Warning...this will probably be a long post because I am all fired up. Hopefully you will be too by the time you finish reading this. Another warning...there may be some harsh language. Did I mention I am all fired up?
Before I get into my story, I want to say that I have made major progress in the last few weeks. I am feeling better, I am looking better, the swelling in my face and neck is way down, I'm really feeling close to about halfway human. Considering where I have been, I will take it! I have also made major progress in my confidence level. I've had conversations about this with several people and what I have realized is that I just really, really don't give a shit what people think anymore. Yes, I look different, but I don't feel like a major freak show anymore, so whatever. I have standard answers for when people ask me questions (which I love, by the way! I would much rather answer questions than be stared at. Kids are much better than adults about this.) I'm not hiding anymore, I think is my main point. I have to live my life and deal with my trach and feeding tube and strange speech and I'm used to it. Do I like it? No, not particularly. Is it better than the alternative? Most definitely! The only thing that matters to me is that the people I love most in the world, those little (and not so little...have you seen my daughter lately???) people who call me Mommy, they don't notice any of it anymore. And of course, everyone else I care about, all of you, you are all cool with it too. In fact, you really need to stop complimenting me about how good I look...it's going to my head! Okay, all that being said, here is today's story. It starts out nicely, but then takes a major turn.
I was out running errands this morning. Probably more errands than I should, especially since I have plans this afternoon, but I am working frantically on getting products up on my Etsy shop (more on that later!) so I had stuff to get done. First stop, a local dollar store. I won't mention it (or any of the other stores I visited today) by name, but it is someplace I go frequently. I found everything I needed and was checking out. The cashier, a very nice young lady, asked me politely, "Did you just have surgery?" as she pointed at my trach. I said, "No, I had surgery about 10 months ago. But thank you for asking." She replied, with a genuine smile on her face, "Well, I hope you are feeling good. I'm sure it was no fun." I left the store smiling and with a happy heart. There are good people out there.
Next store was uneventful. Third store, major big box store. I was in the middle of one aisle, trying to decide between a couple of items. I was blocked in the middle, there was an older womanmaybe in her early 70's at one end (I'll call her Kindly Grandma, KG for short) and two younger women, I'm guessing in their early twenties (let's call them Obnoxious Women, OW1 and OW2 for short). I hear them giggling. The following is a word for word account of our exchange:
(all of the following occurred in not very quiet whispers)
OW1: giggling to OW2, pointing at me, do you see her neck? I bet she has a big hole she has to cover. Nasty!
OW2: I bet she smoked a ton like that woman on t.v. You know, the one who talked through that whole in her neck. (one starts imitating the commercial we have all seen, putting her hand over her neck and cackling)
OW1: now hysterical with laughter, That lady smoked herself to death. Whatever, she (pointing at me) musta done something bad to get them to do that to her. Probably a meth head or a crack whore, I betcha.
(Okay, really? What about me says meth head or crack head??? I'm about as squeaky clean as they come, except for my occasional potty mouth!)
I had been trying to ignore them, but this was going too far. KG started toward them, looking at me and saying "I'm going to give those girls a piece of my mind." I stopped her and said, "I've got this."
OW1 and 2: Still laughing, until they realize I am walking toward them. Suddenly, they look as if they got caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
Me: First of all, I'm not dead and I'm not deaf. You are rude, disrespectful brats who have no idea what anyone else's story is and I hope your mother's would be ashamed of the way you are behaving.
They are starting to back away, when they realize they are stuck. My new best friend, KG, had gone around the next aisle and parked her cart behind them. I'm guessing if I hadn't continued, she might have put them over her knee and given them what for! Now that they were blocked in, I continued:
"I had cancer on my tongue. No one knows why I got it, I'm just that lucky. I've never smoked, don't drink as often as I would like to, I just got cancer. I'm not a meth head or a crack whore. I'm a wife and a mommy and a kindergarten teacher. I didn't do anything to DESERVE cancer. No one, not even you, DESERVES cancer. I had surgery ten months ago that cut out half my tongue and then they cut out part of my arm to put my tongue back together. It hurt. A lot. More than you could imagine. Then they sliced my neck open from ear to ear, to see if there was cancer there. There was. I spent two weeks in the hospital, I missed Christmas and New Year's and my baby's birthday because I was so sick I couldn't come home. I couldn't talk for almost four months, I couldn't tell my kids or my husband or anyone that I loved them, nothing. I haven't eaten solid food since December, I get all my nutrition through a tube in my stomach. I had another surgery and then I had to do 30 radiation treatments. Do you know how they do that, how they give you radiation on your head? They take a mask and put it over my face and attached the mask to a table so I couldn't move. And then they shot radiation into me and I got horrible burns all over my neck and the inside of my mouth. Horrible, painful, disgusting burns. They hurt so much my kids were afraid to touch me because they didn't want to hurt me. And then I finished radiation and I got sick, so, so sick. So sick I didn't leave my bed for ten days. Except for the 40 times a day I hobbled to the bathroom to throw up. And now I'm here and I'm up and I'm out and I'm doing things and errands that I would have thought nothing about will send me to bed for the rest of the day because I'm exhausted, and you are laughing at me because I have to breath through a tube in my neck? It's called a trach and I hate it, I hate it more than you could possibly know, but it has kept me breathing for ten months. Without it, I would probably have died. So now, please tell me what I did to DESERVE all of that."
Let me say, I didn't yell and scream this (I don't actually have that much breath!), I was very calm. Actually, I was kind of proud of myself. It's not really like me to do something like that, or at least, it didn't used to be. But if I don't advocate for myself, who will? Well, I guess KG would, but still...
So at this point, these young women are at least looking a little remorseful. They muttered apologies without making any eye contact and started to slink away. I had one last bit of advice for them.
"Everybody has a story. Before you are disrespectful and hurtful and frankly, downright bitchy, keep that in mind. Ask. Ask what happened. Learn other people's stories, because someday you will have one too." I'm sure that fell on deaf ears, they were so eager to get away from the raving lunatic in aisle 10, but maybe, later today, they will think about what I said. Maybe not, I'll never know.
KG, my new bestie gave me a hug and wished her luck. I thanked her for being my point man. She told me I handled myself well, she would have slapped the hell out of them. I told her she reminded me of my grandmother, all spunk and sass. She laughed and went on her way. (KG...if you ever happen upon this and read it, know that I thank you from the bottom of my heart! I appreciate what you did for me!)
So I finished up that errand and since my adrenaline was flowing, decided to make one more stop. My local craft store, one I visit often. I picked up what I needed, including a $10 item I was only buying because I had a 50% off coupon. This is an important detail...that coupon is the whole reason I stopped at that store. Finished my shopping and got in line, I was behind about four other people. The cashier greeted each customer with a smile and a hello. And then it was my turn. She looked up at me with a smile on her face and as soon as she saw my trach, she looked away, no hello, smile gone. I swiped my card so I could keep the transaction moving quickly as there was now a huge line behind me. (I'm sweet like that!) I held out my phone so she could scan my coupon, but she never looked up and just put the transaction through. She started to hand me my receipt and I said "You didn't scan my coupon." I was still holding out my phone. She looks horrified that she has to talk to me. "Well, it's already done." Really, seriously??? I said, "well, the whole point was to use the coupon, so you need to fix it." She is now completely annoyed and gets on the phone to call her manager. This is what she said to the manager, verbatim "You have to come here because I have a customer who is making me do a return and I have a huge line now because of her." OMG!!! I cannot believe this is happening again today. I look up at her, hugely annoyed, and catch the eye of the woman in line behind me. I start to say I'm sorry to her, just out of courtesy, not because I did anything wrong, but she stopped me and said, "No worries. You get her to give you that money back. It's her fault. I watched her the whole time and she completely ignored you." Phew...it's not just me being sensitive! Hopefully feeling shamed, the cashier returned my $10 item and rerang it using the coupon. Five dollars is worth fighting for...but that obviously was not the point. In the meantime, the manager had come to the front and started ringing people up on the next register. My heroine, the woman behind me in line, said to the manager, "Your cashier was so rude to that customer. She is nicer than I am. If I was treated like that I would have left my stuff, walked out the door and never come back. You need to train your people better or you won't have any customers left." Both the cashier and I heard this exchange as she was finishing up my transaction. She handed me my bag and in her most sarcastic, sickly sweet voice, she said "Have a nice day." "You too, sweetie, you too." The other customer walked out with me and patted me on the shoulder. "Feel good and don't let the bastards get you down!" and she walked away. Another ghoul and another superhero!
So that's it, that's my story. I have calmed down now and should probably go back and edit what I wrote, but I feel like if I do, I will likely water things down, and I don't want them watered. I want everything that happened to be out there in big bold print, so other people know. There are stupid, mean people out there, but there are also wonderful, lovely human beings who are willing to speak up on someone else's behalf. Thank goodness for superheroes!