There is a program that actually exists called “Look Good Feel Better,” and it teaches women with cancer how best to wear wigs and put on make-up when they have cancer. I thought this was ridiculous when I first heard about it because, if you are dealing with cancer, why should you have to work on looking “good” too? The cynic in me would also point out that if you go to one of these workshops you will walk away with free make-up that contains actual known carcinogens. Turns out, I was wrong about this—sometimes working on how you look is a way of feeling “normal” when things are crazy and out of control.
One day I was meeting a friend for coffee, and I was coming from the gym, so I put a little blush on to feel like I made an effort. Then when I got there, she said, “Oh my god, what’s wrong with your face? [pause] Do you have cancer of the face now?” Now, there is nothing funny about “cancer of the face,” so you can stop laughing right now. But it is a little funny if that is someone’s response to your attempt to try to look good.
Newsflash: I look good! That’s what I hear when I go to any oncologist or to the local cancer centre. It appeals to my ego to be told that I look good, even if I suspect that I am being compared to the 70- and 80-something patients whom they usually see. Having been diagnosed with cancer before I was 45, that makes me young, in this context. One day when I went to the Emergency Room for a broken bone in my foot, I found myself consoling the nurse who was triaging me and told me, “But you’re so young!” She had just lost her father to cancer, and it was her first day back. This is the type of strange conversation that you might have on any given day when you have cancer.
Anyway, Happy New Year! Every year the holidays are a blessed event in our family in which we argue about how to properly celebrate the holidays.
I grew up in a non-observant Jewish household in which the one thing that we knew was that we did not have a Christmas tree. My mother grew up in a Christmas-tree-having non-observant Japanese Buddhist household. So our tradition was that every year my parents would argue about a tree until Christmas Eve, when my mom would go out–sometimes my sister or I came with her–and get the saddest-looking tree still on the lot. Of course, she talked them down in price to like $15. Then one year the tree fell over, spilling tree-water and pine needles everywhere. Good times.
So I decided to be a bit more clear, and I simply decided that we don’t have a Christmas tree. We have a Christmas wreath, white lights in the window, and stockings hanging from the mantle, but no tree.
Then one day I went to my beloved Farmer’s Market, and they had mini-trees for sale. I was already feeling a little guilty after the dentist said something like, “You never know what’s going to happen, you have to make every holiday count.” (WTF is up with our dentist’s office? Make it count, indeed.) Anyway, I had somehow decided that a tree might be kosher if it was less than 2 feet tall. No one bought this argument. Anyway, I came home with an adorable 2-foot tree. Mind you, I am a fan of the history of religion, and I have been explaining for years that the symbols of Christmas are actually pagan symbols stolen from the pagan druids.
Mind you, it was a toss-up as to who would give me the most flak for this particular dubious decision. Nonetheless, I was not expecting it to be my normally-accepting husband. I think it went something like this:
H: What’s that?
Me: It’s a pagan tree! For us! Isn’t it cute? We can decorate it with the silver and gold balls that I got on sale at the grocery store last year!
H: Looks like your love of buying things at the market won the fight with your hatred of Christmas trees.
Me: It’s not a Christmas tree!
La Neige: Yeah! It’s a pagan tree. Obviously!
The Prophet: Can I decorate it?
Me: Yes! We can get ribbon from our Christian friends.
La Neige: Can we put presents under it? Apparently, people put Christmas presents under the tree. I don’t think there is room for presents under that tree.
H: Wait a second, what’s going on here? I’ve been wanting a Christmas tree forever, but I understood that that was the trade-off I made in having an interfaith household.
Me: It’s a pagan tree! We can put presents next to it.
H: Why would your people choose the one cool aspect of the holiday to ban?
What was I supposed to say? My people like suffering (which is true)? I leave this to smarter people than I to answer. I told my kids to enjoy the heck out of their cousins’ and grandparents’ trees.
In cancer news, I’ve been going to the hospital for once a week for echocardiograms because in the endless game of Whack-a-mole, it’s currently my heart that we worry about. Mind you, cardio complications are a regular thing for cancer patients because cancer meds are–surprise!–not easy on the heart. I also started a new chemotherapy drug, Kadcyla, which is my second line of treatment, over the holidays. The news about my heart is . . . it is beating! I know this because I saw it beating on a screen. It looks a little like a baby, which is a great way to remember to treat myself with kindness. If I were carrying a baby, then I would be gentle with myself.
When I go in for my echocardiograms, sometimes the technician who performs them is a male and sometimes it’s a female. One thing that I have noticed, is that I am more easily annoyed by the female caregivers than the male ones. I first noticed this when a female CT technician was trying (and failing) to put an IV in my left arm immediately after her trainee failed to put one in my right arm. I really did not like the feeling of having her dig around in my veins with that needle. It was worse than when her trainee did the same thing. It reminded me of the time about a year ago that a female neurosurgery fellow put a stitch in my lower back, and it hurt like hell. I think that she eventually gave up, telling the nurse, “I don’t want to put the patient through any more than she has been through already.” This was after the brain surgery and the spinal tap, both painful experiences administered by male doctors. But I was more annoyed by the painful stitches from the resident than the others, and I was like, “WHERE IS YOUR COMPASSION, GODDAMMIT?” Similarly, the male technician, whom I have come to know better than I would wish, is not gentle when he jabs me with the ultrasound transducer. In fact, at one point I had a bruise on my side where he jabbed me.
People, I may be a raging feminist, but I never said that I was immune to unconscious bias. I imagine that it must be annoying to be a female caregiver who has to be nicer to every single patient than her male colleagues.