No News is Good News or This Thing Called ‘Beauty’

June 2, 2012

I realize that I haven’t blogged in weeks.  But there really hasn’t been much happening in The Cancer Games arena as of late.  Everything has fallen into a relatively predictable routine.

Treatment continues.  I always dread a new round of chemo. But every time I get one, it’s never as bad as I think it will be.

The fatigue and the headaches have become pretty manageable with strategically placed naps and medication.

My eyebrows and fingernails are hanging on for dear life, but I’m hoping I will make it through to the end without losing them.

Round 4 brought on a new side effect… The Hot Flash.  Oof… It only happens once in a while and it usually only lasts for about 30 seconds, so it isn’t horrible… but it has been 95 degrees outside lately, so it isn’t easy to ignore, either.

But the good news is that I will live through an entire summer without having to shave my legs or wax my bikini line.  Ah… just like the golden days of middle school.

Two rounds left.  Looking forward to the end.  And very excited about getting this effing port removed from my chest.  I don’t know how Iron Man puts up with the irritability.

The funniest thing to happen in the arena lately came about a couple weeks ago…

I was out to dinner with my family.  I had my little hat on, but I guess it doesn’t really fool anyone that there’s no hair underneath it, as proven by the bald man sitting in the booth next to us who jovially commented to me while rubbing his head, “Looks like we’ve been to see the same barber.”

Ballsy move, Mr. Clean.  You are fortunate that I have a sense of humor about all of this.  That comment might have sent a different girl running to the bathroom.  Sobbing.

While I did find his comment quite hilarious, I am constantly amazed by the things people will say to me.  It’s as if the realization that I have cancer suddenly makes them forget how to be human beings.  I’m keeping a list.  And hope to one day see the dream of publication for my coffee table book “Things NOT to Say to Cancer Patients” come to fruition.

But there is one thing that someone said to me recently that has been ruminating with my spirit ever since it was spoken. It was not about cancer at all.  It was after first preview for a show I’m currently in and the director was giving us notes.  And he gave me the following note:

“Be beautiful.”

What does that even mean?  I could write an entire separate blogpost on how you can’t accomplish ‘being’ anything.  A character can only be defined by her actions.  What she does.  You can’t just play beautiful.

I digress…

What this note did for me was send me into a thought process of how I might define beauty.  And what I might do onstage that could later be described as beautiful.  And somewhere in the array of thoughts, I got caught up in how world standards define physical beauty.

And as I examined myself, I could scarcely find a trace of it.

The complete baldness.  These odd, transitional, snowglobe-esque breasts.  The dry skin.  The dark circles under my eyes.  The rash that accompanies every round of treatment. The swelling in my face and appendages.  As Laura says in The Glass Menagerie, “In what respect am I pretty?”

Don’t misinterpret.  There is zero self-pity here.  I’m not fishing for compliments or validations.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I can honestly say that complete self-acceptance has never been more present in my life as it is now.

But I began to ponder… to what extent do I myself allow a person’s physical appearance to effect the value I might place upon them?  Or even the value I might place upon myself?

I have never thought of myself as being superficial.  But in truly examining my life, I have to admit that I am disappointed in just how much I tend to revere external beauty.  It is something that has definitely gotten the better of me before.  I’ll quote TN Williams one more time, “I don’t know how he did it, but that face fooled everybody. All he had to do was grin and the world was bewitched.”

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with appreciating someone’s physical beauty.  But I’m astonished at the extent to which we cherish something that we have so little control over. What we look like is a result of a random spinning of the genetic wheel.  Why does it matter so much?

And not that it matters so much to everyone.  My niece, I think, has shown the best example of how little it can matter.  She has not batted an eye over the change in my appearance.  She kisses all my boo-boos… even the ones that gross me out.  She takes extra care with my port site, telling me frequently that I need to put a band-aid on it. (Sometimes she says ‘boo-boo-daid’ and it is the best.)  The little mole on the back of my head (which I’m super self-conscious about) that is now exposed?  “I like your mole,” she says when she rides piggy-back and can see it.  And no matter how awful I look, as long as I still wear dresses, she sees me as a princess.

And she’s not the only one.  But I am in awe of the people who can honestly look past everything physical and see true beauty.

And who is to say that the breasts I have now are any less beautiful than my real ones were?  The scars I have are amazing representations of the strength I didn’t know I had. The baldness, a reminder of a day when some of the people who love me the most gathered around me with complete care.  And maybe I’m not turning heads at the bar anymore, but this spirit inside of me feels mighty fine.

And despite the hang-ups I seem to have about outward appearance, I treasure what lies in people’s hearts the most. And I am beginning to work on shifting my paradigm around what physical beauty amounts to, the importance I’ve let it play in choosing partners and the standards I have held for myself.

And on that note… I will leave you with a link my friend Blue shared with me last week:  The TuTu Project  I hope it brings you as much joy as it did me.

End cancer chapter 10.

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4 Responses to “No News is Good News or This Thing Called ‘Beauty’”

  1. Rick Whelan Says:

    Blue Girls

    Twirling your blue skirts, travelling the sward
    Under the towers of your seminary,
    Go listen to your teachers old and contrary
    Without believing a word.

    Tie the white fillets then about your hair
    And think no more of what will come to pass
    Than bluebirds that go walking on the grass
    And chattering on the air.

    Practise your beauty, blue girls, before it fail;
    And I will cry with my loud lips and publish
    Beauty which all our powers shall never establish,
    It is so frail.

    For I could tell you a story which is true;
    I know a lady with a terrible tongue,
    Blear eyes fallen from blue,
    All her perfections tarnished—yet it is not long
    Since she was lovelier than any of you.

    John Crowe Ransom

  2. Jennifer A Says:

    Gwen, you don’t know me but I grew up with SKA and I first starting reading your blog when he posted a link to it on his FB page. I had to comment because I don’t want you to think I’m a stalker or anything. I can’t imagine what you are going through yet you tell your story in such a positive spirit. You have amazing strength that is keeping you going. Kick Cancers Butt!!!


  3. […] friend Gwen is one of the kindest, toughest people I know. After reading a recent post she wrote on her blog, it became evident that kind and tough are not mutually exclusive, and I was challenged to – […]


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