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Today bloggers all over the world are posting amusing and uplifting stories about cancer. The stories will be compiled in an anthology to benefit Melissa Bradley. I hope we can help alleviate some of the huge expense associated with her cancer treatment. Please visit the other blogs involved in this project to read their stories.

It was harder than I anticipated to find a funny or uplifting story from my own cancer experience. I don’t have any trouble writing funny scenes about my characters’ cancer journeys, but it’s hard to remember anything pleasant about my own cancer experience. Anyway, after several days of thinking about it, I remembered this incident –


Nothing pushes aside social niceties quite as effectively as cancer.

It’s hard to care about manners or appearances when you feel like death warmed over. Three treatments into my six months of chemotherapy, my husband signed me up for a “Look Good, Feel Better” seminar. Intellectually, I understood that he was trying to be helpful and was searching for anything he could do to make me feel better. Emotionally, I took it as a denigrating comment on my appearance at the time. I was mostly bald, my skin was ashen, and I appeared to have aged twenty years overnight. I didn’t look good and didn’t think makeup was going to make me feel better. Needless to say, I walked into the tiny conference room where the class was held with a bad attitude.

Most of the people there were older women in uncomfortable looking wigs and sour expressions. I sat in the corner beside a teenager napping in a wheelchair. She looked Violet in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory just after she ate the forbidden piece of gum, except she was grey instead of purple. Her sweatshirt was grey, her skin was grey, and her body was incredibly swollen. I doubt she could have walked on those puffy feet if she tried to stand up. 

As the class began, I had trouble concentrating on the instructions for tying a piece of soft flannel around my skull like a turban or how to use cosmetics to give the illusion of eye lashes. I felt too tired to care about the finer points of blush application. At the end of the class, we were each given a bag of cosmetics to take home. The instructor suggested we play with the makeup there so she could answer any questions we had. I opened up a stunningly beautiful gold Estee Lauder compact and smoothed some powder across my cheeks. It did make me look better. 

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the teenaged girl dumping her bag out on the table. She picked up a tiny mirror in her sausage-like fingers and drew two heavy slanted lines on her forehead with an eye pencil. “Look,” she said, turning to me. “Angry eyes.”

An older lady decked out in a pink sparkly sweatshirt scoffed from across the table. “What are you doing? That is Lancome eyeliner.”

The absurdity of her being appalled at the obviously ill teenager wasting eyeliner pulled me out of my fog. I pulled the stick of eyeliner from my bag and drew two arches high on my forehead. “Surprise!” I said.

The teenager laughed at me. Her smile transformed her face from a grey moon to a beam of sunshine. The room, except for the one older woman that had berated her, erupted in laughter. The other women all found their eyeliners and drew exaggerated eyebrows on their foreheads. We looked ridiculous. We were wasting the cosmetics. We were having fun.

By the time our caregivers came back to collect us, the women were all chatting and sharing stories while we played with the make-up. Even the grouchy woman in the sparkly sweatshirt seemed to enjoy trying out a new lipstick color. We looked good and definitely felt better after attending that class.

Twelve years later, I still think about that teenager with the puffy face every time I see that gold compact at the back of my make-up drawer. I don’t use it, but I can’t seem to get rid of it.


If you have a story about cancer and friendship, I am collecting them at The Waiting Room Project. Consider adding your voice to the mix.

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