I remember the day the doctor said cancer
. I went back to work, saw my patients, came home fed my dog and went about my evening as usual. Nothing had changed like I had cancer.
I remember opening my eyes after surgery. Hearing the words Stage III. "We got all we could see". I went home two days later. I felt like a carved up turkey at Thanksgiving but I didn't FEEL like I had cancer
I remember listening to my oncology nurse discussing my treatment plan, a 6 round chemo sandwich with radiation in the middle. It sounded like horrible order off of disgusting lunch menu but even then I halfheartedly believed it was cancer. I even argued that maybe I only needed 3 rounds of chemo hold the radiation. But then she said something that shook me to my core. Something that ushered me to the brink of my reality. "14 days"
14 days after my first taxol/carbo intravenous cocktail, I would begin to lose my hair. EVERYWHERE. Hair that had always existed, Hair I didn't know existed
, Hair I had no use for, would suddenly be GONE and I would be NAKED. Nothing left to shield me from the knowing. The secret fear I was hiding in my heart and in my words and in my demeanor would be not hidden anymore. It was then I realized, I was not worried about dying, I was not even concerned with the toll this awful sandwich would take on my body, my spirit, and ultimately my self esteem.
I was afraid of LOSING my HAIR
I am not the first woman I am sure that has had this fear. For woman have long held the sanctity of their coifs as a symbol of beauty and confidence. You hide insecurities in your hair, You look for love in your hair, You become You in your hair
I lost my breath right then. The air around me became a big black hole and I Fell. Right. In. Each day thereafter, the words "14 days" echoed in my head relentlessly. I liken it to the horror movie where an eerie phone call warned viewers of "7 days" after they had watched a sadistically abstract video. Unlike the movie however, I knew what was coming for me and it filled me with utter dread.
Soon after my first treatment I begged my mother to cover my bathroom mirror with a sheet. I cried in angst and I begin to mourn my impending loss. I constantly ran my fingers through my hair and cursed the strands that intertwined my fingers. She tried to quell my fears. Sympathize. But she didn't understand. How could I make her understand. I didn't want to see what was coming for me. I didn't want to notice the thinning eyebrows or the soon to be non-existent eyelashes. I didn't want to see the disappearing hairline or the fleshy expansion of scalp as if I'd been ravaged by locusts. I didn't want to see that I was going to begin to LOOK like cancer.
And then something very unexpected happened. Instead of mocking me or telling me how silly I was being, my family started to fill every mirror in my home with post it notes of the most amazing and funny and biblical and LOVING affirmations imaginable. It was Amazing!!!
Brushing my teeth.. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me". Washing my face: "Good Morning Beautiful". Getting dressed: "You look Great today". And my favorite: "Wow, today was a good day". It was the one I kept on my headboard and read aloud every night before going to sleep.
There were others reminding me to eat (which was a chore to do sometimes) or open the blinds to let the sun in. But mostly they were all reminders that I was still ME and I was ALIVE and I was out of this world blessed with Love. Hair or No.
As time went on and though my body became more drunk with cocktails and pained with poison, my life remained full with love, appreciation and affirmations. Over time a small circle had found its way onto the bathroom mirror and inside the wall of post-its. A clearing just big enough to appreciate the one of many funky chemo caps that darned my now shaved perfectly round head. My life had become unpredictably predictable between chemo, blood work, radiation, hospital stays and doctor appointments, with one exception.
Out of the chaos of emotions that is cancer, I found beauty in the constant of love. Love that calmed the chaos. Love that didn't care that I was sick, or sad, or ugly, or whiny or BALD
. And even now, as small ringlets of curls begin to replace baby fine sprouts of fuzz atop my head, I am reminded of the beauty in cancer each morning by the one affirmation I placed on the door in my home that connects me to the outside world:
"I Am Not My Hair"!!
What are some things you'd rather people say to you about your hair loss? Share them in the comments below!
Photo courtesy of Alina Miroshnichenko.