No, there’s nothing wrong with me. Yes, I had cancer. Yes, I had my neck cut open and my voice box taken out. Yes, I have a hole in my neck to breathe through. Yes, I can no longer speak naturally. Yes, I can barely smell anything since I don’t breathe through my nose.
But no, there’s nothing wrong with me.
The inspiration for this article came when I read on the news that Mattel has made a Barbie doll modeled after people with Down’s Syndrome.
Mattel, with all the flack they took for their almost impossibly proportioned doll (her measurements would have been 39” – 18” – 33”) have started making dolls that more reflect a realistic population. Barbie with hearing aids, with a prosthetic leg, even in a wheelchair.
The world ain’t all blonde, blue-eyed supermodels.
I will admit that in the past year since my cancer diagnosis and surgery, I now see people in a different light. When you’re healthy it’s hard to see through other people’s eyes.
And it reminds me of the “Paradigm Shift” chapter in “7 Habits Of Highly Successful People.” If you haven’t read that book, give it a try.
In one part of that chapter, a man is on a subway late one night watching a couple of rambunctious kids run up and down the car while their father just sits there. He finally says something to the father like, “your kids sure are active tonight,” hoping he will notice them and settle them down.
The father says “Yeah, they are. They’ve been cooped up in a hospital waiting room all day. Their Mother just died.”
Bam! Paradigm shift.
The man can now see in a different light. He can see that there’s nothing wrong with those kids, they’re just burning off energy. Maybe it’s their way of grieving.
And even though I believe there is nothing wrong with me, I now see in a different light. I see someone with a missing leg as nothing wrong with them, either.
My own personal paradigm shift.
And while some people experience catastrophic life changing events, others are born differently.
There’s nothing wrong with someone being different from someone else. People can simply be wired differently.
A good example is the way Mrs. Larry and I look at how cans are stored in the cabinet.
She prefers them organized with the same type together. If we have two cans of black beans, she will like to have them one on top of the other.
However, for me, I don’t care in what order the cans are, (and half the time which way the labels are facing).
There is nothing wrong with either of us, we’re just wired differently.
I breathe through a hole in my neck (it’s called a stoma). I cannot talk without mechanical help.
At my gym there’s:
A guy with a prosthetic leg.
A woman recovering from knee surgery.
A man with a bad leg that uses a knee creeper.
There used to be a blind guy there. I haven’t seen him in a while.
There’s nothing wrong with any of them. They’re just different.
The new term is “differently able,” but I just don’t like it. It still separates people based on what they can and can’t do.
There’s a lot I couldn’t do before my surgery. And I still can’t.
I can’t run a 4 minute mile.
I can’t bench press 300 lbs.
I can’t high jump 6 ft.
I can’t sing like Caruso (or Elvis.)
Nothing Wrong With Me
But there’s nothing wrong with me simply because I can’t do these things. I’m not differently able. I’m just me.
Muhammed Ali was, in my opinion, the greatest boxer that ever lived, but I would be willing to bet that he couldn’t high jump 6 feet either. Would that have made him “differently abled”?
Handicapped, or differently abled people are usually referred to that way because they can’t do “normal” things. Like maybe walk, see, hear, or in my case, talk.
But what is normal? The Mirriam Webster dictionary defines normal as: “conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern : characterized by that which is considered usual, typical, or routine”
So under that definition, these people would not be considered “normal”:
3.44% of people are either blind or have severely impaired vision.
13% of people in the US have hearing loss in both ears.
5.5% of people in the US have cancer.
But, these people would also not be normal:
10% of people are left handed.
8 – 10% of people (including me) are blue eyed.
2% of people are naturally blonde.
There’s nothing wrong with not being normal, and there’s nothing wrong with me.
Maybe We All Need a Paradigm Shift
Like I said above, cancer has made me look differently at people.
I don’t get angry when the little old lady takes too long to get out of my way in the grocery store parking lot.
And the person in the store who can’t see the screen very well to use their debit card holds up the checkout line.
Or the guy that questions the person behind the counter at a restaurant about the ingredients on every dish because of their severe allergies.
I never should have gotten upset with these people before, but I will admit that I used to.
Maybe you shouldn’t either.
(Note: I still get angry when someone at the grocery store parks their buggy on one side of the aisle while they take up the other side looking for something. There’s no excuse for that, lol)
No Need To Apologize
In a laryngectomy group that I’m in, someone mentioned a time when a person at a business was complaining that they couldn’t hear him. His first reaction was to apologize, but instead he said: “I had cancer, my throat was cut open from ear to ear and my vocal chords yanked out. Maybe you should do a better job of listening.”
The next time someone says that they can’t hear me, I will be tempted to say something like that, but to be civil I probably won’t. Probably.