i was at standing at an open house when a woman walked in – i had sold her an apartment in the same building. she looked fabulous and i said so…her once grey hair was now a glossy brown and it took at least 15 years off of her appearance. so just imagine my surprise to hear:
“did you have another bout of breast cancer since I saw you?”
“oh, I was wondering because your hair is so short now.”
i’ve replayed the scene over and over in my mind since sunday. i know that my professional smile was frozen on my face – i knew that if i even expressed one iota of ‘other’ emotion i might throw up all over her shoes. i think i just kept smiling and said something about ‘i just couldn’t keep trying to do the long hair thing anymore’ and then ‘you should help yourself to one of those chocolates on the table.’ but really, it threw me for quite a loop.
over the past year especially, i’ve sort of come out of the closet about having had breast cancer. i’ve never been secretive and i don’t just bring it up, but i find that i don’t hide it from others if it happens to be part of the conversation. and the talking about it – acknowledging it and thinking publicly about it as something now in the past has helped me exorcise some of the emotional demons that plague me and taunt me whispering foreboding messages in my ear. like so many survivors of illnesses, i take extra care now with my hair and my clothing and my manner in the world. and i have to tell you i thought i was doing pretty good: 35 pounds lost; i liberated my tepid limp locks into a very short and sassy do; i exercise more; and i definitely smile more. and so i found myself announcing loudly to a bunch of friends and colleagues at the office exactly what she said to me. (not revealing who she was.) more than a few gasps later (including one from someone who, newer to our office, didn’t realize i was a breast cancer survivor) i felt that i had, in fact, partially-exorcised her emotional one-two punch from the secret sad part of my psyche. i can’t erase it. but i surely can dismiss it. and it turns out, i have one helluva professional smile!