I watched Karen as she reached into her handbag and pulled out a deep red lipstick, probably a color she had worn for over 30 years.
Then she reached for an eyebrow pencil and she drew on the brows that framed her clear blue eyes. She peered into a small mirror and said, “There, that’s better” and smiled. She was getting ready to meet someone. The room was festive, full of flowers, laughter, and little tokens of love. Who was she meeting? Her medical team. Soon her doctors would walk into her hospice room. Soon she would pass away, having been diagnosed a few years prior with triple negative inflammatory breast cancer.
My mind raced back to a much younger woman, one I promised to take to dinner when she came to Houston for a second opinion. She was traveling from New York City to see a specialist regarding her diagnosis of triple negative breast and ovarian cancer. She was only 30 years old and she wanted to look nice at dinner. She put on a fur vest “because we’re in Texas”. She says “it is it’s how you dress, right?” I had to laugh because I’m a native Texan, and I have never worn a sleeveless fur vest in my life. I smiled and said you look great as I watched her re-apply lip gloss.
It hit me, watching them, young, older, it didn’t matter. Inside we are all the same. We want to recognize ourselves and have others see us for who we are. These women do not want to be seen as cancer patients, they want to be seen as the women they are, before this rude intruder forced its way into their lives. They want to recognize themselves and they want you to recognize them for who they are, the whole person.
I really don’t know how to end this little story or how to sum up what I am trying to share. By spending so much time with women who are very ill, I have been given a glimpse into something so much more than life with cancer. Some of them have shared the most private of thoughts, dreams, hopes and fears. I have seen their souls, as they applied lipstick.
Hope always, Terry Arnold