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This Is Why I Want to Break the Cancer Stereotype

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When I tell people I have cancer, I normally get something like “but you don’t look sick” or “you can’t have cancer, you still have all your hair.” I normally just dismiss them and say thank you, but what I really want to say is…

What do you mean I don’t look sick? Can’t you tell my insides are sick not my outsides? You mean you can’t tell by looking at me that my colon is missing? Or that my lungs have tumors in them? You couldn’t just see that by looking at me?

Would it be better if I faked losing a limb to fit your idea of being sick? Thank you, I try hard not to look sick. Oh, and not all cancer patients lose their hair. I have been working on growing my hair back for the past two years, thank you for noticing.

I was at an event where they had a comfy chair labeled, “Reserved, this chair is for those with chronic medical needs.” I believe having cancer counts as a chronic medical need. There were two chairs across the aisle from each other. A lady with a cane came and sat in one. But I didn’t sit down — I took the hard chair instead because people there didn’t know I was sick. I didn’t look sick and I know I would be judged if I sat there.

But why is that? Is it because I don’t fit society’s stereotype of someone with cancer?

I am not super sickly, skinny and bald, and I don’t walk around with an oxygen tube hanging from my nose. I don’t look like I am going to die. But I have been there at one point. I looked sick. I was super skinny and you could see all my bones. You could see the effects of the chemo on me.

I have been that stereotypical cancer girl, but that was two years ago. I still have cancer, even though I don’t look like that sick girl anymore.

So, where does society get its viewpoint of cancer patients? The media is a big one. Movies like “The Fault in Our Stars,” “My Sister’s Keeper” and “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl” all paint cancer patients as sickly, frail and bald people. When “Chasing Life” came out, the biggest complaint was she didn’t lose her hair or look sick fast enough. It took her a good 10 episodes to go bald and look sick.

But why is this idea forced upon us? Is it not believable that a person who functions fine out the outside, who looks fine, who functions like every other normal person, could be dying of cancer? Is that too hard to comprehend?

Each cancer is different, and everyone reacts differently to the medications. I have friends who were on the same drugs as I am, and I lost a lot of weight while they gained a lot of weight. They are also breaking the stereotypes.

My doctors told me with my chemo I should be able to keep my hair. Unfortunately, I lost it, but they said most people on that type of chemo keep their hair. Once again, breaking the cancer stereotypes.

Some people have cancer that is just a lump or a bump, and they get it removed and don’t lose their hair or lose a third of their weight. They are also defying the cancer stereotypes.

Everyone’s cancer is different, and we don’t fit into one mold.

Sometimes I wish I had a visible illness so I could avoid the judgmental stares, the mean comments and the stereotypical remarks — but not everyone has a visible illness. Just because I look fine on the outside, have you check out my insides lately, the part you can’t see? I may look fine on the outside, but my insides don’t match.

Just because my illness isn’t visible doesn’t mean it’s not there.

This post was previously published on Medium.

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Originally published: August 7, 2017
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