway up a dead turkey and with the butchering into convenient freezer-ready cuts still to do. That's my job.)

So, yes, I'm irritable. But I think my fury this morning on reading a fashion blog post about 'how to dress after a mastectomy', written by someone who's never had breast cancer in her life, wasn't just a product of chemo-inspired mood swings. I think it was a seriously offensive article.


Not intentionally, perhaps; when I assess the light and breezy tone of the article, which is par for the course in the fashion world, the words 'catastrophically naiive' come to mind. But I also have a nasty suspicion that some people out there in internet land have realised that the words 'breast cancer' make people click links.

That IS offensive, when someone uses our serious and life-threatening illness to manipulate us and our friends and relatives into heading to a certain web location- only to find an article written by someone who really hasn't a clue, because they haven't been there.

And surely only a complete moron would not realise that you actually need some experience in the field to start talking about prostheses and hair loss and how to deal with your absence of cleavage (not having enough knowledge to talk about mastectomies for long, our blogger soon diverted into other cancer-related areas). I'm not going to put a link to the post that offended me, because I refuse to give a poorly constructed article more web traffic, but I'll quote a little:    

  • "There are many options to cover your hair loss – scarves, turbans and hats. These can be beautiful and fun but look for fabrics that can breathe."

Fun? FUN? Give me a break. The one concern is whether the scarf fabric can 'breathe'? You clearly haven't been there.

Here is what really happens: you lose your hair. You cry for a long time, before and after. You feel weird and ugly, and when you look in the mirror you get a shock- every single time.

You try putting a scarf on when you have to go out, and realise that your head looks weirdly small and flat because there's no hair to puff it out. The scarf doesn't 'cover' your hair loss at all- if anything, it draws attention to it. You go out on the street like that, and people stare at you. You may as well write CANCER PATIENT on your forehead in block capitals.

And turbans? What white Australian wears a turban- except a cancer patient who's lost their hair, or a little old lady trying to cover her alopecia?

Hats? Yes, they can look quite striking once you've come to terms with your bald lower cranium and protruding ears. They don't exactly cover everything either. Sure, the young can rock a crazy hat, and the beautiful can rock any look. Even walking around bald. For the rest, it's just not that damn easy.

Moving right along...

  • "There are also some amazing wigs. Human hair ones might look fantastic but are very expensive. Remember, your hair loss is only temporary. Synthetic wigs are cheaper. These can look nice too and are easy to look after."

There's no mention, of course, that a wig will never, ever look like your own hair- and when you have cancer and lose your hair, all you want is for things to be normal. Including the way you look. Including your hair. You can get used to a wig, sure. But you don't just walk into the wig shop, lay down your credit card and buy happiness.

And as for "Remember, your hair loss is only temporary"? Really? I didn't know! Thank you for that! But guess what? It's no comfort. Not when you just got turned into Yul Brynner against your will, and you can't even blame the Marlboroughs.

And synthetic wigs- 'nice'? Really? 'Nice'. Good grief. Buy a thesaurus, woman.

And at least be honest. Have you tried one on, ever? I know how lucky I was to (eventually) find one I could live with for a year or so of my life. Mostly, they look like someone cut a slit in a child's nylon orangutan and shoved it on your head.

But wait, there's more! Send no money!
  • "Consider cutting your hair short before you start chemo, this will make any hair loss less obvious. There are some hair products to help control and make the most of the remaining hair."
Well, words almost fail me here, which is quite an achievement for that questionable blogger (her name is Rachel Wernicke, just in case she still wants to take credit for what's reproduced on this page in double inverted commas). If you have long, lush hair that you love and consider part of your signature look, a blithe 'cut it off' is hardly helpful. (Also, consider punctuation lessons, Rachel, because that comma really needed to be a semicolon.)

And believe it or not, if you suddenly cut off that long, lush signature hair, people are going to notice. When half or more of it falls out, even if you have short hair and use a metric tonne of 'hair products' every morning, people are going to notice.

Especially you. As Rachel would know, if it had ever happened to her.

But she's left the best till last.
"AND remember, The key to confidence is not to focus in your problem area but to show off your positives. Your breasts are way more obvious to you than to anyone else."
(Head. Desk.)

Okay, I'll take it on board, shall I? Don't focus 'in'- let's make that 'ON'- my 'problem area'.

I'll make sure I don't look down while having a shower, because that way I won't see the bomb site that is my chest, and I'll make sure all mirrors are hung at neck height and above.

I'll stop emphasising the cleavage that I don't have any more, because nobody will notice if the woman who's worn plunging necklines all her life is suddenly in a neck-to-knee fastened at the throat with a brooch (yes, that really was another suggestion).

I'll start wearing tops with ruffles and flamboyant draping (another genuine suggestion), because gee, that's really my style- not to mention really flattering on someone with a single F-cup remaining.

Or not. That's quite enough. I really can't maintain that charade any longer, or the top of my head might blow off.

I'm sorry, Rachel, but you couldn't be more wrong. My breasts have been 'obvious' to everybody since I was about 14, and my 'look' since then has been about trying to make the most of what everyone was looking at anyway. What I have to do now is have a total rethink about the way I dress, and that's hard. Your airy-fairy bandaid suggestions, laid out without a trace of empathy, are not only not helpful- they're plain offensive in their blandness and false assumptions.

And I have a sneaking suspicion that the only people being helped by your blog post, which is no doubt attracting plenty of clicks thanks to the title, are the advertisers on that page. And that's the most offensive thing of all.

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