Cancer Has an Odor
The Pink Healing Journey:
Blog Post #1
I learned early into what I call my pink journey (the period where I began my healing from Stage 3 breast cancer), that CANCER has an odor. Yes, I said, “cancer has an odor.” Yes, an odor like what you smell in the air, and for me, it’s palpable. I feel it. I smell it constantly all day and I can’t get it to leave. No shower, no perfume, no Egyptian musk oil, no deodorant, no lotion, no change in diet or cleansing by drinking tons of water has changed it. It’s always there, like a cloud that just won’t go away.
When I first recognized it, I thought it was someone else. Just a few weeks after my diagnosis I was talking to a homeless, pregnant woman who was asking me for a ride somewhere. I didn’t take her, but I did give her the cash I had, and we prayed together. Her name was Shindella, and I pray she found her way to her doctor that day. The whole time we were together though, I was looking around like, “Who is that? What is that smell?” I just thought perhaps it was her stench, having been on the street a bit, and not having a place to properly shower. So, I brushed it off and moved on. But, far after my encounter with her, I still smelled that very smell. Since then, I’ve sniffed myself kind of like a puppy. I’ve done the armpit sniff test, Febreezed my clothes, washed my hair- anything to rid myself of this stench that smells so foreign to me. It almost makes me not want to be with myself in my own skin.
Now, to be clear, this smell of which I speak is not over-powering. Frankly, it’s not even an offensive smell. My husband doesn’t seem to even smell it. In fact, he’s always saying “you smell so good.” Of course, that’s nice, and I’m glad I don’t offend. But it’s a persistent odor and one that while not “stinky” is one that I would say is to me at best annoying, and at worse just not refreshing. Worse than that, it seems to be constantly with me, wherever I go. And, as I started paying more attention to it, I realize that it’s a smell that I never smelled before on me until I had cancer.
An odor is a stench, a smell, an aroma, a scent recognized by your nasal senses. These same nasal passages usually help you to recognize something that is familiar or know that something or someone is present. The smell of my dad’s cologne after church. My childhood wet dog Dusty, coming out of the rain. The smell of chocolate from the factory on Des Plaines Street in Chicago. Those smells, all take me somewhere mentally, usually a good place. But this smell, it stays with me like the smell of freshly laundered clothes, or I should say mildewed ones that stayed in the dryer without drying. It’s as if my Pheromones are just, well, different. Not offensive, and maybe not even recognizable to those around me, but I know it’s there. It’s always there. Laying underneath my clothes, in the smell of my skin. Right at the surface, and yet deep enough so I can always know it’s there.
It’s kind of a metaphor for how I feel about my breast cancer. On the surface, what’s crazy is everything is normal. I FEEL FINE! I’m carrying on my day as normal. Driving kids to school, doing homework, seeing coaching clients, adding coaching clients, juggling a million things without missing a beat. I’m checking in with family and friends, and now adding the additional juggling act of managing the many physician visits that come with having this disease. So far, nothing has been dropped, and I FEEL FINE. I’m not even more tired than usual. I mean, I’m normal, working, entrepreneurial mom, tired, but that’s just my normal, every day.
I have no aches. No pains really, although admittedly there’s a tinge of soreness in the breast where they found the tumor. But by all accounts, I’m fine. No one, including me, would even know that I was internally fighting this battle with the C-word, and yet I recently started by Chemotherapy this week.
So with all this, I have this smell and these tests and images, and this hardness in my breast, and a slew of doctors all saying, “YOU HAVE CANCER.” So, like the smell, even though I can’t see it, clearly it’s still there.
I actually looked online to see if this is a real thing. Don’t laugh, but I Googled “Is there an odor to cancer?” I mean Google knows everything, right? What would it hurt to ask? And you know what. I learned I’m not crazy. There’s a story of a woman named Joy in Psychology Today, who can smell and identify the clothes of those with and without cancer. They’re even testing dogs to determine whether they can by smell help proactively determine whether someone is cancer-ridden. WOW! I guess I’m not crazy after all. I suppose I have to trust my senses more than I thought. And perhaps, I need to figure out this sniffing side-hustle gig!
So, the question is, what do I do about this unfortunate stench, and more importantly, is there anything to learn from it? Time may tell. I’m not sure I have the answer just yet and I guess that will have to be ok for now. Till then, I’ll keep looking for ways to rid myself of this annoying aroma, and the Stage 3 breast cancer that lies within my body, neither of which can I see, but I know that for now, they’re overwhelmingly present. Both of which, I would love to rid myself of, and plan to do so on this pink healing journey.
Stay tuned, and continue to follow me here, to see how I conquer both. And should you be moved, feel free to offer comments and positive thoughts below. These small acts of connection and kindness are keeping my spirits lifted. I thank you in advance.