Wearing a compression sleeve starts many conversations with strangers. It has been a learning experience and one that has made me think.
Doris Cardwell received a life-changing diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer in 2007. While undergoing treatment, she co-founded a mentor program for the cancer center treating her. She also created community events to educate, encourage and empower people regarding cancer. Doris was the first Survivorship Community Outreach Liaison for her local cancer center. She is an advocate, educator and encourager on issues facing cancer survivors. Doris is a wife, mother, empty nester, survivor of life and lover of all things coffee. An avid speaker and blogger, she is available at www.justdoris.com
Some days I wear a preventative compression sleeve on my right arm. Many breast cancer survivors wear them, so I am not alone. I appreciate the sleeve because it helps me keep lymphedema at bay. Yet, I don't always appreciate many of the conversations that are a result of my sleeve. For example, “Oh honey, what did you do to your arm?” is not so bad. Sometimes it results in a good conversation. Maybe even one that allows me to educate on inflammatory breast cancer. There are still many women who have not heard of this aggressive form of breast cancer. Awareness is vital.
The conversations I don't appreciate? The ones that immediately go to, "Did they take off your breast?" I swear one day I am going to say, "Ma'am you take off a shoe, we are talking about my breast. Do you know me well enough to have this conversation?" Many times, I will just reply "medical reasons" or I had lymph nodes removed. For some, that ends the conversation. For others, it is like you just can't turn the train around on the tracks. It can seem like the vaguer I am in my answers the more the need to know grows.
There have been so many times over the past 10 years when I’ve had to bite my tongue. I think if I had a dime for each one of them, I am sure I could feed a small impoverished nation. Most recently, a woman who I had never met felt it appropriate to ask me way too many questions. I was at my place of employment and could not escape her. I gave her short, terse answers. "I knew breast cancer was why you were wearing your sleeve," and a smug look on her face ended our exchange. She then told me she had breast cancer years ago and only had to have a lumpectomy. She also said she was sure I was smart enough to take turmeric to keep it from coming back. At that moment, I wanted to say, “Cancer may have taken my breast, but what on earth removed your manners?”
One day in a restaurant, a woman clearing tables heard a passerby ask me about my sleeve. When the passerby left she came to tell me she knew how frustrating that must be. She shared that she gets unwelcome comments all the time because her face stays red and blotchy. It is a medical condition that she can't control, something she has dealt with all her life. She says people often think she's upset and try to comfort her with comments. One of the things cancer has taught me is that other people have tremendous struggles too. I also am trying to learn to really watch what I say to people that I don't know. Somethings just don't need to have comments attached to them. It seems there are weeks when I can't go anywhere wearing it without someone saying something. I have decided I am going to design my own sleeve with a phrase on it. It will read "Before you ask me why, ask yourself, why you feel you need to know?"