You look great!

Thank you to AnnMarie at CureDiva and Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer for allowing me to share this on my own blog! It was originally published here in November 2014.

Three little words which are usually a positive validation of outward appearance. For someone like me, with stage IV metastatic breast cancer, those three little words are many times prefaced with “but”, especially when I’m telling a person about my metastatic cancer for the first time.

My blonde hair now reaches my shoulders. My cheeks are pink, not swollen, not hollow. I even got a little tanned this past summer. I appear to be healthy, with a little extra weight around the middle (not bad for 46, I think.) My eyes are clear and no longer dull nor dry. Looking at me day-to-day, the only indication that I had something happen is my lymphedema sleeve and glove, which causes most people to ask if I have a burn, and my pink survivor tattoo that was my 2-year-all-clear present to myself.

You look great.

Yes, I have hair and a nordic pale (normal for me) skin tone. I can drive myself, walk without assistance, even ride a bike when I feel like it. I can attend church and bible study, and volunteer at each. I take cross-country RV trips, making memories with my husband, son, parents, siblings, nieces, in-laws and friends. I even coach a high school trap team.

Since there’s no outward appearance, I found out that some of the parents of the athletes I coach weren’t aware of my diagnosis even at the end of the season. Please understand, I don’t hide the fact that I’m on chemo. I also don’t make it the only thing in my life.

You look great!!!!!

How do I feel about someone complimenting me? Well, my usual answer is, “Yes, I’m blessed to be much healthier that someone with my diagnosis has a right to be”.

I have now passed the median life expectancy for someone with my diagnosis.

This milestone hit me about 4 days into pinktober. This borrowed term aptly describes what happens each October. We are deluged with “buy this pink X to support awareness”! Do you know where the money actually goes? Do you understand that less than 2% of research funding for “awareness” or “a cure” goes to address the actual disease that 40,000 die from each year? Meanwhile, PINK is everywhere! I can’t get away from it! I spent a good bit of October 2014 ANGRY about the misleading statistics. According to one national charity, I meet the 98% survival rate (because I am still alive 5 years after my initial diagnosis). Yet, I am stage IV.

You. Look. GREAT!

Usually this is someone who knows about my diagnosis, but hasn’t seen me in a year or two, people that I see on my travels. They’re thrilled I’m still here, and so am I! It’s usually said with a degree of surprise and in a really loud voice. And yes, when I dressed up for a recent wedding (thanks, Kimmee for taking me shopping and telling me what looked great on me), I heard that bit of surprise in many people’s voices.

I think back to the character on Saturday Night Live and can hear him say “It is better to look good than feel good”. Now, I’d rather feel good, but when I can get both at the same time, I’m taking it! I have learned to accept the compliment with a smile, even when I don’t feel very attractive.

I am determined to live 20 years with this, God willing, and to make them 20 productive years, not wasted in pity or sorrow. Don’t get me wrong, I still have “bad days”. Then again, I think everyone does. We each have our own battles/problems/rough patches going on. Some we win. Some we lose. Some will leave lasting visible marks, and some scars are invisible. We have good days, bad days, happy days, sad days.

If you are reading this and are Stage IV (doesn’t matter which cancer) or struggling with any of a thousand different debilitating terminal diseases, just give yourself a break and don’t compare your life with another. We are each uniquely made. No-one has my exact gifts, talents, experiences nor life. Through it all, just remember: YOU LOOK GREAT!

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