I met the woman in radiation over two months ago. Her appearance in my life shocked me since I’d been feeling bad for myself, embarrassed about my limp and my bald spot. I kept remembering a girl from high school; she was honestly one of the cutest girls in town but because she “walked funny” none of the guys asked her out. These memories flooded over me as I hunched, looking in the mirror. I just hope Mike means it when he says he thinks I’m beautiful and that he’s not embarrassed by how I look and move.
Anyway, I didn’t say a word about this to anyone as I dressed in my hospital gown and waited for radiation. Then it happened. SHE slumped into a hospital chair, dejected because of a tumor in her head. It had required treatments that had somehow caused a bumpy, purple rash to spread all around her right eye and cheek.
I offered a quiet greeting—acting like nothing was wrong—and before I knew it, the woman told me everything. She was mortified about the rash; people stared, and then when she said it was melanoma no one thought it was a big deal. “They all say they’ve had skin cancer. But it’s NOT what I have. And it’s like they have no concept of what melanoma can do. I don’t want them to minimize this.”
We were quiet for a while. “I have melanoma, too,” I admitted, and she was taken aback. “Stage 4. They had to remove my L3 vertebrae because a tumor had eaten the whole thing. That’s why I can’t stand up straight anymore.” Another long pause. “You’re right though: People do not understand how serious melanoma is....other than that small aspect, I can’t imagine what you’re going through. I’m so sorry.”
“Well, I don’t have Stage 4. But, there is something really tough about having it all over my face.... It’s honestly really hard.”
I never forgot the woman, so devastated and sad.
Time has passed, and I’ve thought about her often. But this week, I actually saw her again! I’d just gotten my IV, and was ready for my infusion and more scans, when I spotted her. She hobbled past—and I almost said “hi” when I realized she was—missing an eye!
Sure they patched the thing, but she’d recently had surgery to remove it because the melanoma had spread. I heard her mumble to the receptionist about what had happened...and I almost fell apart.
“I have to use the bathroom,” I told my husband. And I hurried in there to cry. That woman—the sweet, scared woman—had been worried about a rash. How in THE HELL is she supposed to live without an eye??? The whole thing hurt too much. I had to quell the pain rising in my chest because some of the things I’ve seen and heard since starting this journey, well, they’re crippling.
After returning to my seat, I heard a receptionist complaining about her boss and her job. It took everything in me not to walk up to that counter and smack her. Why? Because she still has both of her eyes!
Anyway, a couple of times during my treatment Mike would catch me crying. “Are you okay?” he’d ask.
“Yeah, there’s just so much to this that I never expected. I know these doctors are helping us...but it can also be torturous too. They took that woman’s eye. I mean, I’m sure it saved her life, but.... It’s just so hard seeing other people suffer.”
I hate the whole concept that we should feel better about our own situation because someone else has it worse. Shouldn’t that just make us even more devastated because we feel bad for ourselves AND the other person? Yet, I caught myself thinking that way today. I’m grateful my tumors are all up my spine and my brain and not eating at my eyes. That poor woman.
What’s especially interesting is the big impact that woman made on my life—and she doesn’t even know it. We had a brief meeting, and yet I’ll be praying for her every day. I hope she’ll find the strength she needs to get through this. I can’t begin to imagine how hard it must be. And for her to have a stage of cancer that wasn’t as bad as mine, yet now, she’s facing something so much worse.... Life can be so unpredictable.