…and like cancer, it is essentially a solitary experience; a room in hell with only your name on the door.” -Martha Manning
Ever felt like you were walking into a crowded room with a big scarlet letter held up to your chest? You either found out you’ve been let go from your company or recently separated from a relationship. For some, it could be a sudden death in the family or diagnosis of an illness. Have you ever walked outside and wondered if everyone can see right through you? Imagine that feeling all day.
I recall a moment right before starting treatment. I went to the mall because I needed some fresh air and lip gloss. I walked into Victoria Secret and immediately lowered my head to the ground in order to make my lump on the left side of my jaw less noticeable. I maneuvered through the mannequins in thongs and sheer nightgowns to the line where the make- up was displayed. I grabbed the glittery nude squeezable lip gloss and headed to the end of the line. I kept my gaze down and let my curly hair fall to the sides of my face. I felt ashamed and embarrassed of what was becoming of my face. The cancer exploded itself on my lymph nodes and was making its way down my neck. It has already conquered the back of my head and rested on my skull.
As I held onto the lip gloss I felt more and more disconnected from the room of ladies. I felt as though I took the blue pill and saw the real world. We are stressed about finances, relationships, employment, school, children, family, and health. Every day we google ways to improve our lives and pin our motivational quotes on Pinterest. We seek out a constant need for self-improvement, yet we remain disconnected.
Cancer tends to provide us with very concrete peak experiences. Specific times when the universe unveils its simplicity and clarity. It was that very moment when I realized how fucked up we all are. Ladies were on-line with mounds of panties, bras, pajamas, lingerie, creams, and perfume. They held onto their luxury bags and pulled out credit cards in order to buy their beauty. That’s when I felt it. Invisible. I was standing there with lip gloss in my hand and told that I have an 80% chance to survive. I am standing with women who are buying happiness and on their cells phones arguing over trivial bullshit. Yet, my body is rapidly killing me.
When I walked home that day, I wondered how many of the people I saw were secretly in pain. How many were covering up an issue or a scar? The fake smiles and shopping bags made me feel like many were like me. As I continued home, I saw for the first time a homeless man sitting on the street. Granted, I’ve seen him every day for years. However, I finally saw him. He was occupying space in this world, yet I passed over him repeatedly as I tended to my life. I looked down and smiled at him. He looked up and his eyes pierced into mine. Our pain transcended into each other and we both knew the truth. The reality of our existence.
When I got home I tossed the Victoria’s Secret bag onto my vanity. I looked into the mirror at my lump. I grazed over it. Felt the hardness of it. It was real. I was real. I applied the lip gloss and saw the shimmer accentuate my full lips. I tossed it back down. I ripped off my turtleneck and pulled back my hair. There it was. The illness that I could not hide.