One of the most frustrating things someone can say to you when you are experiencing cancer is “you don’t look sick”. Sure, they are probably coming from a good place thinking that it may make you feel better that you don’t look horrible but for someone who is sick, it means a whole lot more.
You see, when most people think about someone with cancer the first image they see in their heads is someone with a perfectly bald head, skinny, pale, maybe a few wires or cannulas coming out of them and even an oxygen tube in their nose. For a lot of us that have experienced cancer, this is not always the case, sure there are definitely times we look like that but not all the time.
I remember during my treatment, and also for a period of time after treatment, I wasn’t able to walk very far because of chronic fatigue and aches in my feet. My mum used to force me to use a wheelchair when we went to big shopping centres and theme parks etc. because she knew I wouldn’t be able to walk all day. The reason I say she forced me to is because I hated being in a wheelchair, I hated not being able to do things myself. It frustrated me even more when people would look at me funny and judge me for using a wheelchair when I didn’t really look sick. I wore a wig when I lost my hair because I felt embarrassed not having any hair and a head full of scars, I was also only 11 years old so I did look great for what I was going through. What was worse was sometimes I would get out of my wheelchair to go to the bathroom or into a small store and the looks I would get because I could walk and I was using a wheelchair was insane! My family and I went to Disneyland when I finished treatment with Make A Wish and I got a wheelchair to go around the park but the staff said instead of waiting in the long lines we could go through the exits to get on the rides otherwise I would be way too tired. The looks we got by doing that I will never forget, it was like people were throwing daggers in our backs!
Many people used to say to me “you don’t look sick” or “you look so healthy!” this made me angry because yeah I didn’t look sick but I also felt like shit on the inside, constant headaches and severe ones at that, chronic fatigue where I couldn’t go a whole day where I didn’t sleep for a few periods of it, feeling nauseous all the time, vomiting constantly and having the mental health problems that come with having cancer. Hearing people say this annoyed me because it made me feel like I had no reason to complain, receive or ask for help, and have time off school or other activities because I looked so well.
Unfortunately, many people are so quick to judge someone when they don’t have all the information. Like I said before, the majority of people that comment on how we look most likely don’t mean it in a negative way but hope it may somehow make us feel better about ourselves. It’s understandable why they don’t understand as they haven’t been in a situation like ours so it’s impossible for them too.
The message I want to leave everyone with today is to stop and think before you say things, don’t make assumptions about others because of the way they look and be kind! For those of us who experience cancer, remember that it is hard for others to understand what we are going through and are most likely trying to be nice.