Monday, June 8, 2009

"Do I look fat in these jeans?"

"Do I look fat in these jeans?", Karen asked as she stood in front of the mirror.

I roll my eyes, sigh (I sigh a lot) and mutter an exasperated "No" and keep walking. (Note: there's only one right answer to this question).

There was a time long ago -- OK, last week -- when this was Karen's most pressing vanity concern. Mind you, she has no reason -- none -- to have angst about whether the Seven for All Mankind jeans somehow add pounds to her thighs. They don't. But she is Karen. Is there a bit of vanity involved here? Sure. Is it a bad thing? No.

Karen will wince at these words on the screen. But she's like many women who worry about whether their jeans make them look thin or fat, the gray in their hair and the glow of their skin. There's nothing wrong with it. Hell, we all -- yes, most of you too -- spend billons of dollars to look good. Karen takes tremendous pride in her appearance. She works on it. And it shows. I appreciate the effort she puts into looking fact, I demand it.

(What? You're waiting for the "wink, wink"?).

It is true. Karen did ask me about her jeans recently. But the question gave me pause and struck me quite differently than the 238 times she's asked me the question before. My thoughts this time -- though not spoken at the time -- were that soon, too soon I feared, her concern over whether her jeans made her look fat would give way to a range of raw emotions she has never shared before. As the chemotherapy begins to take its toll on her body, it will throw her beauty regimen into a tailspin. This sounds harsh, because it is harsh. But she -- and I -- will learn how to deal with it and we will get through it. They'll be tears -- lots of them, and hopefully the ability to laugh. And the fit of those jeans? This I know: we'll look back at that six months from now and have a good laugh.

There's a certain irony between the beauty of a woman and the repulsiveness of cancer. It's hard to understand how the two co-exist. And though chemo may (will) take Karen's hair and her skin may become pale, she won't lose two of her most magnificent attributes: her Julia Roberts' smile or her beautiful brown eyes.

Because I know that the physical transition imposed by chemotherapy will be one of Karen's greatest challenges, I explored the Internet for information on how chemotherapy patients cope with the changes to their appearance. One of the programs I came across is "Look Good...Feel Better." It's a great program aimed at helping cancer survivors cope with an important aspect of their quality of life during cancer treatment -- their appearance. The program -- staffed by volunteers -- has helped thousands of women look and feel beautiful. It has given women confidence, boosted their self-esteem and helped them find hope and courage when they need it the most. Whether Karen participates in this program or something like it, I know that once she gets over the initial shock of the changes, she'll discover how to be...well, how to be Karen.

More than the program itself, I was attracted to the "Look Good...Feel Good" ad campaign. I included one of the ads at the top of this posting. But I was also inspired by the ad....inspired to dig through some old photographs of Karen to give her a role in the campaign too. I think the photo speaks for itself!

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