Letters, June 10, 2015

Gesture generous, but misdirected

Thank-you to the anonymous Guardian of the Rib?bon who gave my daughter a teddy bear at the Hills?boro Et Cetera shop and offered words of support and encouragement Saturday, June 6. It was a heartfelt and generous gesture.

Awkwardly, however, the gesture was misdirected. Although I am a woman with no hair who sometimes wears a pink hat, I am not a cancer patient. I have Alopecia Areata, a condition in which my immune system attacks my own hair follicles and damages hair growth.

Fourteen years ago, it began with a small patch on my scalp. Now it has spread over my head and to my eyelashes and brows. I find it more comfortable to shave the damaged, patchy hair rather than try to style it; and I personally feel confident being ?bald? rather than wear a wig.

My choice, however, has led to many false assumptions in public. I am frequently approached by strangers with questions about my health and my ?treatment.? Almost always, these men and women are cancer survivors or have family members who survived or succumbed to cancer. In my bald head, I think, they sense shared experience, assuming I am part of their ?club.?

It is so difficult to respond. First of all, I don?t know how to just say, ?I don?t have cancer,? without also explaining my real condition?and this feels like an invasion of my privacy, coming from strangers in public places.

Second, I feel I am letting them down, disappointing their hopes for a connection.

Third, I feel like I am somehow then seen as an imposter or as masquerading for sympathy.

While I appreciate the intention and compassion behind these strangers? approaches, the longing to offer support and to share authentic human connection, it remains very awkward.

I hope this letter helps all of us to pause and consider the assumptions and judgements we make about the strangers we encounter?for ill and for good purposes.

I apologize, Guardian, for not explaining in person.

Blessings to all who suffer and survive cancer, to their caregivers and families, to those who have lost loved ones, to those who continue to research and support the fight. And to those of us with less familiar maladies?may we find the support we need to live our lives in comfort and confidence.

Audrey Ratzlaff,

Rural Peabody

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