Why do people look away when coming face-to-face with a bald person with no eyebrows and no eyelashes? Why do people turn their heads? Do they look away because of embarrassment? Is it because of fear? Or is it because common knowledge dictates that a young person’s baldness is a sure sign for a serious illness, like cancer?
Many times (more than I can count) I found myself caught up in this scenario when fatigue took a vacation and allowed me a few hours of strength for a grocery store run to buy cat food. On these particular “good” days, I had enough strength to meander into the “real world” and take a breather from “chemo world.” I wanted to feel human again, so I ventured out on an errand.
Although friends had offered to go grocery shopping or drive me to doctor appointments, I still had the responsibility of taking care of myself and I did not want to wear out my resources.
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I was able to put up with the incessant stares until one experience floored my emotional stamina. It came from a child. Who knew a child could have such Goliath power?
As I stopped halfway down the aisle to search the coupon specials, a woman, who was pushing her cart filled with her week’s staples and was accompanied by her young daughter, stopped alongside of me.
The little girl pointed to me and in a very loud voice said, “Momma, that lady is ugly. Why is she so ugly and scary?” I was floored. I had no response. The saying is, “out of the mouths of babes…” But this truth was way too stark. I turned and walked away and out of the store.
This taught me an important lesson: Perhaps human reaction is either based on fear or on a perception of truth. Perhaps this young girl’s perception was ugliness, perhaps fear from others. But I will say one thing—no matter the perception, I know my truth, and it is to continue to face the challenge of cancer with dignity and not walk in the shoes of ignorance.
Ela Cabral is a two-time cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with myeloproliferative disorder, a form of leukemia, in 2005. She received a bone marrow transplant at the City of Hope. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in February 2012 and received chemotherapy treatment once again. She has recently returned to work as an educator teaching special education students in Los Angeles. She enjoys travelling, writing, laughing, and teaching cancer survivors the art of writing about their own journeys.