"I am a PERSON, not a CANCER"


Sometimes, you get hit in the face and it hurts.

This afternoon, I went shopping in Paris. Shopping for food.

On my way to the store, I couldn’t help but notice that a new campaign had been launched. On every available billboard.

A man or a woman. Seen from behind: «We could ----- (invite, talk to, etc.) CANCER but he (she) would refuse because -------(he (she)’s too tired, doesn’t want to be bothered, etc.)...»

Then facing you. The same man (woman) claiming: «I am a PERSON not a CANCER.»

Great campaign. Every 50 m or so. Another picture and a story. Different but still the same message in the end.

I hated it. It made me so mad.


Because this is a such a fraud.

To start with, people on the billboards look healthy. When you get cancer and chemo, you do not look healthy.

I can spot someone with «active» cancer and chemo anywhere, anytime.  Of course, I’ve got more «experience» in this field than most.

I’ve been through this during so many long years. I took a lot of self-portraits («working» on a project to keep alive and sane since I am a photographer) so I know and remember the way I looked then and there. And I am a fighter which means that I probably didn’t look as defeated as some people do when you are in the oncology department.

Will healthy people relate to this campaign? Will it help people to understand the distress and the moral isolation of someone who fights cancer?

I doubt it.

Cancer is frightening. It takes a lot of guts to face it when someone close to you is diagnosed with cancer. It takes a lot of love.

Cancer is so weird.
Some people live with cancer for a long time while still looking healthy.

Twelve years elapsed before they discovered the tumour that would almost kill me... even though I went through biannual check-ups, supposedly very thorough. I was feeling very tired from time to time but otherwise I looked and acted healthy.

Some people overreacted when they heard my bad news. Some really kicked me out of their lives. Just like that. As if cancer was contagious. As if I was already dead.

Some people need to protect themselves from the bad side of life. Lucky them.

But the worst was to come when I started chemo and all my hair fell off. First chemo, I tried to wear a wig. It started in September and ended in  April. Wintery months. Quite all right. But never at home.

Second chemo was worse, of course since cancer had spread out everywhere it could. The oncologist wa so intent on killing those nasty cells that felt so at ease in my body that he almost «killed» me in the process.

By then, I was in such a raging temper that I said no to a wig and started wearing scarves and sometimes nothing at all since chemo started in April and lasted until August. So hot.

Popeye and Swee’ Pea had no problems with my «premature» baldness. Because they knew what I was fighting and this chemo look was so trivial. (Besides, we knew from experience that hair grows back!)

But some friends made sure they’d call me before visiting me... wishing I’d be a good girl and hide my beautiful bald head. (Baldness does become me! No kidding!) Which I did but I felt kind of cast out. It did hurt mainly because they did not grasp how much I was fighting. Loss of hair was so not important.

At the hospital, every time they started a new course of chemo (every three weeks), they had to check my heart. Because chemo liked my heart to distraction, so much that it was eating it up! The great thing was to learn that I had a valiant heart too which managed to mend after a few years!

End of digression. Back to the campaign and my anger.

When it was chemo time, I’d go and spend 2 days and 1 night in the hospital. Upon arrival, I went to my bedroom and waited for the usual check up. Once the main check up was over, I had to go downstairs and get my heart checked in the cardiology department (a very simple echography).

The nurses wanted to call an attendant to get down there in a wheelchair. You’ve got to be kidding! So I’d go downstairs on my own and spend a few minutes in a waiting room.

I’ll never forget that very hot day (even in the hospital). The nurse in charge of me told me not to bother with a scarf.

«We are in a hospital, for goodness sake,» she said.

So «we» went down to the cardiology department, me, my dreary patsy whitish coloring and my bald head.

«We» sat down. The waiting room was empty. «We» were enjoying a few minutes of rest. A couple came in. They were talking and took a seat very close to «us».

Then they took one look at «us», jumped out of their seats and left the waiting room to stand in the passage, turning their backs on poor me (and «us»).

At first, I felt hurt and lost. Then I got really, really upset. So raging mad that when I was asked to go in for my echography, I stopped by them, turned around, looked at them and said: «Don’t worry. You won’t catch it from me. Maybe you are already infected.»

Which is a mean thing to say, I know but the cardiologist and the nurses and the oncologist were very proud of me when I told them the story, quite tearfully, I admit.

I really think this very official (and probably very costly) campaign won’t help.

The people who will be moved by it are those who already are aware of the distress of a cancer patient either because they have suffered from cancer and recovered or because someone close to them has had cancer.

By the way, this campaign is supposedly concerned about people who have been sick  but have recovered and have problems getting back to normal life.

What about the people who are sick and won’t recover? People who need so much understanding and some kind of recognition and acceptance not to mention enduring affection and love.

I’ve met so many cancer patients who hide from others (even close relations) because they feel so lost and bewildered while facing cancer and a fight that seems already so wasted. And no one ever tries to break through with open arms. This is so sad and depressing. They waste away and die almost or totally alone.

I was so lucky to be surrounded by a few people who fought along with me, not calling me «Cancer» but still looking at me as a person, a very sick person, this is very true, but a person nevertheless.

I was so happy when Swee’ Pea’s friends gave me a nickname. Some of them called me: «Little Buddha.»

I know that  the «Little» thing meant «we love you»...

I’ll never forget the day it got so hot in Paris... and you could not find one single fan there. Sold out. I felt I was going to die. So unbelievably hot in the apartment.

Swee’ Pea and his doctoral friends had already bought a few fans since their offices were stifling even when it wasn’t so hot outside.

Swee’ Pea happened to mention my problem to his friends. He did not have to ask. They all came at once to the apartment, bringing me not one fan but three. Enough to help me feel better... And they went back to their horribly stifling and fanless offices.

The fans helped me tremendously but the gift was immeasurable.

The other reason why this campaign makes me so mad is that once you have won the battle against cancer (except that cancer is the Sword of Damocles, always hanging there...), there is no way you can resume a totally normal life.


Because you cannot get a good new job if you want to. No one will ever hire a «former» cancer patient. No one except Popeye, of course. He knows.

Because you can no longer buy anything on credit. No car. No house. Whatever. The reason - No insurance company will insure you and your credit. If it does, the rates are usurious.

Now those are «rules» the government could easily fight. But it’s much easier to launch a very hypocritical campaign... Please love and respect «cured» cancer patients... you, the man/woman in the street.

Now tell me.

What is the difference between a cancer patient and someone who drives up in the car he just bought on credit and dies in an accident a few streets away from home or wherever?

There is one. The cancer patient may have a longer life span with all the new therapies.

One last thing. This cancer thing really bothers me. I feel concerned because cancer makes you part of a family... not one you would have chosen of course...

But what really, really bothers me is that I have friends with AIDS and MS and other horrendous illnesses. Nobody talks about them. Nobody cares about what they are facing, which legally and socially are exactly the same problems a cancer patient has to face.

I’ll let you think on your own about their problems concerning human relations.

The sobering (and very scary) thought is that you never know if or when you’ll get sick. I do hope all of you will be safe from this kind of hardship.

My heart goes to my friends, known and unknown, who are experiencing what I just wrote about. We are family. Let’s hope that our family will expand and include millions of healthy people who will remain healthy.

Because we need their help and suppport and love and understanding. We need your help and support and love and understanding.

Thank you.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*

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