On Winning the Patient Beauty Pageant

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 12, 2011 10:57 AM, EST

One thing that I did not anticipate learning about was people’s reaction to my diagnosis. There are some friends and acquaintances that I thought I was not particularly close to who came forth with generosity of their heart and the most amazing kindness. Then there are those who I thought would come rooting for me who remain oddly silent the moment they heard about my condition other than a short one liner. Last, but not the least, there are those who I knew would become my big cheerleaders who ended up exceeding even the wildest expectation by a mile long margin.

In net, I realize that I am getting so much more support than I deserve, and I am grateful. Those who went missing in action — well, I think, to a certain degree, it’s their loss, not because I have any sinister plan for them as a result of their callousness, but because I am starting to realize how much genuine satisfaction some of my generous and kind friends are drawing from the knowledge that they are able to provide support and help when I am most vulnerable and when I need it most.

Those missing in action lost the opportunity to get that sense of being genuinely selfless. In this sense, I also owe — their absence became a reminder of what not to do. When there is an opportunity for me to be supportive and kind in moments of vulnerability on the part of friends, I won’t miss the opportunity to redeem my otherwise mundane existence full of petty and self-centered pursuits.

After all, other than those who devote their lives to help and support others selflessly, how often do we, the mere mortals, flawed in many ways and busy with our life, work, and family, get the opportunity to have our innate, and often dormant, goodness profoundly affirmed in this manner?

My feelings towards those missing in action is more in the line of anthropological and academic curiosity. I would love to be able to analyze their psyche. Maybe they are uncomfortable dealing with “CANCER”, maybe they think I am falling apart, and too afraid to see me. I think this probably covers most of it.

SATURDAY, JANUARY 15, 2011 11:13 PM, EST

Chemo week 2: still no side effects so far. But too early to tell if I am going to get away scott free again. So far no need for anti nausea medication. A very good friend of mine accompanied me to this chemo. It’s not easy for my husband to take every Friday off. She said: I am your driver today. I said, “No you are my chaperon. You should see me flirt with everyone and anyone shamelessly, regardless of the gender and age: doctors, nurses, aides — everyone”. I intend to win a beauty pageant for cancer patients. Gotta charm all the judges and audience alike from the day one.

Humor aside, I intend to become the most lovable patient. I read once an article written by an evolutionary anthropologist. The author was discussing the survival value of a baby’s smile. In a resource strapped community, a baby who smiles early and often is likely to be cared for better and given more of the finite resources, and hence will survive to the adulthood to pass down his/her traits to the next generation. Hummmmm, so there is really nothing innocent about angelic smiles of a baby….

So, extrapolating this to those stricken with serious disease, I would like to believe that there is a survival value of being a likable patient. I would like to make it as rewarding as it can be for those around me to care for me. With the medical staff, their professionalism won’t allow them to treat grumpy patients any worse, but for a patient who makes it so rewarding for them, their positive energy around that has to be a good thing. I do believe there is such a thing as a mind over body, and it’s not just MY mind over MY body, but also minds of those around me over my body. With friends and family members, my motive is a bit less opportunistic. I am genuinely grateful for their attention and care, and the least I can do is to make it rewarding for them.

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 19, 2011 06:54 PM, EST

I am feeling better than ever today, including a couple of month prior to the surgery when I was experiencing some effects of the cancer in my body.

I went clothes shopping because after I lost ~5 pounds, nothing fits anymore: since I was already pretty thin, 5 pounds makes a huge difference in the way pants fit.

Well, I need a new pair of dress pants, because I am going for a job interview in California. This is a position I thought was a very good fit for me, and there were some discussions back and forth. After I got the diagnosis with the impending surgery, I stopped pursuing it, and they, on their part, got sidetracked with all the right people going on end-of-year vacation. Now that the holidays are over and everybody is getting back to a normal schedule, they are finally getting their act together to invite me for an interview. It’s a good timing for me too, since I have yet to develop side effects, and there is a window of a few days to do this. I decided to go for it. I checked with my doctor’s office, and actually they think it can work out. They gave me a green light on the condition of a blood test to make sure that my white blood count is not too low to embark on a plane trip.

If this happens to be the right opportunity, I can start once my chemo is over: this is a pretty senior position and it usually takes a couple of months for the job offer to be agreed upon after rounds of negotiation and discussion. If a job offer is agreed upon, say, the beginning of April, I can tell them I will start in 5–6 weeks (which is quite within a reasonable range). My last day of chemo will be May 9. This scheme works! Of course, this may not be the right opportunity, and in that case, all this is for nothing. But, I won’t know until I try.

I know, most people will think I am insane. But, this craziness is exactly an essence of who I am that will let me live decades past what the normal prognosis would predict. Needless to say, my husband is livid. He sent me a flurry of text messages with lines like “I will divorce you if you compromise your health for this interview” and “I will kill you if you miss a chemo session for this,” etc. But I talked to him about my conversation with the doctor’s office, and I think he calmed down a bit.

Recently, I started to really feel that 2011 may become the best year ever, and if this position works out, and I go into remission, I will prove to be prescient, delusional thinking or not. That’s why I never sat down and cried “why me,” became angry or fearful, or got into this battle cry of a hero who is about to slay the dragon. This cancer of mine is letting the best part of me to come to the surface, it is deepening the love between my husband and me, and it is teaching me to lower my barrier and let good friends fully into my sphere. Totally crazy thinking, perhaps, but I am beginning to think I may be right in all this.

Even if I am wrong on all counts, the peace and contentment under the circumstance has to have a net positive impact on my ability to heal

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