From my mother I inherited a light skin prone to keratosis – pre cancerous cells that if not treated can become more serious. I have it, or someimtes it’s more advanced stages, treated wherever it turns up at least once a year.
When I would come home with a small part of me dug out somewhere, or a red face from a shower of liquid nitrogen, I would say to Nancy “You know, you’re not the only one around here who can have cancer”. She’d say “pffft – your cancer is wimpy – it’s nothing. It’s not even really cancer” I’d rebuff “You’re just a cancer snob. Nobody’s cancer measures up to your cancer. Lance Armstrong – what does he know about cancer, out there riding his damned bicycle”. And she’d say “Now you’re getting it”.
I am going through a month or so of topical chemotherapy with a common treatment called Carac, which, whatever the pages of medical jargon that comes with it says in that 4-point type, kills a lot of the skin on your face to wipe out Keratoses. There’s a lot of blog chatter about the suffering associated with it – mainly that your face hurts, your body is in general not itself and not in a good way, and you look pretty ugly when the stuff is really working.
The Buddhist “become the fire” viewpoint is helpful to me. There are many things worse than a cancer treatment that works. Specifically, ones that don’t work. My advice is to enjoy the fact that it’s working, and that you’ve got what it takes to go through the month or so of symptoms with some aplomb. And a few tips:
– limit looking in the mirror to a maximum of 2x per day. Less is better. Your face is not your problem – you don’t have to look at it all day. So don’t.
– Enjoy your free education in being an “other”. Watch how people look at you and treat you differently just because a few square inches of skin is different. Imagine being in a wheelchair, black in white America, a recovered burn victim, or just very short or very tall, or very heavy or very thin.
– Greet people as follows:
• them: Hi, how are you doing
• you: OK. It’s not contagious.
– You can’t make a 500 mile bike ride wishing the whole time you were home watching the game on TV or sitting with friends and the Sunday times at Peet’s Coffee. Picture yourself as a domestique on a leading team in the Giro d’Italia. Ace cyclist out there doing what you do best – covering those miles. Yes, it hurts sometimes, and it rains some times, and hydration and food don’t always happen when you want. But overall, you trained all year for this week, unlike all others on your calendar. This is the week you’ll remember all year round. And too soon it will not be real, it will just be a story you tell about your past. Don’t waste it moving your brain to some virtual reality. Live it in its transient coolness.
You only have one month to be Mr. or Ms. Carac. Don’t cover with makeup and creams. Your MD won’t approve, and it’s not going to work anyway. Be the fire. This is your month to feel weird, look weird, and do something good for yourself. You emerge from 500 miles on the bike in great shape – you are what you were meant to be physically, before your brain and civilization took over your primordial physicality. You’ll emerge from your Carac month (and a couple weeks to get over it) with the best skin you’ve ever had – and the most appreciation for healthy skin you’ve ever had. Meanwhile, go with it, tell your Carac to go for it With Gusto! After all, it works for you, not the other way around. You’re paying for the ride – enjoy it.