I don’t have any photos of me in the hospital or in a gown or anything like that. I don’t have many photos at all of me during the time of my diagnoses and surgeries. However, I have dug out a few from around my first diagnosis in 2010 and my second and third in 2018, to show in picture form what my cancer experience looked like from the outside. Brace yourself:
Pretty shocking right? I didn’t think so. The only one I don’t look so great in is the one above in the peach dress, nearly seven weeks post-whipple surgery.
The truth is, cancer can often be an invisible illness and it doesn’t always look how it’s portrayed in the media. Not everyone has chemo, or loses their hair, or loses weight, or gains weight, or has obvious surgery, or necessarily has any treatment with visible side effects. There are over 200 types of cancer and people’s experiences vary widely in terms of how the illness and treatment affects them.
I’m drawing attention to this because I had a conversation recently on social media about invisible illnesses and disability. It seems like sometimes people think cancer patients aren’t subjected to insensitive comments or treatment in the way that people with invisible disabilities are because people can see the illness and therefore it’s obvious they are a cancer patient. But that’s simply not true. I haven’t had many insensitive comments directed at me, but lots of people with cancer have similar experiences to those with other illnesses or disabilities.
Anyway, I just wanted to show that cancer and the effects of its treatment aren’t always obvious, and often you’d never be able to tell. And because of that, sometimes cancer patients do face the same problems as other people with invisible illnesses. So, next time you picture a cancer patient or survivor, remember the media often only shows one face of cancer, when in fact there are many of us, with many faces, bodies and experiences. Cancer can be as much of an invisible illness as any other.