When I go to a doctor’s appointment, I put on some under-eye concealer. Who wants to see the dark bags I’m carrying around that are not packed for a Caribbean vacation? It’s just my baggage from fighting chronic pain for years — and it’s definitely my own private baggage.
Inevitably, my doctor observes, “You look great.” Despite the fact that I live with constant pain, I smile and thank the doctor – and whoever invented under-eye concealer.
Seven years after my diagnosis with a particularly deadly form of colorectal cancer, I often wonder how I escaped becoming a statistic. I also wonder how I did become another kind of statistic: the growing community of cancer survivors. Either way, apparently, I look great.
Survivors, even those living with chronic pain and other consequences from our disease and treatment, don’t want to be seen as impaired or less than our former selves. Enough of my life is different from what it used to be. So I can make accommodations to carry on as close to my pre-cancer diagnosis life as possible. Hence, the makeup. I won’t go as far as false eyelashes and eyebrows – that’s just not my style, and never has been. But I’m good with the concealer.
It can be tempting to try to distract yourself from chronic pain by curling up in a ball with the shades down. But that doesn’t work for me. What helps me feel better from the inside out is taking the (some days considerable) effort involved in shopping for and preparing a rainbow of fruits and veggies, and other healthy choices. Going for a daily walk, lifting weights, gardening when the weather gets warmer, picking up a sport — all these things can improve survivors’ lives and distract us from pain, rather than adding to it.
I recently took up pickleball and am obsessed with the sport. It’s a very active game – sprinting, jumping, lunging, hand/eye coordination. The people are really nice, and some of the better players will even offer kind and patient advice to beginners. Best of all, it’s a distraction from chronic pain.
As much as I love the sport, it still can take every ounce of strength and fortitude to get out the door and commit to playing. Once I’m there, I’m happy I went. Some of the folks know my story and can see from how I’m moving whether it’s a good day for me or not. Yesterday was a bad day, but I put on my under-eye concealer and a smile and played.
One of the guys told me that another player told him to hit shots at me – I was a weak link. What the heck? Who plays like that? And that hyper-competitive jerk didn’t win anyway. So there.
Talk about a distraction from chronic pain!
For all the effort I take to try to look healthy, I sometimes worry that it might make more than just pickleball players underestimate the seriousness of my health problems. What if, I wonder, a physician thinks I must be doing pretty well since I don’t look all that bad and don’t complain all that much.
Regardless, I know that how I choose to act is essential for my healing. It’s different for all of us. Whatever your choice, it is your right to research, bring information to your doctors, and push for answers so we stay on top of our own care. Don’t let your outer, healthy glow deter from your inner health goals.