Much like a growing belly that tells an obvious tale, so does my short hair and doo-rag. It's clear to others that I have probably gone through chemotherapy, and when their faces register that reality, something in them changes.
I see it immediately.
They meet my gaze with a compassionate "I'm sorry" look, followed by an almost tangible sense of pity--until I smile back at them, reassuring them that I'm on the mend.
Most people take extra time to help me at the store, in the check-out lines, and at work. They seem nicer, more like who they want to be all the time, or who they are meant to be at their core.
Many also reach out for my short, bushy hair and can't resist running their fingers through it. Much like others reach out for pregnant bellies to touch.
I think my cancer tends to bring out the best in others.
Even in me.
My goal has been to be a good poster-child for cancer. I want to help others understand that cancer has a soft side, one that teaches us how to be more ourselves, more authentic, and more real.
I also want to make it clear to others that cancer does not equal death. We have so much life to live, and my being positive about my future despite a hefty diagnosis helps others understand that I'm not taking life sitting down.
The healing, the joy, and the challenges have made me stronger than I've ever been, even though I started this journey as a pretty tough cookie.
Cancer has so much negative stigma and fear associated with it that I'm committed to teaching exactly the opposite.
As I've learned how to live life differently because my schedule and energy level have become usurped by treatments, appointments, and a new routine, I can still be full of life. It may be an adjusted life, but it is also (most likely) a temporary experience.
Dealing with that has made me more relaxed, and more in-tune with what my body and soul want and need.
Perhaps that is what people are drawn to when they see beyond the military cut on my head that signals my having had cancer.
They see Hope. Future. Love.
Then there are others who know exactly what I've been through.
There is a silent code with other cancer survivors I see out in public, much like motorcyclists who give each other a middair "high-five" as they pass each other on the highway.
Without having to say a word, there is an immediate camaraderie. Our eyes meet with a knowing smile and nod.
We understand each other.
We are sisters in the same experience.
We belong to the same club, one that no one wants to be a member of, but one we are grateful to be included in.
Something in me changes, too.
I come alive with compassion for them and for myself for having endured such a monumental blow.
I say a silent prayer of gratitude, as I square my shoulders and grow a few feet taller.
I am damn proud to be part of an elite group of cancer survivors who have shown more than just an ability to endure.
We have faced cancer head-on and it was no match to our grit, heart, tenacity, compassion, and love.
As long as cancer continues to stick around, it will not have the ability to thrive in this kind of environment.
I, for one, plan to keep it that way.