This Is Not Who I Am, Or Is It?

Slowly, my health rebounds from the shock of high-dose chemotherapy. Even the doctor at my exit interview referred to this medicine as “poison.” Most of its lingering effects are invisible. The light-headedness and shortness of breath are mine alone to observe. My stomach’s orientation remains slightly tilted; unpredictable upsets remind me that the toxins ticketed me to a long ride on the tilt-a-whirl of cure. My interest in food improves with each passing day but I proceed with caution. I avoid spicy dishes and large portions. Friends and acquaintances cannot see this inner landscape of recuperation. The improvements are evident to me but hidden to those with whom I make contact.

I don’t get out much. Yes, I am bored and lonely but accept this as part of the recovery process. My days are monotonous. In the mornings I surf the Internet for the latest analysis of the election and financial crisis. You’d think such a thorough reading of the situation would lead to an understanding of these activities. However, the strategies of the former and hows and whys of the latter baffle me. I’ve read more polls and economic prognosticators than any sane person should. I’ve arrived at no conclusions. I have my prejudices but I won’t share them here. As to the election, we must wait until November 4th. The world economy will take a while to find its footing. I should hope to live so long, as should you.

Walking is the highlight of my day. The glorious harvest weather of cool temperatures and partly cloudy skies makes for invigorating walks. In Dee, where I live, I seldom encounter other walkers. Most people are working or getting their exercise elsewhere. My meditative wanderings are solitary.

Mt. Hood in the fall

Mt. Hood in the fall

The blocks of orchard are well defined and I can choose between 1, 2, and 3 mile rectangles. I hardly need to pay attention to my stepping, which allows for wonderfully detached contemplation. This translates into relaxation and that may be the best medicine of all.

I am beginning to venture into town more and more. I am self-conscious of my appearance. On the surface that’s silly, people who know me care about my health and well-being.

Yet, I worry. Yes, I am vain. Women are more practical about their vanity. I noticed with women cancer patients in Seattle that pride in their appearance is an attribute, not a conceit. Baldness caused by cancer becomes an opportunity to wear attractive scarves and hats, or to even buy a wig. I limit myself to a nondescript ball cap. My awkwardness is the price I pay for being a macho closet narcissist. I may outlive the conventional prognosis for my illness but I will not outlive my fragile ego.

Bald is beautiful... and cold.

Bald is beautiful… and cold.

My baldhead looks unnatural. The word cancer feels as if it’s emblazoned upon my pale, gaunt face and hairless head. That, for many, connotes suffering and dying, leading to pity. If there is any single thing I do not want people to feel, it is pity. However, with as much objectivity as I can bring to bear, without a hat I confess to being a little scary. I don’t look nearly as healthy as I feel. So, my discomfort stems from the shock value. I feel defensive and wonder if I shouldn’t immediately reassure others. I want to yell, “This is not who I am,” …even if it is. Accordingly, I’ll keep the hat on when out and about. Why confuse people?

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One response to “This Is Not Who I Am, Or Is It?

  1. John, I love how eloquently you put into words what so many MM patients are feeling. Who hasn’t struggled with much of what you describe in their personal battle with this cancer? EZ is right there with you surfing the internet (when he can’t sleep) for the latest analysis of the election and financial crisis or the latest news in the world of MM. Glad you are rebounding and soon enough, that hair will grow back. In the meantime, you look very healthy and it appears you made the choice to shave your head…very popular these days!

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