When You Have Cancer and Hear 'But You Don’t Look Sick'


Shortly after I was diagnosed with a rare form of soft tissue sarcoma (DFSP), me and my parents went out to dinner to one of my favorite local restaurants. While we were there, one of my mom’s adorable friends ran up to me and gave me a side hug, enthusiastically exclaiming, “I’m so glad they found what was wrong. And now you’re going to be all better!”

I gave her a confused look. She replied, “The cancer. They found the cancer. That’s what was causing all your health problems right? Me and a girl at work were just talking about this the other day and we are just so glad they found what was wrong and that you’re going to be all better!”

My amazing caretaker/superhero of a mom quickly told her, “The cancer was just one of her problems. Sadly, not her only health problem.”

After my mom said that, her friend’s face just dropped. My cheeks flushed red as I chuckled with embarrassment and responded, “Yep, the cancer was just an add on. I still have all my other health problems. The cancer was actually sadly unrelated to them.”

This poor, sweet woman’s eyes filled with sorrow, and I could tell she was struggling to find the words to say next. Then, with a caring glance she stated, “You poor thing. Well, you look super healthy. You always have!”

I quickly retorted, “Thank you. Makeup does wonders.”

The whole room chuckled as I cringed internally.

Even though that comment was made out of pure kindness (I have no anger towards that woman; she is a sweetheart), for a brief moment I wished she could see the pain, nausea, and just the mountain of illness I face on a daily basis. To be honest, I believe every Spoonie/sick person has internally cringed when they hear the all-to-often made comment, “Well, you look healthy!”

Personally, I am eternally grateful I don’t look as sick as I feel. If I did I would never get a date. Or would never want to leave my house because I’d look so awful I would scare small children who saw me.

But when someone says, “Well, you look so healthy!” or “You don’t look sick,” it feels like they are saying,” Don’t you have to look sick to be sick? You look great. Are you truly sick? Are you faking it? ” Like in a strange sense, the world believes you have to “look the part” to “play the part.” (A part you would never ever choose nor want  to play.) That you can’t possibly be sick if you’re not coughing, sneezing, or wheezing at that moment, or if you don’t have any physical medical devices showing and/or a shiny bald head.

I think society has this super weird view that illness can only look a certain way. But the thing that society doesn’t understand or show is that illness isn’t always visible.

It can be hidden behind very well thought-out makeup. (I’ve personally learned the perfect concealer and blush combo can hide just about anything.)

It can be hidden beneath the smile of someone who is in extreme pain, but is trying their best not to stick out like a sore thumb in a crowd.

It can even be hidden beneath the skin of a body that looks fine, but is internally falling apart.

Illness can be hidden in a thousand different ways in a thousand different people. Like people, illness doesn’t fit into one mold. It comes in every shape, size, form, and extreme.

I didn’t  write this blog as a rant to say, “Don’t you dare say I look healthy when I’m not.” (If you did walk up to me and point out how sick and awful I looked, then I would have the right to be offended.)

I didn’t write this blog to trash that adorable lady. She did nothing wrong.

I wrote this blog as a plea to always remember what the great philosopher Plato once said: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle you know nothing about.”

We are all too quick to judge the lady in Walmart who is using a motorized shopping cart, even though she doesn’t “look” like she needs it.

We are all too quick to label others.

We are all too quick to put our input and opinions into situations and people we know nothing about.

This by far was the kindest “you don’t look sick” situation I’ve ever been in. The worst one was when an old man in Costco was chastising and telling me to get out of the wheelchair I was using because I was “too young to need it” and because an old man like him should have it.

If my illness has taught me anything, it’s that things and people rarely are what they seem to be.

So, the next time you glance an annoyed side eye at the woman in Walmart who is using the motorized shopping cart, and the next time you’re judging a person or a situation you know nothing about, remember the phrase: “You don’t look sick.”

Remember how ridiculous that statement is.

You can’t look into another person’s life. You can’t see their struggles and story in a single glance. All you can do when it comes to others is choose how you are going to treat them. And I urge you to treat everyone you meet with kindness because I promise you, everyone truly is facing a hard battle that you will know absolutely nothing about.

Stay strong, treat others with kindness, and always smile on.

This post was originally published on The Life of Me, Smile Magee.

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Getty Images photo via amoklv


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