In their own not-that-heroic way

Posted by Sappho on October 27th, 2012 filed in Daily Life, Feminism, Health and Medicine


“Even your coffee is surprised you woke up this early,” reads the caption on a photo that has made the rounds on Facebook. The day after chemotherapy, that’s how it feels to get up any time before noon.

Four weeks after the end of chemotherapy, I’m doing better. I got up at 8am today, Saturday, after nine hours of sleep, with enough energy to have a quick breakfast, take the dog for a long walk in the park, and come home only slightly tired from the walk. But I remembered that photo, and that feeling, when I read this response by Natalia Antonova to some remarks by Elizabeth Wurtzel about beauty.

And then I go and read crap like this:

Obviously not everyone is born beautiful, but absolutely everybody can become so. I miss the un-Holy Trinity, meaning, of course, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, and Naomi Campbell. I long for the impossible standard of female beauty as a daily chore for all, not because I want the world to look better — I want it to bebetter. I want everyone to try as hard as I do to please be gorgeous, because it’s not that hard, girls.

I look at myself in the mirror now, wig off and eyebrows not painted on. I still have a few scattered patches of hair, mostly white either from the cancer or the treatment (I had barely any gray pre-cancer). If I am still beautiful, these days, it must be in my own not-that-beautiful way. And I am not sure, after all, that absolutely everyone can become so. Maybe most of us, at least some of the time. Maybe more of us than imagine we can. But sometimes, after all, we come to the end of beauty.

But there’s more to it than that. Perhaps I can still be beautiful, given sufficient effort at being gorgeous. I put on a wig, draw on eyebrows, and I am much improved. If I had the skill that my husband’s cousin Heidi does, the one who works as a makeup artist in what in Southern California is known as “the industry,” I might well be able to manage, even through cancer treatment, to “please be gorgeous, because it’s not that hard, girls.”

But fatigue brings you to the point where you have to find your real priorities. These were mine:

  1. Walking: As soon as I was allowed to get up, in the hospital, I walked the ward as much as I could. The nurses told me I was the best patient in the ward about getting up and walking. And once I got out of the hospital, I went outside to walk literally every day. I went outside and walked on chemotherapy day. I went outside and walked as radiation drained my strength. Sometimes I didn’t walk very far, but I always walked.
  2. Work: I took two months off work on disability. Even during those months, I logged in every day to check my work email. I finished a work related course from the hospital. I read specs, and I attended one meeting from home, by phone and WebEx, so that I’d know where the product stood when I got back. And when I went back to work, I went back full time, through chemotherapy and radiation, adjusting my chemotherapy schedule for Friday so that I could take just one day off, rest up over the weekend, and go back to work. I couldn’t work overtime, but I could at least put in a full day, then go home and collapse.

Other than that, my focus narrowed: Drink enough water, eat frequent enough meals.

Maybe, under those circumstances, you would still work at being gorgeous. No, I’m not being snarky. Maybe you would. If being beautiful is what boosts your spirits, what keeps you going, if you’re the sort of person who truly feels pampered by being able to do something cosmetic, then you may actually want to use what little energy you have to look as beautiful as you can, because that’s what makes you still feel human, and keeps you going. If so, go ahead, knock yourself out, do whatever it takes to still have joy in your life.

But beauty isn’t what boosts everyone’s mood, and it isn’t everyone’s priority. If, like me, your mood is lifted more by music than by the sight of your face, just so, in the mirror, and if, like me, you work a STEM job rather than one in the public eye, you may, like me, make that beauty ritual short (a couple of minutes to comb the wig and draw on those eyebrows), and use the time saved to learn a new song.



2 Responses to “In their own not-that-heroic way”

  1. Natalia Says:

    Well… How dare you! Cancer is no excuse! You’re betraying the cause!

    Also, *hug*

  2. Sappho Says:

    Thanks, Natalia.