The Sisterhood of Pain

With a belabored shuffle, I enter the store. I’m off-balance, and seem likely to careen into the seasonal display of patio furniture — or collapse onto it, for lack of energy to take the next step.

My feet are swollen from edema (water retention) and partially numb from the ankles on down due to neuropathy (nerve damage), both common side effects of chemotherapy. A bright scarf covers my bald head. Perfectly drawn eyebrows frame my almost-lashless eyes.

If you know what chemo looks like, I’m a prime contender for today’s Poster Child. Even if you’re not familiar with the side effects, something about me is obviously wrong.

From several aisles away, a woman smiles — and holds her gaze long enough for me to see her and return the smile. She smiles again, and goes back to grocery shopping. Later, a woman in an electric cart nods as her wheelchair putters past me.

We’re part of the unspoken Sisterhood of Pain, women who are or have been sick or disabled, women who have been on the planet long enough to know when one of us is hurting. We make eye contact to say I know, we smile when words are unneeded. When we’re in close quarters — an elevator or a medical waiting room — we strike up a conversation as if we’ve known each other for ages. We talk in department stores, we talk in parking lots. I know. I know your pain, and I care.

Our eyes say it; our smiles confirm it: our shared pain has forged an empathic connection.

We are no longer strangers.

Author: MeredithLaskow

Artist, writer, and unrepentant nerd girl.

15 thoughts on “The Sisterhood of Pain”

  1. Although the underlying reasons suck, I love the way women find ways and words to uplift and connect with each other, the way we look behind the eyes (and even read between the lines in our online conversations) and “see” beyond to the pain, the sadness and the struggles.

    I care…

  2. So sorry to hear you are on pain. But you are almost through this. You are strong. And through your description, I feel your pain. ♡

    1. Sharon, at least the sick and tired part is mostly gone. The edema and neuropathy, unfortunately, may last all year. I just won’t plan any long hikes :-p

  3. Nothing has affected your beautiful writing talents! Thinking of you and wishing you well. ❤️❤️

  4. Although our pain is the result of different causes, I’m here to say I understand the pain, the neuropathy, and the often sneaking up on me imbalance. I care, and I lock eyes, arms and hearts with you.

  5. (((Meredith)))…another touching story, and another reason why I’m so glad I’m a woman. Men would need this too, but unfortunately it’s not as natural for them to reach out to strangers and show sympathy.
    You are in my daily prayers, and I rejoice to see that you are progressing… slowly but surely.

  6. Hey there <3

    Just wanted to say hello. You are one of the few people I actively miss from that part of the world. I think of you often.

    Purple-hair-diva vibes from the opposite coast

    1. Shannon, I miss you a lot and still wish you had gotten your dream-chef job. Before I got sick and hairdos became moot, I was debating doing a punky fade with purple in front — maybe later? Since you’re my only friend who can send purple-hair-diva vibes, it’s MUCH appreciated!

  7. “It’s the knowing and the caring that someone else is hurting [that is important]”
    This is so true and I am so glad you put it in writing, out there for others to know.
    Love you so.

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