Disguise

What are the goals for my recovery? The obvious answer is to return to some semblance of ‘normalcy’. Before the surgery my trajectory was becoming a self-sufficient family physician in my career and a loving husband and father in my family life. I enjoyed going to the gym (my routine would include going to our local gym, the Michigan Athletic Club, or MAC as it’s known here, one of the biggest gyms in the country. I would try to go once per day, usually before heading to Sparrow). A return to my pre-surgery habits and appearance is a superficial response. I have to delve deeper. What is ‘normal’? Was my life, routine, and career ‘normal’? If I hope to return to my pre-surgery days, is the goal a disguise of what I’ve been through? I have to come to terms with the fact that this ordeal is going to change my life forever. For me, accepting this drastic change is easier to come to terms with when thinking of inner change (my psyche and perspective on life), than surface change (i.e. the way I walk and talk).

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—- Jenny Allen —-

I recently heard a great talk by Jenny Allen on the Moth Hour on NPR[1]. During her talk she brought up a very interesting topic: she went through cancer, chemotherapy, and resulting hair loss. She then spoke about preparing for this—she had to make the decision if she wanted to become a “wig or scarf person”. She decided that she would be a ‘scarf person’ stating that, “a wig would be dishonest and I wasn’t ashamed of my disease,” and that if she wore a wig “I would be saying ‘please, just let me blend in’.” That made me think, my goal throughout this whole ordeal has been to return to the way things were as if this never happened, like a speed bump in the road. But why was this my hope? Was I ashamed of my condition? Was I a ‘wig’ person? People go through life altering events all the time, from something seemingly innocuous like a speeding ticket to something as serious as the death of a loved one. Now, these are called ‘life altering events’ because they alter your life: for a speeding ticket maybe you decide to drive under the speed limit, or for the death of a loved one maybe your outlook on life is changed. The reason these two points are connected is that when it comes to our health, why must a life changing condition end with a return to ‘normalcy’? Is the hope just a disguise of what we’ve been through? Are we saying that we’re all ‘wig’ people?

—- My Hopes —-

Let me be clear, in no way am I saying that all people who lose their hair due to chemotherapy and wear wigs are trying to hide their condition—my take, and Jenny Allen’s take, is simply one point of view on the topic, perhaps only one reason why someone might wear a wig. I constantly attempt to hide or disguise my condition; I have come up with certain maneuvers that might put off a titubation episode. My only point here is that some people do try to disguise their medical conditions. As I mentioned in “Holding On” former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt would only very rarely allow photos of him in his wheelchair, in fact back then most of the American public did not know that he required a wheelchair for mobility. Whether big or small, we all try to hide what we perceive as imperfection, from someone wearing (a lot of) cologne to someone who wears long sleeves to cover up skin conditions like psoriasis. There is nothing wrong with these practices (although your opinion may differ in the ‘cologne’ example), but with my tumor and resulting condition I have to reexamine what my hopes are; am I hoping to run a 4 minute mile? Of course not, I’ve come to realize that my ultimate goal in my recovery is to be true to myself. Even if this means that for the rest of my life I’ll have an odd, slowed gait and delayed speech I have to come to terms with this and remind myself what I’ve been through. To go through an ordeal like this and not expect it to change my life forever is simply not realistic. My coming to this realization does not mean I’ve ‘given up’. I will continue put all my efforts into physical therapy, and will continue doing at home speech exercises; however after pondering this idea of disguises, I am now aware that my goal is to gain functionality, not to hide my afflictions.

Shakespeare once said “to thine own self be true”.[2] Be true to yourself no matter what you’ve endured. Think of these imperfections a ‘battle wound’ and wear it like a badge of honor.

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[1] Listen to it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBjPXTrfBc8

[2] http://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/thine-own-self-true

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