So when you have cancer, and you are a girl, you get to go to “Look Good, Feel Better.” This is a program where pink-apron-clad middle aged volunteer ladies dump out boxes of free make-up in front of women undergoing cancer treatment. Then, one of the middle-aged pink-clad volunteer ladies stands behind a flip chart and reads make-up application techniques from a script while the other middle-aged pink-clad volunteer ladies float about the room making sure you know the difference between concealer and foundation. They say things like, “dab here to cover up those tired eyes, so you feel normal.” Notice she said feel, as in, you are not normal but make-up can disguise your abnormal cancer! Come learn how to cover up your cancer! All it takes is a little blush to disguise the fact that your body is not producing red blood cells and your face is drained of color! Also, we got this amazing tidbit: draw dots on your eyelids when your lashes fall out, to create the illusion of lashes, and everyone will be tricked! Don’t use fake lashes, they warned, and I then piped up, “Well, everyone I know uses fake lashes during chemo.” To be clear, by everyone I know, I meant one fierce yoga teacher told me she used fake lashes during chemo. So, I exaggerated a little. This woman’s eye-shadow was exaggerated, too. Maybe I’m being too harsh, after all she only wanted me to know if I exaggerated my make-up no one will know I have cancer. What if I want them to know?
Did you know one in three Americans will have an invasive cancer in their lifetimes? That makes cancer normal. Maybe I should draw some bags under these ladies eyes so they can “feel normal.”In an especially odd part of the workshop, once you are all make-up-ed (and presumably, feeling “better”) they model a bunch of wigs on one participant. I watched silently after my first contribution was brushed away, quiet like a good participant, even though I’ve been around and around the whole wig ordeal a couple times. It was obvious I was not to contribute too much: these pink-ladies with their drawn-on eyebrows and bleached hair had the answers, I should listen and receive their make-up wisdom.
But seriously, make-up wisdom from a woman with bubble-gum pink lips and hair fried from bleaching and perming? I would have listened to one of these sexy old women, but these pink-clad middle-aged ladies were a bit much for me. I was however, ecstatic to have randomly signed up for this event with my cancerbuddy from the exercise study, and there was a third young woman in the room, too. That’s a fifty fifty split between us and the grandmas, people! Then again, one of these grandmas had on amazing red lipstick that was so strong she couldn’t wipe it off to try on the freebies, so I guess some grandmas are a total win in cancerland.
So I hopped on my bike after this make-up session, and figured out how to balance this giant box on my handlebars, and my nose was dripping snot the consistency of rain water because I have no nose-hairs (at least this is my supposition), and off I rode, hot pink box balanced carefully. I did not get very far. As soon as I tried to wipe the rainwater snot from my nose, I heard one of the handles rip off the box. I hoped the other would hold, but you know where this is going. Next thing I know, the box is flying through the air and there is foundation and moisturizer in the middle of the street. I stopped, packaged it up, and re-balanced the now-handle-less box. AND THEN IT HAPPENED AGAIN. This time, the bottom of the box fell out.
I started laughing uncontrollably. It was just beyond ridiculous, me and the bike and the rainwater snot and the make-up in the middle of the street TWICE. I mean COME ON. This time, a nice lady stopped and gave me plastic grocery bags. There is hope for humanity, after all. And humanity absolutely needs hope when the solution to making cancer patients feel better is covering up cancer with make-up full of carcinogens. Don’t these people want me to live? Wouldn’t it be ironic to get a second cancer from the carcinogens in make-up gifted to you to so you could “feel better?”
Isn’t it nuts that corporate entities can destroy the environment-so much that cancer is invading young bodies and the reason cited is more often than not “environmental exposure?” Then they turn around and gift make-up so that those of us with cancerous bodies can disguise any hint of cancer, so that no one has to know I have cancer? You know what that sounds like to me? It sounds like a totally warped effort to conceal the horrific cancer-danger in our world and to thwart the possibility that those of us with cancer start a freakin’ revolution. Better to hide the cancer.
Don’t get me wrong. I just had a lengthy text exchange with my cousin about how maybe its best to wear red lipstick every single day. I think I might even try that for a little while, so get ready for some bold lip color. I wear mascara. I like sparkles and glitter and swishy girly shiny things. I’m jazzed for the free cuticle cream and MAC eye shadow I got in exchange for flashing my cancer card. I just think the box of make-up, splayed across the pavement was an omen. Maybe I should be careful. The box of make-up didn’t want me. I don’t want the cancer. It’s just so fortuitous.
In the last 48 hours, I have been in the polar-opposite cancer-spaces. In the first space, I sat with other young adults with cancer as they poured out their hearts. I listened, in the grip of terror, to the stories of my peers. I was terrified to look at these young people and know we walk the same path, each of us a little differently. The space was quiet and reflective and full of love even in the face of terrifying realities. There was music and we sang. There was no sugar-coating. There was only real. Deeply, deeply real. The kind of real it’s easy to forget exists when we live our busy lives without cancer.
And then there was this make-up space, where there was no real at all, only lessons on drawing eye brows that would fool the world. The former was a space where we could admit what is happening in our lives and be heard; the latter is a space we are taught to hide our ugly spots with concealer and cheer everyone up with eyelash-dot-illusions and spend hundreds of dollars on wigs.
Real-space with feeling, with terror, with love, or learn-to-hide-space with fake painted eyebrows and dot eyelashes? I know which space I prefer. And where will I find you?