The Elephant in the Room is Cancer. Tea is the Relief Conversation Provides.


by Michelle LawrenceSurvivor, Chronic T-Cell Lymphocytic LeukemiaMarch 20, 2024View more posts from Michelle Lawrence

As I slowly transition out of the shower, I glimpse myself in the mirror. I don’t recognize my body. I see bright-colored stretch marks, dark and angry bruises, cuts that won’t heal, and scars I can’t place. Unsolicited weight gain, sagging skin, and multiple chins. Hair that is limp and lifeless with an expression that mirrors the same sentiment. I feel like we are fighting against each other, my body and me, and I am just a mere peasant. Was I abducted by an alien? Could I be an alien living in someone’s body? I don’t recognize myself. At all. Tears start pouring down this stranger’s face.

I stare at photos from six months ago and remember when I thought those pictures were hideous. I would do anything to look like that person in those pictures now. Could I ever look like that person in the picture? I see the beauty, the twinkle in her eye, the color in her face, and the sense of peace. Her healthy skin glowed bright with a brilliant smile across her face. I don’t see the beauty now or the sense of peace. I now see a woman who looks swollen and bloated, has gained weight, has sunken, tired eyes, seems lost, an Oompa Loompa at best but without the cute hair. Where did Michelle go? What has happened? Cancer. Just keeps taking over my body without asking my permission. Little by little, the original Michelle is disappearing.

Hello, Michelle 2.0. I am unhappy to meet you and would like to voice some complaints. I no longer can just hop in the shower and get dressed; everything is a process, a project, a task…It takes energy, planning, and even psyching myself up. “COME ON MiSHHHELLLE; you know you will feel better after a shower. It’s worth it.” Spontaneity is gone for good. I have to plan everything because my energy is limited, I have physical limitations, and I need to consider my pain. No surprises for me. I wasn’t a big fan of surprises, but occasionally I enjoyed being spontaneous.

What the hell, Michelle 2.0? I am TIRED. FATIGUED. Laying in bed all day sounds so welcoming, but I refuse to spend the rest of my life in bed sleeping. I am constantly addressing some scrape, bruise, weird rash, or injury; I need this lotion, antibiotic, new cream, and powder. When did I become so fragile? I have a small pharmacy now; I shall call it ‘LaLawrence.’ This is all new to me and frustrating. Version 2.0 requires a level of maintenance that I am ill-prepared for. All these potions, lotions, and medications have become part of the routine and need so much of my precious time.

In my mind, I have so many things to do, necessary tasks, and wants. I used to be able to do it all! Michelle 2.0’s body has been a downgrade; it limits me. How often I must choose between what needs to be done and what I love to do is cruel. I grieve for lost experiences, relationships, and opportunities. I thought aliens had superpowers? If I did take over someone’s body, I did a shitty job choosing.

Michelle 2.0, community outings are the worst. I have to prepare for the judgment. People question me if I wear a dress or shorts in public, “What happened to your legs?” “Yes, I am okay, and no, no one is hurting me but cancer,” I reply. I also tend to get comments like, “You are so pale, are you okay?” or, “You look exhausted.” This is what a downgrade looks like. This is what cancer can look like. Cancer is just continuing to take over. Eventually, there will not be any ‘original’ Michelle left. That is a hard pill to swallow; to watch it sometimes is maddening.

Today, Michelle 2.0 and I have to figure out how to get along and have a relationship. Like aliens, cancer is moving around silently inside, waiting to burst. For today, I choose to live. Do I look in the mirror to find beauty or hide from my reflection and wait? Do I conquer my to-do list? I don’t have an answer today. So Michelle 2.0 and I are going to hang out. I will learn the new rules and hopefully find a way to break them, or the mothership may return for me.

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