It has been a roller coaster of a week emotionally, with RUOK Day, the anniversary of 9/11 and the lead up to Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A week to reflect on the people no longer with us and a week to make sure we show those who are in our lives, how much we care. A week to remind ourselves not to sweat the small stuff and to focus on the privilege of living instead.
And all that mass of tightly coiled, confused emotions were well and truly rammed home to me on Tuesday, while waiting in the orthodontist reception, (as the ADHDer was once again convincing the Ortho that he really does wear the ‘bands’ on his braces, even though I know that he actually creates mini sling shots out of them to fire at the dog).
Because while I was hiding in awkwardness behind the latest edition of Famous Magazine, trying to digest the full ramifications of this life-changing article entitled ‘Is this too skinny?’, (complete with bikini-clad images of skeletal celebrities who normally look….well, skeletal), I looked up and noticed this woman sitting opposite me who was wearing the funkiest orange retro wig I have ever seen, (outside of a Vivienne Westward fashion runway or circus-themed party). It was a brave and feisty look on a woman in her forties, and it smacked of attitude.
That wig said, ‘I’m a fighter’.
And she reminded me of all those friends of mine who have bravely fought their own breast cancer battle, who sometimes I shamefully put to the back of my mind, so embroiled do I get in the minutiaie of my own petty existence, and I felt instantly humbled. Even though, I must add, most of those women are the strongest women I know, because if I have learned anything about breast cancer, out of adversity evolves true warriors.
Personal battles do seem to fortify us humans, whether the battle is a health issue, a death in the family or even a divorce. And the inner strength that develops from pain becomes compellingly visible to those who witness it. I was drawn to the aura of that woman in the waiting room like a moth to a flame. I felt sheer admiration for her bravery.
She was about my age, and was unquestionably beautiful, in spite of the ‘in your face’ brassiness of that wonderful tangerine wig. And she made me question if I would have the same strength of spirit to carry on with my day to day responsibilities if those tumultuous dark forces threatened my being?
Was she truly coping? How do you cope when you are a wife and a working mother and your whole world is suddenly brought crashing down by a few dodgy cells?
The rest of us need those reality checks occasionally to remind us of those people confronting life-threatening situations on a daily basis, to put our own pathetic little grievances, (that I still find plenty of time to whine about in spite of this incredible insight), into some sort of perspective. My son refusing to brush his birds nest of a hairstyle or my husband communicating with me via the dog are obvious irritations, but they are totally inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.
And as wonderful as it is that celebrities such as Giuliana Rancic and Sheryl Crowe reveal their breast cancer to the world and create a public platform to educate and gain support in the fight against the disease, I think that many people still have a very warped perception of the traumatising reality of this disease.
Because real women are not back in the workplace within a few weeks of invasive surgery and treatment. Normal women would never conceive of adding to their family in the same period as their diagnosis. Normal women do not regain control over their bodies in the first few months. Real women suffer physical and mental scarring and above all, a pervading fear that takes a long time to heal. Real women have to rebuild their lives after the ravages of cancer.
And yet, in spite of that dark period in their lives, these wonderful women do fight and they do heal and they and their families eventually emerge from the tunnel with the sort of passion, and strength and zest for life that we envy them for.
The girl with the burnt orange wig showed me that strength at the orthodontists. And if I’d have been half the person that she is, I would have asked her RUOK?
‘Without the disease, I might have just plodded along this life not really appreciating the beauty of every breath’ Jacki