Please Don't Tell Me That I Look Great
It may seem like the right thing to say in the moment, but telling someone with metastatic cancer that they "look great" may be the last thing that they want to hear. Read more to find out why.
"Well, you look great!"
The words every metastatic patient dreads hearing. Everyone is guilty of saying it: your mom, your husband, your aunts, uncles, the neighbor, even your cat if he could talk. It's a punch in the gut. Why? Because on the outside I may "look great" in your terms, but on the inside, I'm literally dying. Yes, let's call a spade a spade. Metastatic breast cancer patients are dying. There is no cure. There is no magic diet. When you are given the diagnosis of stage IV, metastatic breast cancer, you are given a death sentence. So how can you look great?
Yes, I might have felt "well" enough to slap some makeup on that day. Or perhaps you caught me on a day where I put on pants with an actual button! But how can I look great, when I will never get used to my "new" reflection in the mirror? Gone is the luxurious, long blonde hair I've had all my life. I've been bald twice now. Twice. And I really had no choice in the matter. The only choice I had was whether or not I wanted to accept treatment. And with that choice came the side effects, like losing my eyebrows, my eyelashes, going into premature menopause, and all the fun that has to offer, and not being able to have any more children.
But you can't see all those side effects. You see my hair growing back and you think all is well. You say, "Well, you look great!" because I'm starting to look normal, to you, again. But what you don't see is me reliving what it was like to get to this point in the day. Did it take me 30 minutes to get out of bed this morning, because my joints were so stiff? Or perhaps I had a bowl of cereal in order to take my multiple pills, only to throw it all up when I got in the shower. Was walking down the stairs to my bathroom excruciatingly painful because my feet felt like glass breaking under the pressure of my body? Did I get a bloody nose while I attempted to make something out of the few hairs on my head? Or was today one of the days where I laid in bed and silently sobbed because I couldn't muster the energy to get my son dressed for school? These are the things you don't see as you are talking to me in the grocery store, the choices that a metastatic patient makes each day. These are the decisions, the side effects, and the emotions that our outside appearances hide with some makeup, hair gel and a smile.
Living with metastatic breast cancer- cancer which has spread from the primary site to another organ and/or the bones - is not pretty, and it's not something that can be fixed, ever. There is no cure for metastatic breast cancer, and treatment never ends.
So although I may be having a good day where I found my way out of the bed and managed to apply some mascara to my sparse eyelashes, don't minimize my disease or my fight by saying I look great. I will be in treatment for the rest of my life and just because my hair has grown back, and my makeup gives me some sparkle, it doesn't mean I am any better off. I am still dying. I do the best I can and never know day-in or day-out how I will feel. Will this be a day where I will be able to play on the ground with my son or is this a day where I won't see the outside of my four bedroom walls? I just don't know. All I do know is "looking great" is the least of my worries at any given moment. I just want to live.
Do you agree? Share your experience in the comments below.
Jodie HeimLanchantin was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic cancer with metastasis to her liver in November 2013. She was an English Language Arts teacher prior to her diagnosis and now focuses her time on raising her two-year-old son Sam and educating others about metastatic disease. She lives in Syracuse, New York with her husband Bill and Sam. You can find her on IHadCancer under the username jodieheim.