Friday, July 31, 2009

Royalty and heroes (by Suzie)

Queen for a Day is a program in which beauty queens go to hospitals to give their tiaras to girls with cancer. The girls dress up and get hair, nails and makeup done. In some cities, boys participate as Kings for a Day, with fewer beauty-salon treatments. Still other cities have the Queen program for girls and a Heroes program for boys. Boys dress up and/or meet law enforcement officers, firefighters or men in superhero costumes. The Boston site explains:
We had make-up and nail polish set up along with a table full of jewelry for the girls and race cars and dress-up attire set aside for the boys. The boys had a great time as they were able to choose between becoming a military man, policeman, or firefighter and the girls were able to dress themselves with as many jewels as their heart desired.
There are repercussions when girls are judged on their looks and boys are judged on their actions. It would seem so easy to offer both boys and girls a shot at both royalty and heroes, and the heroes could include female firefighters and police officers. Some girls may dream of being superheroes, too.

Founder Jenna Edwards writes:
We all know the feeling from dressing up, putting on a little lipstick or wearing our favorite outfit. As a college student, I would dress up for exams because I carried myself differently "fixed up." It was easier to focus and I felt more energetic. That's the concept of QFAD - giving a little pick-me-up to kids in treatment for cancer. Taking care of ourselves reaches beyond treating and preventing our illnesses. Addressing our psychological needs affects our physical well-being, too.
It’s fine if girls with cancer want to get “fixed up.” The problem comes with any suggestion that that they need to do this in order to feel better. Despite its title, I prefer the Look Good, Feel Better program, which gives practical tips to adults and teens coping with changes in their appearance due to cancer. Its Web site makes clear that no one has to do anything. But if you want to draw in eyebrows, for example, or learn to tie scarves, their volunteers can help.

I recently became a poster child for sarcoma. (As the photos flash by, I’m the one with the Eddie Munster hairdo.) Cancer nonprofits often choose cheery photos, in hopes of reassuring readers. Sometimes, however, I think we need photos of people looking really awful, angry or sad, to illustrate that you don’t have to be brave all the time.

That brings me to heroism. I'm not a hero because I'm a cancer survivor. I didn’t run into a burning building to save someone. A better analogy is: I found myself in a burning building and I ran out. For children especially, there can be too much pressure to be brave. Cancer patients need the freedom to express our emotions.

Also, we may want to reconsider our definition of bravery. Last week, I saw my former oncologist, now in Atlanta. I remember hearing how she sat by the bedside of a patient who was dying. Sometimes it is more courageous to stay with someone you cannot save.