Octavia Butler often wrote of "Other" as a state of being. That alien sense of not belonging, but not knowing where to go. I couldn't fully appreciate her writing as a student years ago, but now I'm starting to believe that I have some inkling of what she was alluding to.
With the first transplant, I belonged to an exclusive group of medical adventurers setting out to get saved. When I relapsed, I jumped ship to be in a more inclusive, if unenviable, group of people desperate for some hope. Now that I've had transplant number two, I live in a much smaller world inhabited by some very remarkable people.
I never really felt isolated the first time around. I proudly walked around with my head naked and the lower half of my face covered by a surgical mask. Most days, it never occurred to me to cover my baldness since it was so normal for me. I gave up business casual for lounge wear and pajamas. In my new world, track suits were de rigeur. I never felt alien because I was surrounded by people just like myself.
Since my second transplant, I've become a little more apprehensive. I suspect it has something to do with the steroids altering my appearance. I no longer recognize my face in the mirror and often wonder at people's reactions upon first seeing me. Last week, I put on make-up for the first time in 8 months. I hated the way I looked. It was so foreign and fussy. I had just strayed out of my comfort zone.
I have let cancer dance me into a corner that I felt "safe" in. No more. Now that I'm off of the dreaded steroids, my face is very slowly deflating. I can almost make out cheek bones. I'm starting to feel more like myself and less like biting someone's head off. Thanks to the experiences of the last two years, I'll always feel a little "alien", and that's really quite alright.