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By Dianne Armitage
A few weeks ago, I glanced in the mirror and saw Richard Lewis staring back at me. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Lewis, just let me say (a) I’m a woman, and (b) you can substitute any well-known male comedian, let’s say Rodney Dangerfield or Groucho Marx, and pretty much figure out why this would be a bit upsetting.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Richard Lewis. I think he’s funny and actually quite attractive. It’s simply that I don’t want to toddle into old age looking like a very masculine comedian. This line of thinking actually raised another much more important point. Here I am, a woman who has experienced breast cancer, and I’m worried about how I look as I age.
Have I learned nothing from facing my mortality? If I worry about the same things as women who’ve never had a potentially deadly disease, does that make me shallow and vapid, or simply human? I thought people who have faced their own death were supposed to return from that precipice matured and much wiser. (But then, I used to think that women over 40 didn’t have sex, so I’m no genius.)
The sensible, grateful and intelligent part of my psyche gives thanks daily for simply waking up and breathing. But my ego doesn’t seem to understand that I (make that we) were ever in peril. Not for a minute. My ego revolves around staying young and looking good. This realization I’ve found even more troubling than what I’d seen in the mirror.
I’ve learned a lot of things from having breast cancer. Certainly I try to pay much more attention to the little things that bring me joy each day. But on some larger scale, I find myself dealing with my fear. On the one hand, I’m scared that the breast cancer will decide to come back, so I have a lot of frantic conversations in my head to reassure myself that the scar tissue is just that, nothing more. Meanwhile, my evil twin goes shopping. Armed with my trusty catalogs and just a smidgen of dot.com know-how, I am no longer confined to simply shopping the local scene; I can surf from Bloomingdale’s to Blue Fly. I think I do this to insure I’ll have to survive long enough to pay my bills. At the rate I’m going, I’ll have to live to 100 just to pay the interest!
For some reason shoes have become a crucial part of this pattern. If the cancer were to return, my thinking goes, I would still need shoes. Granted, I might be able to get away with only one pair, but that’s not a celebration of life! And consider the incredible benefits of having lots of shoes: When you put a pair on you don’t have to think about whether you still have breasts; you can eat anything and they still fit; and your feet don’t get wrinkles unless your shoes are too tight.
When I’m not obsessing about shoes, I find time to ponder modern age-defying miracles: Botox, liposuction, collagen, tucks, lifts, and dermabrasion (what a pleasant-sounding procedure).
After discovering how expensive this particular sandpapery path could be, I stumbled into wax. Not literally, mind you, but with great results nonetheless! While having my eyebrows done, the technician accidentally managed to leave quite a bit of waxy residue on my forehead. The results were astounding. I looked quite surprised-and years younger. I am now trying to figure out how to perform this miracle on other body parts without the painful body hair removal that generally accompanies it.
So, am I vain, ego-driven and a failure for not having learned enough from facing my mortality? I hope not. Perhaps worrying that I’m starting to look like Richard Lewis is a positive sign. As long as I remember all of the good things breast cancer has taught me, it can’t hurt to go through life with a surprised look on my face-and a great pair of shoes!