Saturday, November 8, 2008

Who is that woman behind the mask?

Today I looked at couches. My couch is really old; I still have the beige Danish Design sofa that many of my friends and I got for our first apartments. The couch and matching chair followed me to my house and have held up pretty well. They are so out-of-date that they are almost “in.” And I have disguised their shabbiness with colorful throw pillows.

But since I was holed up here last winter and will be holed up here again, I figured I might stimulate the economy and make the living room a more comfortable place in which to curl up and read a book. The current couch and chair are really low to the ground and not that comfortable. The den, where the TV is, has gotten more attention over the years. The living room has been neglected.

Naturally, I wore my mask when going into the furniture store today. After I chose a model and fabric that I liked, the saleswoman told me that I could pay about $100 more for a protective chemical spray making it easier to wipe up spills.

“It’s hypo-allergenic, but since you’re chemically sensitive, you might not want to do it,” she said, looking at my mask.

It took me a moment to realize that she thought I wore the mask due to chemical sensitivity, not due to the need to protect myself from germs post-transplant.

For some reason this pleased me. To me, the mask is a connection to cancer; to her, it was not. She did not think of me as “cancer patient," or even as "cancer survivor."

When I reached into my wallet to get my credit card to make a deposit (OK, I didn’t just look at couches, I actually bought a couch), my blue Dana-Farber ID card was visible. Of course I didn't try to hide it, but I wondered if she had seen it and would then start making assumptions or asking questions. I've been a loyal customer for years; she knew about my first run-in with leukemia years ago, but I don't think she knew about the relapse, and I didn't feel like going through the whole explanation.

This all made me think about my perception of who I am at this time in my life. I bet everyone going through cancer treatment, or recently out of it, has similar thoughts. Taking this one step further, I’m sure that perception by others is something dealt with by anyone who looks different, whether they’re in a wheelchair or walking with a cane or in any other way look different.

I need to realize that signs of difference are nothing to be ashamed of. I did correct the saleswoman and tell her that the mask was not due to chemical sensitivity, but rather because I need to avoid germs, and therefore the upholstery spray would probably be OK. She didn’t ask any more. Possibly I was anticipating the need to explain about the germs, which could lead to more questions about the long story, but the saleswoman did not probe. She didn’t care; she was selling me a couch, and she didn't need my life story to do it.

And of course I need to remind myself of the positives: I can go into a store, I can afford to buy a couch, I am on track in my recovery. I guess it's the same for everyone; we need to look at what we can do rather than dwelling on our limitations.

Easier said than done.

Meanwhile, I look forward to the day when I can go into a store without hiding behind a mask.


Anonymous said...

How appropriate to recognize that "signs of difference are nothing to be ashamed of" at this moment in our history. Lots and lots of ways to be different and many of them make our lives and those of people around us richer -- even when they can also make them more challenging. Here's to difference and to more of us coming out from behind our masks.

Susan C said...

Hats off (or mask off?) to you for buying a new couch. I've always found the selection of a new sofa a daunting task. Probably because I know I'm going to live with my choice for a quarter century or so.

I can understand what you mean about being tickled by the assumption made by the sales person.

PJ said...

Us the new furniture in good health. First time I wore a mask into a bank I worried more about provoking fear than curiosity. Keep the articles coming.

Anonymous said...

Just because I don't comment doesn't mean that I'm not reading :) I love them!

Anonymous said...

It had occurred to me that your decorating binge is a little like the famous nesting instinct that comes over people when they are about to have a baby ... remember? :) ... I wondered what you were preparing for. Now I know -- a cozy winter of reading in the living room. And when you crawl out of the sofa in the spring, you will be almost ready to return to regular old, everyday life.