Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A Bald Spot

A few months ago, a reader wrote to ask if Mom had ever felt competitive with the other patients undergoing chemotherapy at the same time she was. His own mother had been through the same thing and obsessively measured her progress against that of her cohorts.

That wasn't something I'd noticed during Mom's treatment and I didn't address it in Mom's Cancer, but as I thought about it I realized my correspondent was right. Most patients' chemo was done on a regular schedule so you tended to see the same people every session. Mom's peers included an annoying loudmouth that Mom prayed wouldn't sit next to her and a young Hispanic woman who always switched the television to Spanish-language soap opera. In a situation so frightening and uncertain, it was impossible not to compare and compete: Who went bald first. Who got fat or thin. Who looked better or worse. Who stopped showing up at all. "Winning" meant living.

I thought this was a great insight and considered adding a new chapter to the book about it. But since I hadn't noticed it in my own family's experience I had a hard time writing about it, making it "real," and fitting it into the flow of the story around it. I couldn't figure out how to express this abstract, internalized concept in drawings. I couldn't make it work.

Instead, I drew a new spot illustration that I thought touched on the idea, and hoped that we might use it to fill out the book's page count. It turned out that 128 pages filled up faster than I expected and the new drawing wasn't needed. So that's the story behind this never-to-be-published piece:


Anonymous said...

FYI-- During chemo your Momma was very competitve and would even make comments on who's head looked better bald--It's true!

Rehab really brought out the true competitor in her though.

Often she would try to compare her progress to others. She would say things like, "At least I have a chance of getting better, I just can't move my right leg... did you see that person in the activity room?"

A little game she would play was to not share what ailment she was suffering from rather, she'd let strangers guess away. Guess she got tired of being pigeon-holed. In her defense, it was a long-winded explanation how someone in lung cancer remission could have mobility problems.

I remember her getting really down one day when a physical therapy assistant had commented that Mom wasn't "progressing like the some of the other people do". I said something like, "Oh really, how many other cancer survivors with mets to the brain & lyphatic system, 2 1/2 years post treatment, had her therapist taken care of that day? Her head shot up and the twinkle in her eyes was back. "Oh ya, no kidding, I forgot I am a living miracle".

She was never prouder than when she won a pair of purple shoelaces when she beat everyone else in BLACKJACK! Clearly they didn't know who they were up against!
Nurse Sis

Lynne said...

The competition between cancer patients in treatment is out of fear. We are so frightened of everything around us, yet trying to hang onto hope, so if someone else has it worse, we feel better by comparison. I've also noticed that I look at others and think if they're doing well, I'll do well...if they do poorly, I might do poorly....if they cry, I can cry...

not competition in the normal sense, but a comparison

(speaking for myself, of course)

BrianFies said...

Lynne, Thanks for the insight. I really appreciate your perspective and suspect you speak for a lot of people. Sis, you should write a book.

ronnie said...

Wonderful drawing, Brian (love "Mom's" sidelong sizing-up of her fellow patients) and wonderful story, Nurse Sis.

And Lynne... it is amazing to me that I continue to learn something significant and new from "Mom's" story and its ripple effects at least once every few days. Your comments are a BIG part of that process - thank you!