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Sometimes I forget I don’t have any hair.
The response I get from other human beings when I greet them with my big, bald head varies. The ladies and gentleman at Starbuck’s, no matter what city, who graciously minister to coffee addicts around the globe, have been unfailingly kind, cheerful, and lovely. From Seattle to Chehalis, they greet me as if a bald-headed woman is the most normal, charming creature in the world. For this, I love you all. You made a newly bald woman much less self conscious. The FedEx man is a little surprised when I open the door, but barely hesitates as he asks for my signature before handing me my packages. Lunching with friends recently in downtown Seattle, no one bats an eye – extremes in hair style are seen practically every day, so what’s the big deal? And of course, bald heads are always in fashion at the Port Draw Lab at Seattle Cancer Care. I’m only one of the many cool kids at SCCA.
Tuesday I was caught by surprise. As I was leaving the grocery store with my husband and child, I was accosted by a man collecting signatures. After I refused to stop and sign his petition, or whatever, he chases me down. He says to me, in reference to my baldness, how he understands what I’m going through, cause his mom died (presumably of cancer), and I need to look up some natural oil, that he claims is a “cure for cancer.” Now, I’m used to the people I know offering their advice and support. I’ve been frank with them about what I’m dealing with, and I welcome their recommendations and suggestions, as they all have a personal experience with me, and most have experience with cancer. But here is a complete stranger offering me his comfort and compassion. Yes, I could simply thank him politely and go about my business. Which I honestly tried to do, but he kept chasing me to tell me about his wonderful cure. I have never been comfortable with confrontation, even if I am within my rights such as in this instance to tell him to back off. He’s practically stalking me, and I’m getting a little pissed off. I’ve been polite, and told him I’m not interested, but he’s insisting on “helping” me.
Now, I’m completely pathetic at asserting myself, enforcing boundaries. I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings. So it wouldn’t have been natural to me to quip “What are you talking about? I cut my hair like this on purpose!”
My bald head is none of his f-ing business. And I really didn’t appreciate being compared to his dead mother, because, you know, SHE DIED.
The more I thought about the encounter, the madder I got. I would have liked to tell him, as politely as possible “You don’t know me, so don’t try to tell me that you understand what I’m going through, because you really, REALLY don’t. There are things in my life that, believe it or not, are uglier than the obvious. I’m not also interested in your naturopathic cancer cure. I’m being treated at what might possibly be considered one of the best, if not THE best facility on the west coast, and possibly even the Nation. The professionals at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance haven’t included your quack cure in my regimen; I’m certainly not going to follow your advice over their proven expertise. And obviously, your shit didn’t work, cause your mom is DEAD.” As gratifying as it might have been in the moment, that kind of thing would have made me feel even worse later on. The guy meant well, though he was seriously trespassing on me, and my family. I had my kid with me, for Pete’s sake! This was not the time or place to being talking to me, a complete STRANGER, about your poor dead mother.
I used to go out with a man who often lamented my lack of sass and brass. “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” he’d complain. But I’m not like that, and yesterday’s incident convinced me that I never will be. I didn’t like the man in front of the grocery store hounding me, and I didn’t appreciate his well-meant butting in. But I also don’t want to be the one shutting down one human beings compassion for another, however ill placed it is. Yesterday, while I would have liked to leave a greater impression on him than my obvious intention to simply to get away from him as quickly as I could (and that must have been hurtful enough), all I could think of is “I’ve got frozen food to get home as soon as possible, I have my child with me, and I don’t have time for this, please, sir, just stop talking to me and go away.”
So if ever you encounter someone like me, a bald-headed stranger, or anyone obviously dealing with things beyond normal life (what’s normal, anyway?) and you try to express your compassion for them as they walk away, try not to be offended by what seems like a snub. They know you mean well. It just may be that your concern for them is one drop in the bucket more than they can handle at that moment. Let them pass, but don’t give up on people, and never give up on your compassion for your fellow man, woman, or child. We’re all of us dealing with some kind of bat guano.
My love and best wishes to you in your own fight.
Our first day with the cancer team at Virginia Mason, I could have sworn they said something about “free parking” while we were in this process. Of course this means nothing on the large scale of things but still like on a Monopoly board, who doesn’t like free parking? So today nuclear medicine validates with the “Patient Discount” when I ask about it, she says that’s the only stamp then have. But Cancer Center downstairs probably has the free parking stamp.
Ok, maybe that’s what I forgot. We have to stop there for free parking. Down we go and over to the front desk, near the peaceful water wall….and tell them we are in for a bone scan and were looking for a free parking stamp.
“Whose Your Doctor?” the sddenly officious woman asks while the others behind the desk watch in silence.
My wife names her Oncologist and Surgeon. I am never playing poker with this woman! No change in expression.. either she doesn’t know the doctors names or she has been well trained to avoid all tells in any situation.
“Who did your biopsy?”
What? I think… how many more and more personal questions do we need to answer for free parking. Doesn’t HIPAA prevent pulling a full medical history for a parking stamp? I was about ready to tell Tina to whip out the boob and show Mrs. Officious the cancer lump. “Hey lady we didn’t walk up from the flower show to scam you for free parking” would have been my next retort.. except…
Tina names another doctor and the woman grudginly stamps the card. Letting us know this is not how it is suppose to be. God forbid someone who is channeling thousands of dollars in business your way, get free parking.
ok.. its just parking.. it doesn’t matter that much.. but… I guess it is worth quizzing your cancer patients to prevent too many freebies.
Sigh.. that is a small rant.