Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Breaking the Cancer Stereotype

This is a post from a young cancer survivor, Ali Powers. She wrote this for Stupid Cancer, an organization that provides support for young adult cancer patients.  But I think her words are worth taking a couple of minutes to read.

When I tell people I have cancer, I normally get something like ‘but you don’t look sick” or “you can’t have cancer, you still have all your hair.” I normally just dismiss their ignorance and say thank you, but what I really want to say is…

What do you mean I don’t ‘look’ sick? Can’t you tell my insides are sick not my outsides? You mean you can’t tell by looking at me that my colon is missing? Or that My lungs have tumors in them? You couldn’t just see that by looking at me? Would it be better if I faked a limb to fit your idea of being ‘sick’? Thank you, I try hard not to ‘look’ sick. Oh and not every cancer patient looses their hair, I have been working on growing my hair back for the past 2 years thank you for noticing.

I was at an event where hey had a comfy chair label “Reserved, this chair is for those with Chronic Medical needs.” I believe having cancer counts as a chronic medical need. There were two chairs across the isle from each other. A lady with a cane came and sat in one. But I didn’t sit there, I took the hard chair instead because people there didn’t know I was sick. I didn’t look sick and I know I would be judged if I sat there. But why is that? Is it because I don’t fit societies stereotype of someone with cancer? I am not super sickly skinny and bald, or I don’t walk around with an oxeygen tube hanging from my nose. I don’t look like I am going to die. I have been there at one point. I looked sick. I was super skinny, you could see all my bones, You could see the effects of the chemo on me. I was 5'9, bald, 100 pounds and a size 0. I have been there, but I have also been 5'9, 160 pounds and a size 13 (thank you cancer & steroids.) I have been that stereotypical cancer girl, but that was 2 years ago. I still have cancer, even though I don’t look like that “sick’ girl anymore.

So where does society get its view point of cancer patients? The media is a big one. With movies like The Fault in Our Stars, My Sister’s Keeper, Me Earl and The Dying Girl which all paint cancer patients as a sickly, frail, bald person. When Chasing Life came out the biggest complaint was she didn’t loose her hair or look ‘sick’ fast enough. It took her a good 10 episodes to go bald and look sick. But why is this idea forced upon us? Is it not believable that a person who functions fine out the outside, who looks fine, who functions like every other normal person could be dying of cancer? Is that too hard to comprehend?

Each cancer is different, and everyone reacts differently to the medications. I have friends who were on the same drugs as me and I lost a lot of weight while they gained a lot of weight. They are also breaking the stereotypes. My doctors told me with my chemo I should be able to keep my hair. Unfortunately, I lost it, but they said most people on that type of chemo keep their hair. Once again, breaking the cancer stereotypes. Some people have cancer that is just a lump or a bump they get it removed and they dont lose their hair or lose a third of their weight. They are also defying the cancer stereotypes. Everyone’s cancer is different and we dont fit into one mold.

Sometimes I wish I had a visible illness so I could avoid the judgemental stares, the mean comments and the stereotypical remarks, but not everyone as a visible illness. Just because I look fine on the outside have you check out my insides lately, the part you can’t see? I may look fine on the outside but my insides don’t match. Just because my illness isn’t visible doesn’t mean it’s not there.

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