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This Is No April Fool's Joke

I was watching television one night when an ad came on that I simply could not believe I was seeing.

Whoever advised Inspira Health that this concept was a good idea is out of their mind.

Here’s the scene. A woman is peering into her mirror, looking wistfully at her long, gorgeous mane of curly hair. A close-up of her clenched fist shows her inner struggle. She picks up a razor and begins to shave her head. Her hair cascades over her in slow motion, falling around her feet on the floor, in the sink and on the counter as we read:

Sarah chose to take control.

She got ahead of her cancer.

With doctors who specialize in her cancer.

Finally, running her hands over her bald head and smiles sadly but triumphantly at herself as we read:

Sarah chose Inspira.

Are…you…kidding…me?!?!?!

I can’t remember the last time an ad made me want to scream like this one (okay, maybe back when the Susan G Komen charity partnered with KFC with pink buckets of fried chicken).

To say this ad is heartbreaking on every level would diminish my horror at it…as a woman and as a cancer survivor. When you watch a woman shaving her head in advance of her treatments, she is not…not…taking control. She is desperately trying to avoid the intense trauma of slowly watching her hair fall out. She is trying to get ahead of the tears; she is not, by any means, getting ahead of her cancer. She is trying to take some form of control in an uncontrollable situation. She is desperately trying to figure out a way to prevent the cancer from robbing her of her dignity and her womanhood, as the disease and treatments so often do.

Having been in the position of having a doctor tell you that your life, as you know it, is over, I can tell you that there is nothing triumphant about it. You find yourself drowning in fear and trying not to scream. I can recall the day of my diagnosis with total clarity and if I am not careful with that memory, I can sink right back into that black hole of panic as though it was just yesterday. The loss of self and self-control that comes with a diagnosis of cancer is something that only a cancer survivor can feel. It’s as hard to describe as a phantom. You’re plunged into an abyss of tests, blood draws; lost dignity as you’re pushed and poked in places you didn’t think you could be pushed and poked in. Control of who you thought you were is wrested from your tenuous grasp. Cold hands and cold metal tables become the norm for you, but the chill that runs through you is more than physical. It’s the threat of losing your being, your spirit, your essence in this clinical process.

And while you will not likely find more compassionate nurses, doctors and workers in the field of cancer treatment, there is nothing anyone can do to take away the pit-of-your-stomach knot of fear that lives with you every minute of every day. A fear that has so many dimensions that it’s mind-boggling. Fear of losing your life, certainly, but also a deep fear of leaving your loved ones. Will they be ok? Fear of what comes next, after death. Even people of deep faith fear this one. Are we just…gone?

The thoughts that come to mind as a newly diagnosed woman with cancer are beyond anything that cancer-free people can imagine. With any luck, you come out the other side of the fear and pull yourself up and take action that can help you to manage the disease, the symptoms; to fight back with all your resources to try and save your life.

For me, that fight took me down the path of vegan macrobiotics which is how I saved my own life with the love, help and support of the love of my life, Robert. I took a proactive role in regaining my health so that I would never have to face a mirror and shave my hair off, succumbing to the fate I would face in the system. That worked for me. Whatever you need to do to feel empowered in the fight for your life, you should do, but I hardly think this ad for Inspira shows that in its best light.

While the doctors at Inspira Health may be compassionate, caring and specialize in various cancers, they certainly do not specialize in the traumatic emotions at play for women with cancer. A woman shaving her head is not her taking on her cancer with strength and determination, at least not to me. To me, she’s showing us the heartbreak of cancer as it steals her identity and turns her into someone else, someone sick, someone fighting for her life. Hardly a triumph of healthcare as I realize that yes, even losing your hair in cancer treatment can be marketed to us.

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