Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Stitches and Strangers

Went to the doctor today to get my stitches out, but he says the wound hasn’t completely healed yet so they’re staying in for another week. Rats. But I don’t want him to take the stitches out too early and have the wound open up again, so this is a good thing. That’s my spin.

For the past week, I’ve been keeping my arm movements to a minimum because of the pain, but mostly because I don’t want to risk overworking the arms and getting fluid build-up like I did after the mastectomy. Normally, I’d pick up 10 shopping bags all at once or carry both kids, one in each arm. But the other day, I asked the taxi driver to get my shopping bags out for me and take them to the elevator. And I’ve asked store clerks to wait while I unloaded my shopping cart in slow motion.

Each time, I explain, “I’ve just had surgery, so I can’t lift heavy things or move very fast, so please bear with me.” I want to go on and say, “I’ve had reconstruction surgery because I had breast cancer and lost both breasts. So you’ll have to cut me some slack.”

I know some people don’t want to go around telling everyone they have cancer. I used to think I was one of those people. But now I want to tell everyone, even strangers, about it. I want to say, “This isn’t the real me. Normally, I am strong and agile and would never let anyone help me lift my shopping bags. And normally, I have long straight hair, not this kinky wiry stuff that makes me look like I’m wearing a helmet made of animal fur. Normally, I could drink you under the table and dance on bar tops all night long. I could eat a big juicy steak and not this namby-pamby rabbit food. Normally, I wouldn’t be so annoying when ordering food in restaurants (‘no meat, no dairy, no MSG, no sugar please’).”

I want people to know that the person they’re seeing is a weak imitation of the real me. I think knowing a person’s story helps us be more tolerant and sympathetic.

I once saw a kid throwing an almighty tantrum in a supermarket and his mom did nothing. I thought she should be disciplining her child, or at least controlling him in public places. But now I think, maybe that kid was autistic or he was having a seizure? Or once, a seemingly able-bodied woman got on a crowded elevator on the second floor of a hospital, leaving a woman with an infant in a stroller to wait for the next elevator. I wanted to scold that woman for being so inconsiderate and lazy. But what if she had just undergone surgery and couldn’t walk up and down stairs?

What if people are looking at me and thinking, “What a lazy, spoiled brat! She can’t pick up her own shopping bags?! And what is UP with her hair?!! Doesn’t she have a mirror in her house?!” Maybe I should wear a sign around my neck, “Cancer patient. Under construction. Inconvenience regretted.”

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