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Column: Look What She Saw—Sort Of

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Kenneth B. Lourie

Well there’s five seconds that fellow super-market-shopper won’t have back anytime soon. The question, the curiosity is: will she have nightmares and/or live to regret staring at me so intently that I think I may have seen the whites of her eyes – and it wasn’t even remotely dark? Two chemotherapy infusions in (with four more to go), the toll has begun to be taken: hollow eyes, smooth beard, thinning and wispy hair, ashen gray and hospital-like pallor; granted, I’m not a pretty sight, but please madam, control yourself.

And not that I’m the least bit self-conscious, but I am sensitive and aware of some of the inadvertent and awkward, embarrassed-to-be-caught, staring-type glances cast in my direction. Though I wear a hat whenever I’m out in public (almost always in private too), I am determined to live as normal a life as I can despite the wear and tear of chemotherapy. Unfortunately, it’s not Halloween, so my ready-made costume can serve no greater good. However, if it were the end of October, my services as a haunted house-type prop would be most valuable.

So far, my energy level (drawn from one’s red blood cells) is still reasonably normal, enabling me to actually get off the couch and shop if necessary. Eventually though, the chemotherapy will destroy enough of these cells (along with the white blood cells) so that getting off the coach will become more difficult. Not painful. More like challenged. I equate it with not having any gas in the tank. The car will not drive/move without it. It’s nothing personal. It’s nothing professional. It’s not indicative of a bigger problem. It’s simply not able to function.

As concerns those white blood cells, they too are also being targeted by the chemotherapy in an attempt to eradicate any remaining cancer cells hiding in their midst. Once the white blood-cell count has been lowered by the treatment, my immune system will be seriously compromised. As such, I will become more susceptible to germs, infections, sickness, etc. Purell, the hand sanitizer, will become my constant companion. Bottles of it will be everywhere in my house – and cars – as I attempt to remain vigilant in my attempts to fend off the sickness that my weakened immune system must inevitably endure.

Unfortunately, killing the cancer cells – however temporary, has the related effect of looking like it’s killing the patient, too. Apparently, that’s what this female shopper was reacting to: my rather sickly appearance, and so close to Valentine’s Day, too. In fact, we were both in the card aisle. Presumably she was looking for a little color, not the absence of color – as in the color missing from my face, and it startled her almost; and to tell you the truth, she really didn’t deal with it too well – at least in my presence, anyway. And her inability to not stare at me surprised me at first: what’s she staring at? (You have a problem, ma’am?) Then I realized what – and why, she was staring at: me. I don’t look so good. In fact, I may be starting to look bad. And though I don’t feel as bad as I might already be looking, to the casual observer however, it may be thought that as bad as I look, I probably feel worse. Which I don’t – and haven’t. Nevertheless, it’s a peculiar sort of mixed presumptions. And there’s nothing I can or care to do about it. Still, as I noticed this woman “eyeballing” me, I thought, oddly enough; something must be wrong with her. Imagine that? Something wrong with her? And she looked normal. How’s that for mind over matter. I don’t mind if it matters to someone else. I’m going to live my life. I have to.

Kenny Lourie is an Advertising Representative for The Potomac Almanac & The Connection Newspapers.