Saturday, October 3, 2009

Make-over by Chemo

"What men mistake for beauty in themselves is usually nothing save a certain hollow gaudiness, a revolting flashiness, the superficial spendor of a prancing animal;...considered in the light of genuine esthetic values, is no more than a study in vulgarity..." H.L. Mencken.

I've grown tired of hearing how good I look. Surprising as that sounds, cancer has distracted me somewhat,it's hard to appreciate the sentiment. And compared to how I looked a mere 10 months ago, it's hard to believe there's no artifice there either. But, more importantly, who doesn't want to hear that? I know I should, especially now that I have this $300,000.00 make-over; the haircut really defines the look, don't you think? It must be generating some buzz, I see people looking at me funny all the time. I thought I saw more concern than envy though.

"Hello,... You look so good", a typical response to introduction really, innocuous even, often said offhandedly! Pretty rare for me to have heard that kind of thing in the past, even from my wife; with coaxing! What gives? Shouldn't I be a little suspicious, wouldn't you? Is it so surprising, how I look? I think we should prepare ourselves for this look for the foreseeable future. Our delinquency is apparent, the trend is accelerating; "cancer, that disease that is not a disease, that wave of undifferentiated function, the orgy of the lost cells." I wouldn't worry about how I look, we're all in peril!

Hey,I'm looking for any validation, even where none is to be had, but superficiality doesn't address my immune system. It needs more help than my vanity. Let's talk about that. I realize it can be vexing, cancer is scary , sometimes scarier looking! But, you won't appease it with compliments, nor me.

Do I look so different? I worry about that you know. A little emaciated maybe, cadaverous to be sure; the chemo was brutal on the metabolism. I've lost 25 lbs, it may look like a lot, but it feels so good, and now I can use words like svelte and lithe to describe myself. The diet doesn't work for everyone though, it can be deadly! Is it what you expected? Expectations can be awkward you know, you really should have an exit strategy in advance to avoid that. Or, you can try cancer awareness; I wasn't prepared either.

I don't know what the etiquette is, genuine would suffice, I should think. There are books on every kind of protocol of diplomacy and decorum since Louis XIV, certainly we could design a pamphlet. It probably should include shaking hands and embracing too. Most of us who've been transplanted are immune suppressed. It's hard to stop someone gracefully, who gets the first step and already has the momentum to grope a cancer survivor. An homage to survival I think, or maybe an act of contrition. I need an exit strategy to avoid that.

Nevertheless, hearing a pleasant refrain from time to time, is after all, comforting and tantalizes my already vainglorious nature (something I really should keep an eye on; without a mirror) But, I must say, it's easy to forget how badly I feel when everyone is always complimenting me on how good I look. I'm afraid I'm getting used to the attention and given the state of my self esteem, I'm not sure it's not therapeutic.

Some days I have this ebullience about me, I'm not sure it's of any notice to anyone else. I look a little anemic perhaps, not quite a sallow glow, but perceptively radiant I think. I asked my wife if that was jaundice, she assured me; no. What does she know, she doesn't even tell me I look good anymore; everyone else does! I am also disappointed that my bald scalp doesn't shine like I've noticed on other men. Is that wax? A rub and shine would sure go a long way to improve my disposition some days.

I admit that I do concern myself with looking good, now more so than ever. My self-confidence is a little worse for wear recently. Affectation of my lost virulence dictates my wardrobe to some extent; my fashion is more subterfuge than necessity. There are only certain colors I'll wear, not everything goes with with my pallor; mostly yellows and greens, black for those days, and I'm experimenting with red; broadcasting my defiance feels empowering sometimes; but I still have to wear a hat. I placate my skin ardently, it needs a lot of rehabilitation; chemo devastated my skin--my face now belongs to Marla; my estetician, and SkinDeep Cosmoceuticals.

And finally, I mustn't forget the accoutrements; the requisite cancer paraphernalia: wristbands, water bottles and such, I'm not that thrilled with the t-shirts though (I'm working on my own) all of which I feel my duty and responsibility to advocate. A testimonial to all those who did not survive. Without whose sacrifice I may not have survived, almost certainly, just a few short years ago; when treatment was more experimental than it is now.

Alas, rapprochement I should think, is the better strategy after all. Reconciliation with a wink and a nod, or better still, some salute, acknowledging that as good as I might look and as bad as you might feel about the treachery of my circumstances, that nevertheless, my survival is a glimpse, that triumph is conceivably at hand. So I thank all those well intentioned, gentle hearts that with their kind words have advantaged my state of mind or perhaps, I should say, my inner beauty. Next time you see me, comment on that.

"I'm tired of all the nonsense about beauty being only skin deep. That's deep enough . What do you want, an adorable pancreas?" Jean Kerr


  1. My first reaction to this current blog, Mr. T, is that it is so much more approachable than the past ones. The others were esoteric, unrelatable, maybe too intellectualized. That's my opinion anyway. If you continue along in this vein then I think you've achieved the essence of a blog - commentary that invites one in, causes one to want to share in return. I found myself chuckling at your words. Isn't that what we all need in today's climate. Good stuff, T.
    So now. Re: immunity issues & touching. I completely understand your position & anxiety. Love the pamphlet concept even if thrown out in jest. How about "10 things to keep in mind when interacting w/ a cancer survivor." But I pose to you - I should think it would be difficult after persevering through all one deals with as a CS, not wanting to touch or be touched/hugged by other humans, albeit ones you care for as opposed to your local banker.
    Does it not make you feel alive w/ inner harmony when someone presses close & says, "It's sooo good to see you Tom"? Could you abstain from that warth of expression? I don't know how you rectify that. It must be a diffucult dilema.
    Re: scalp shine - Tom, you're being naive if you don't think that shine comes in a jar. Go buy yourself some shine, boy. Marla should be able to hook you up or your salon person.
    Re: ebullience - yes! I assure you, it's evident when you are in that state. I liken it to being pulled into a funnel cloud. When you exit I'm exhausted, but as thrilled as when stepping off a carnival ride.
    Keep on truckin'.
    Mary Donohue

  2. Mary, Thankyou so much for your comments. Foremost, I value your opinion and your criticism. Your insight is requisite to developing my skill to communicate this strange catharthis, which I realize has at times been rather gloomy and esoteric. Nevertheless, It has been a necessary progession to hone my point of view; find my voice if you will. The meandering that didn't resonate so well for you, I hope had some redeemable quality that was relatable, after all it's just a story with a particular perspective and exclusivity that I'm trying to make more approachable; simply by writing about it as honestly as I can,and yes, even more huggable at the risk of something viral. That was just an observation not my sentiments. Mary, your easy way and encouraging words inspires me, I feel relevent all over!
    thank you T.

  3. Love the $300,000 hair style!