Thursday, 23 April 2009

the kindness of strangers

You know that terrifying scene in Roald Dahl’s The Witches when seemingly normal women throw off their wigs and gloves to reveal bald heads and distorted hands in true witch-like fashion? As I near the end of chemotherapy that’s just how I feel. It wasn’t enough for my hair to fall out, but a far greater indignity is losing one’s eyebrows and eyelashes. Children are starting to stare at me in the street and friends are starting to not recognize me; I don’t even recognize myself these days. And when I do have the occasional weep the tears plop straight out of my eyes on to my dessicated hands in the oddest manner.

And yet… I’ve never before experienced such kindness from both strangers and friends. These last few days I’ve been going around the shops with a Lewes Pound survey. Far from showing their curiosity or distaste, many people talk to me straight, without pity or fear, and adjust to my new image. A surprising number of friends have been ringing me up letting me know they’re thinking about me. Just when I was at my lowest ebb this morning, not sure I’d have enough juice to get out of the house, my friend Nimmy rang and we ended up having a good laugh about eyebrow wigs (yes, they do exist). Another friend Lilliana dropped off an exotic scarf in my colours and my friend Hermione also gave me a quick ring. I will forever be grateful for all the friends who have accompanied me on this journey.

Chemotherapy is the damndest thing. The whole point of it is to take you to the brink of your own physical tolerance - which can also test psychospiritual reserves. It's a very Western approach to a disease caused mainly by living in the Western world. It’s a harrowing experience but it’s often life-saving. But it’s working for me, and I’m simply grateful to be alive.

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