The on-going, first-hand tale of a journey through medical oncology... and what happens after.

Friday, August 10, 2007

You look great...

In many casual and not-so-casual conversations, I have heard that little phrase pretty often. And to be honest, I don't mind so much hearing it, really. It's a nice thing, a warm and safe thing, to hear. But it's led me to oh-so-many internal conversations about what exactly the speaker is referring to, and I know that that is not fair. But then, neither is cancer. There is a cynical part of me that wants to ask right back, "did I look so not-great before?" Or, "what did you expect to see, some emaciated version of me, some external evidence of (the tumor, the effects of chemo, my psyche as I deal with my diagnosis/treatment, etc.)?" I am not sure that "you look great" is such a kind thing to say.

I believe that everyone's intentions are for the best, and that a remark like this is not intended to be scrutinized too closely. But some days you can look great, and still be sick or feel awful. I currently live in an immune-compromised state 24/7 - meaning that my internal defenses against infection are poor - and I need to be very careful about what and where I eat, and close contact with people who are sick, and little nicks and cuts. My blood work has been exceptionally good before each chemo-treatment, but good is a relative term... "good" for a chemo-patient means that my white blood cell count (first line of defense against illness and infection) is still barely within the normal range for a healthy adult. This is also true of my platelet count (those little cells that provide the first line of defense when you start to bleed - they patch up the "hole" and form a blood clot) and my red blood cell count (good for carrying oxygen around my body and eliminating waste products through the filters of my liver and kidneys, you know, the whole *living* thing). Looking great has nothing to do with my actual health, and perhaps more to do with a perception of my emotional/psychological state, and it sounds like a superficial measure of me whenever I hear it.

I have a dear friend who recently experienced a catastrophic loss of hearing. I haven't seen him yet, but I have heard from him via email. He seems to be OK, from what I could glean from his printed words on my computer screen, and to look at him I bet you'd never know that his "new world" is a soundless one - or perhaps just a muffled one. I don't and can't know how this change affects him and his relationship to the world we share. But I do know that changes like this - a diagnosis of cancer, a complete loss of one of your senses - changes that you cannot immediately "see," are still very hard on a person. My heart goes out to him and his family as they deal with a big bump in the road of life. And I'm sure he still looks great.

Maybe it's better to say "gee, it's great to see you" rather than "you look great." My time with people is so much more valuable to me now than I ever recognized before. We sometimes struggle to express our feelings toward one another, and that little remark is certainly made with the best of intentions by people that care about me and that I care about. But we all know the saying about the road-to-hell, and paving, and good intentions...

Thanks for reading this drivel. My mood is still very good, and I feel good these days. The "off-week" after chemo is a time when things begin to feel "normal" just a bit. I needed to get this one blog post off my mind, so to speak, and now it's done. Have a great day!


Anonymous said...

Touche. Maybe you get that comment because you look so much better than your primary care giver these days!


Anonymous said...

Hi, Ed. I always read your blog with interest, especially every other Friday, the day after your chemo. I think you "write great", but neither "you write great" or "you look great" is grammatically correct, is it? Probably it would be better to say you write skillfully. You can be a great writer, but you can't write great. Illustrates when an adverb should be used instead of an adjective. "Look" is a verb and is what your eyes do. So, if you look great, people are telling you that your eyesight is can look at it that way. Is this a bit of nonsense? Of course, just a way of saying hello.

Also, I want to tell you how flattered I was by your email about a month ago when you wrote that you would recognize the initials DS. I was sure you would think it was District Superintendent or the Department of Santitation contacting you.

All the best....DS

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ed. I really appreciate your openness and clarity.

Take care, ssb

Anonymous said...

Ed, it will be "great to see you" in a few weeks. Thanks for the tip. :)


Anonymous said...

Next time I see you I will say (in my BEST Billy Crystal imitation), " lhook Mahvelousssss" (and you do!).

- Cesie