At this stage in the chemo cycle, I’m nearly normal. Food tastes dusty, but I am just not sick at all. What I do feel is pathetic and selfish having nearly constant, full time help in the house. Then I look in the mirror and remember why everyone is being so nice to me. Sadly, my hairless head is absurdly small and decidedly not beautiful. I have already grown tired of matching hats to outfits. I’m not feeling so “whoo-hoo half way done!” but rather, “ugh, two more times.”
I look very much the Cancer Mom, all decked out in flowy cardigans, scarves, caps, and self-pity. I’m missing Spring Break in Florida with my kids, and every picture of the moments I’m missing is a little dagger. My mom has been distracting me quite well with good meals, shopping, and two seasons of Downton Abbey. But because it seems I have entered the Shameless Wallowing Phase, I’m irritated that I must endure this less than pretty.
Back in college, after an all-nighter completing some twenty-page tome on the History of This or That, my darling friend Ran would come to the dining hall in shirt, tie (usually of the bow variety), and blazer. His theory was that by dressing inversely proportional to his energy level, mere appearances could boost his mood, or at the very least, fool others. I still remember it fondly: Ran, fully dressed for dinner at the country club, but absolutely gaunt from a sleepless, two day diet of Hydrox cookies and Cokes. It was a tradition too quaint not to adopt. And though I may not have eeked out a few more correct answers by examining cadavers in a pencil skirt and pearls, at least I felt like I was showing up for the exam more fully awake, prepared, and respectful of the task ahead. These past few months feel like a test, and even if on some days I am ill prepared, the least I can do is apply Ran’s theory of wardrobe optimism.
Every morning I talk myself out of a jammie-all-day-day. I haven’t been required to move anything into or out of the dishwasher since Christmas, and avoid the bus stop, outings, most chores, and any sort of social life in the name of immunosuppression. It’s tempting to morph into a completely useless blob that remains in bed past noon. Instead I’m getting up and dressing for The Fight of My Life, which in the day-to-day isn’t against Cancer at all, but depression. Sometimes Bloomingdale’s seems almost as necessary as prayer and Purell. But so far I’ve found that Ran’s theory works. With a little Lancome and Burberry I can transform myself into Passably Pretty Girl Having Bad Hair Day. And although that fashion is strikingly similar to Cancer Mom, it’s an entirely different outfit that makes everything seem funnier and fleeting. So excuse me now as I face the day in something fabulous (maybe my homemade superhero cape from Ginny!) and write an essay about Taiwanese Grandparenting in Disney World or Ridiculously Bad Things to Say to Bald People.