You Can't See What I've Been Through Just By Looking At Me

Now that treatment is over and Rachel looks "normal" again, she has been struggling with who to tell about her cancer experience, and how to say it.

During my fight with Non-hodgkin's Lymphoma, it was clear that I had cancer. My bald head and lack of eyebrows needed no assistance from words to communicate what I was going through. Strangers on the street only needed one stolen glance to figure out that I had cancer. My petite frame and young-looking face brought on even more sad looks, as many assumed I was a child.

Then came the rebellious-looking teenager stage of remission (one of my personal favorites). My eyebrows were back and it looked like I had shaved my head in some riotous act against my parents. I remember noticing the shift in strangers' attitudes; adults went from treating me like a sick child to a defiant adolescent. I was never one to pull the cancer card, but those situations tempted me greatly.

But now that I start to look "normal" again, you would never know the things I went through. I look like a "regular" girl pushing the shopping cart through the store until someone asks one of THOSE questions: "What is that scar from?" or "I love your hair, who cut it for you?" Cue the beginning of the inner dilemma: Do I think of a quick lie or tell the truth? Do I want to tell this stranger I had cancer? To many it may seem like an easy answer: tell the truth. But it isn’t always that easy for me.

Telling the truth risks the awkward moment afterward, the clarifying questions to answer and, on occasion, the quickly-run-away-and-hide-from-the-awkwardness moment. Cancer is a huge part of my life, but it isn't all there is to me. And to be honest, I like keeping some parts of my life private. I never thought I would have to struggle with revealing that part of my life before.

I moved halfway across the country in April and was amazed at how good it felt to not have anyone know my story, let alone my cancer story. Part of me was relieved because no one pitied me, while the other part of me felt like I was concealing a huge part of my life. I've learned to adapt to the many hard changes during and after chemo, but have yet to discover how to tell someone my cancer story without facing this inner dilemma.

And yet, I find it easier each day to put my story out there in hopes that it could help or save another's life. I remind myself that my story could possibly save someone else or change how they see the world. The possibilities for a positive effect when sharing are astounding.

That opportunity to help others alone has helped me be more comfortable with sharing. Hopefully, one day I will face conversations with new people, and no longer have to ask myself, "To tell or not to tell?...".

Do you prefer to tell new friends about your cancer experience, or only if they ask? Share your experience in the comments below.

Image courtesy of Deposit Photos.