Does it go without saying that a cancer patient’s life is scattered with unavoidable indignities? 

  • The bucket tucked away under the bed, close at hand for post-chemo nausea;
  • The array of hats floating around the bedroom, all warm, but none quite in style or what would normally be chosen;
  • The baby shampoo, so gentle on the scalp;
  • The scars on my arms from the weekly IVs and blood tests;
  • The difficulty that a blood draw becomes after chemo collapses the veins;
  • The awkward moments when an old friend approaches, each not quite sure what to say;
  • The post-surgical drains, leaks, and the physical awkwardness that ensues;
  • Hospital stays, middle-of-the-night blood pressure checks, input/output charts;
  • The clothes.  Yoga pants, tank tops, and big white shirts to cover the drains from prying little eyes;
  • The food.  With no sense of taste and little hunger, the balancing act of eating becomes ever more important as a source of nutrients but not fat;
  • Trouble lifting my right arm or doing anything with it.  Widget has had to pick up CDs and books and move them across the room for me twice today; and
  • Mirrors.  I walk around them like a vampire, fearful yet curious whether I will see myself in them or simply a body that I don’t recognize.

My sense of self is pockmarked with these little indignities today.  My mind is alert, my soul is strong, but these little indignities pop up anyway, when I least expect them.  When I try to get comfortable on the couch and bump my tubing or a drain.  When I feel a draft and go to cover my head — or my feet, requiring help to put on my own socks.  When I showered this morning, with WonderDaddy’s assistance and support.  When he had to help me dress afterwards.

But for each moment of awkwardness, there is a moment of strength — mine, WD’s, my father’s, my mother’s, Widget’s, or a friend calling out through email, blogs, or comments to support me.  Each voice, each strong arm lifting me up, each little hand in mine, and each word coming over the internet to me, saying, you can do it, Susan.  I believe in you. 

And those words soothe me and fill in the pockmarks, brushing away the indignities that cancer has brought.  One day soon, I will be strong and well again, and these indignities will be only a memory.


34 Responses to Indignities

  1. Kristin says:

    I just cut my hair for Locks of Love. The woman who cut it works days with chemo patients, offering them hope, because there is a reason to hope. As she talked, as she cut, I just kept thinking of you because there is a reason to hope. You are on the road to recovery.

  2. Angela says:

    You CAN do it, Susan. We all believe in you…even newbie readers like me wonder about you and how you’re handling these little indignities all day long. It must get exhausting….but you are tirelessly inspiring. Hang in there and rest rest rest. I’ve heard about this loss of appetite from other friends/survivors of cancer. What a lousy thing to lose….

  3. Maggie says:

    They can’t possibly be indignities when you handle them with such grace.

  4. milkmaid79 says:

    If these are the only indignities you have I am amazed… well, I was amazed anyway! I’m glad you are sharing with us… it makes the obstacles I face seem so much smaller in compare. Thanks for keeping us in perspective and sharing your journey! 🙂

  5. Kathryn says:

    It may not feel that way, but you are strong now. Stronger than you know.

  6. Ally says:

    We do believe in you, Susan, and we’re still here, rooting for your success. Hang in there, rest, and heal. XOXO

  7. Suz says:

    Yes, they will. What you’ve written here resonated with me. I was paralyzed after having my kids and needed a walker. I couldn’t recognize myself and I had to depend on my husband for things done alone since toddlerhood. But, it got better. I got better. You will be strong again, your weakness – a shadow.

  8. I know you’re suffering these indignities, and I know it sucks. But I must say, despite this storm you are one of the most dignified people I’ve ever had the honour of coming across.


  9. MammaLoves says:

    While I wish you didn’t have to suffer the indignities, I’m glad you’re sharing them with us. It makes me that more determined to fight so that more women don’t have to know them.

    Keep it up girl!! We’re cheering for you.

  10. Lindsey says:

    Not only can you do it… you ARE doing it. You’ve come so far.

  11. Bon says:

    it has always struck me as perversely cruel that the periods of our lives that are in and of themselves challenging are often the ones also most fraught with these indignities, these extras, these constant reminders and awkwardnesses. but in a sense they are part of the change you are going through that is more than just beating cancer and recovering from a mastectomy – you will be, after this, and no matter how intuitive and empathic i sense you were before, all the bigger and grander for having come through the other side, all the more attuned to other people’s suffering and indignities too.

    and you remind us to be, as well, for which i thank you.

    cold comfort from where you sit, maybe. but give it a year. in fact, if you could give it twenty, and then look back and reflect from there, i’d like that. 🙂

  12. Amy says:

    Try to remember that this is the lowest point, and that from here on out, everything is going to get easier. I think the radiation will be easier on your systems than the chemo was, won’t it? Recovering from surgery is hard work. But look at it this way – with a double mast., you only have to do it once. I think you were wise to choose this path (versus a single) even if the recovery might be harder in the short term.

    It’s always darkest before the dawn, right? Dawn is breaking for you. I can feel it. In a couple of months, you’ll be taking your kids to the park and pushing them on the swings as they cheer, “Higher, Mommy! Higher!”

  13. Fern says:

    You are awesome, and a strong enough person that these indignities will only make you stronger.

    Of course, it is okay to choose not to be strong for a short time. To set aside a day to feel a bit sorry for yourself, and get angry. You have every right.

    I bet you won’t be able to do it, though. You are amazing. Maggie has it right. These “pockmarks” are ugly to you, but they allow a lovely light to shine out from you.

  14. Sarah S. says:

    Just read your blog. I was just diagnosed on Thursday. Your blog is my inspiration. I know if you can do it I can do it. I am probably going in next week for my mastectomy. It is a comfort to read how you are doing. I have 3 girls 5,11, and 14. I am pretty scared! Keep posting. You are making a difference everyday to someone out there .

  15. jerseygirl89 says:

    You are so amazing and inspiring. Thank you for sharing your struggles and your indignities. You make all of us more grateful and more appreciative.

  16. Susan K says:

    These are not indignities.

    They are badges of honour.

    Because only survivors have to put up with them!

    Thinking of you.

  17. emmakirst says:

    What an amazing post. I think you are truly an amazing woman. As a nurse I have had many patients with similar situations, but I have never “seen” them like this, thank you.

  18. Jessica says:

    You are beautiful inside and out, and though faced with indignities you have more dignity than any other writer I have read. Much love and prayers for health and happiness. Your spring is coming!!

  19. Jen says:

    You are strong Susan! So strong. I am constantly in awe of the strength and grace you call upon to fight IBC.

    You are in my prayers all the time.

    Hey~just noticed something! My mom’s middle name was Susan. 🙂

  20. Imstell says:

    I love the way you tell it like it is. No punch pulling. No soft filter. Just bright light shining on a previously dark and mysterious corner of life.

  21. kathie says:

    I am in awe of your insight into everything you’re going through. And with your strength. You are going through what no woman should have to, but millions do, and you are doing it with such amazing grace. Bless you.

  22. hotfessional says:

    Yes.You.Will. XXX

  23. Paulette says:

    I do not even know you and I think you are so beautiful, strong, courageous and real.
    You remind me so much of one of my dearest life long friends who unfortunately lost her battle with cancer last year. I miss her soooo much. She left me 4 of her prized possesions.
    I pray for you so often during the day, I so want you to be a victor in this. I love hearing your realness and I can’t get back quick enough to check on you.
    I came by before going to bed and I know you are long asleep but I say a prayer for you anyway. Keep getting stronger Susan, you are awesome.

  24. Bubba's Sis says:

    Indeed they will be memories, sweetie – memories of a SURVIVOR. You are so strong and so amazing, just as everyone above me has said. I know you don’t feel strong, but look at the impact you are making just thru this blog. You are blessed to have such support, and most of all blessed to have WonderDaddy! What a man!

    Praying for you every day…

  25. Bubba's Mom says:

    I am a cancer survivor. I have had 2 bouts with breast cancer, 11 yrs. apart, and 13 years after the second round, I am facing it again. This time I am being treated with a wonder drug called Femara. My tumor is small and the drug is shrinking it smaller and pulling it away from the muscle wall so it can be removed easier. I will have surgery in March to remove it. The tumor is so small it will just be day surgery BUT then I will have to have 6 weeks of radiation. I’m not so thrilled about that part, but I will do it and I will survive it once again. You are going through a trial by fire right now, but you have a strong wonderful support team, and a wonderful husband who is there for you and strong. You have people lifting you up – people who have been there. And sweet girl, you will survive too!! My heart is with you. You go Girl!!

  26. Amanda says:

    I echo Maggie, the grace with which you have done this all, almost make it possible to forget what a living hell you’ve been through. Oh to truly be the salve that could nurse the marks and soothe your weary soul.


  27. KDF says:

    Part of true strength is giving yourself permission to whine about it all now and then. We’d be worried about you if you didn’t.

    You are awesome. You can do this. I believe in you.

  28. JR says:

    Thank you for being honest about the indignities. They make your courage and your strength and your generosity shine all the clearer.

    May the pockmarks soon be a memory indeed.

  29. Alice C says:

    For the first time in the months that I have followed your battle and admired your incredible courage and cheered you on from the sidelines I find myself with tears in my eyes.

    Go and rest and heal…you are so close to the finishing line.

    Go, WhyMommy, Go!

  30. Izzy says:

    I remember taking note of many of those indignities with both my mother-in-law (breast cancer also) and my father-in-law (bone cancer). It seemed like such a cruel irony that to get better you had to suffer even more than you already were. Just another reason that cancer’s ass must be kicked.

    I hope that in some small way it helps knowing that a big chunk of the blogosphere, friends and strangers alike, are out here cheering you on 🙂

  31. ~JJ! says:

    Truly a difficult time. But you are beautiful any way you look at it… Inside and out and all around!!!

    I wish I could come and offer some help. I can only comment and wish my love your way,

    You are a strong woman and you inspire me/us every day.

    That is no indignity! That is truly gorgeous.

    hugs. gentle hugs my friend.

  32. Becki says:

    I’m so sorry you have to suffer all those slings and arrows just to get better. I hope that the indignities begin to fade.

  33. JoC says:

    I think the title to your post is perfect. I am a dieitian on a surgical wards where people with stomach, colon, prostate and ovarian cancers come to recover from surgery. Indignities indeed. I see you walking through this all with eyes open, showing us what you see. Thank you!

  34. JoC says:

    Oh boy… Dietitian (spelling!)

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