With Cancer, It's All Relative


Editor’s Note: This piece was submitted by a contributing writer and does not represent the views of CURE Media Group.

I live on an island where, not surprisingly, a considerable number of the residents are related to one another. My brother moved here some years after my husband I did. Since I took my husband’s last name, it is not entirely obvious that my brother and I might be related. This often occasions amusement as islanders express their surprise when they learn that we are siblings. My brother and I live on opposite sides of the island and have different circles of friends. So with the exception of town meeting, we are seldom in the same public space at the same time.

Recently our church gave a “thank you” supper to the members of the volunteer fire department and ambulance corps, so I found myself acting as “wait staff” for my younger brother, who is an EMT. A friend took our picture and emailed it to me. The photograph is not flattering to either of us, but it certainly shows that we have genes in common, so I posted it on Facebook. Islanders are always amazed to learn that incomers too might be related to one another, and most of my Facebook friends are island residents. Still, I did not expect the reaction that followed—what a record, the greatest number of responses ever!

It had been a long day. I had been off-island for medical appointments including a follow-up visit to the dermatologist who had recently done the most recent surgery on my face for a penetrating basal cell carcinoma on my nose. It was a Mohs procedure as had previously been done on my eyelid. Before that, I had had a cancerous minor salivary gland just inside my lower lip removed resulting in a lopsided smile. And those were just the scars that showed; there are more. I recalled those friends whose hair fell out after radiation and I had thought they looked beautiful. In spite of the so-called ravages of age, it is the cancers that make me feel mauled, worn and unattractive. But as anyone who has had malignant cells successfully removed, I was resigned to the unflattering appearance, but happy with the result. After just a moment of hesitation, I posted the photograph. To my surprise the responses were immediate and glowing. Comments were on our smiles, not our resemblance. What a lesson.

Scots poet Robert Burns wrote, “O wad some Power the gifte gie us To see oursels as ithers see us!” To see ourselves as others see us, indeed. My friends do not see me as a cancer victim. They are no better at guessing what cancers I have survived than they were at guessing that I have a sibling. They don’t see the history that I see when I look in the mirror; and none of us see the future. What is there to be seen is that I am here; I was with my brother and we were having a good time, and that pleases a number of our friends. That’s worth a few more thank you dinners of my own.

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