I’ve been doing really well with the chemotherapy, as far as side effects go—knock on wood—only to be felled by the common cold. And the virus also brought on an eye infection, so I’ve had to wear my glasses. Not only are they a few prescriptions behind, but wearing my glasses in public is like putting on a mantle of all my middle school insecurities. In my glasses, I’m Superman reduced to Clark Kent.

When I woke up with a sore throat last Sunday, however, freaking out was my first order of business. The one thing I’m supposed to do is stay well, because of my suppressed immune system. I’ve temporarily given up Bikram yoga to avoid being in a hot room of other people’s bodily fluids. (I’ve never gotten a cold from being in a Bikram room, but I don’t want to risk it now that I’m more vulnerable to viruses.) I skip workouts with shared equipment and have been trying to do yoga at home. (By trying, I mean thinking about it, but not actually unrolling my mat very often.)

Avoiding germs is easier said than done in a city of 8 million people. If you have a suppressed immune system, every cough on a crowded train or bus is magnified. I’ve never been much of a germophobe, so until now, I’ve never been aware of how often people cough and sneeze directly on and at you. In one case, I even switched train cars, but that was only after the coughing man produced a razor from his pocket and started shaving and his coughing turned to maniacal laughter.

After doing some internet searches, however, I found message boards where other people who had gotten sick between treatments five and six discussed their experiences. They got antibiotics and were fine, to my relief. I went in to see my oncologist, and she prescribed a Z-pack and eye drops for my infection. Since I was the germy person in the waiting room, and the other cancer patients also have compromised immune systems, I had to wear a mask. Downside: I couldn’t breathe without fogging up my glasses. Upside: I can start a Clinic cover band.

It wasn’t my week. The magazine I worked for had folded a few days before I got sick, leaving me unemployed. I spent my last chemotherapy session emailing my freelance writers and frantically sending in invoices and typing with one hand, because the other had an IV in it.

Wearing my glasses was the final indignity that took me to a dark place. Not having to work was both good and bad. I had time to rest, but I also had time to wallow in self-pity. So I spent a few days feeling sorry for myself, an unemployed writer with cancer who had to wear her glasses.

It might seem strange that that is what I focused on—well, as much focusing as my astigmatism will allow—with everything going on. When I got contacts at age 14, things started turning around for me. I started dating. I went from being a nerdy outcast to a rebellious, somewhat cooler outcast.

“You’re being quiet,” a friend observed on Saturday night.

“It’s because of my glasses,” I replied. “I just don’t feel like myself.”

Another friend turned to me on Thursday and said, “Wearing your glasses really bothers you.”

I suppose I’ll have to deal with all my adolescent insecurities. I was overweight until about 7th grade, and I had a dream this week in which my boyfriend told me I was getting chubby. Even I was surprised by that side effect of being bespectacled.

I took a cardio kickboxing class and my glasses kept slipping down my nose, bringing back traumatizing gym class memories. But only to a point. I’m in much better shape at 35 than I was at 10, even with the cancer and working out less. And no one tried to throw a dodge ball in my face. The fitness center I attend now is much more supportive than grade school gym.

In college, when I got an eye infection, I’d walk around campus without my glasses, unable to see. I would get calls from people I accidentally ignored, asking why I didn’t wave back.

I was like Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in Square Pegs, certain that my glasses are ruining my life.

I think I’ve been complaining so much about my glasses because it’s a “normal” pre-cancer concern for me. It was oddly comforting to have a mundane concern among my newer, scarier health issues.

I really need to get a new prescription. But after my week of wearing glasses, I realized that my insecurities are silly, and I need to outgrow them. I feel I see a little more clearly already.


  1. Pam says:

    I can totally relate to the glasses thing. You become a different person. Sort of like having a bad hair day but there is nothing you can do to fix it.

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