Cancer Lesson #45: Hair Today. Gone Tomorrow.

Cancer Lesson #45: Hair today. Gone tomorrow.

The first time I cried – I mean really cried, not just getting teary-eyed – I’m ashamed to admit it was over my hair.

You see, it had begun to fall. And so I cried, even though I was prepared with my sassy wig and scarves and soft t-shirts to wear on my head. (You don’t know that trick, do you? It’s a secret, known only to those who have been inducted into the “Cancer Family.”)

I knew it was stupid and vain and ridiculous to cry over something that I’d expected to happen, something that was the result of – Hello, Kym! – medication that was saving my life. Especially when I’d already gone from long to shorter to extremely short hair in preparation for this very occurrence.

Fortunately, The Engineer was home. He hugged me until my tears stopped, and then I made him take me out for ice cream, which made me feel even better. Later that weekend, we shaved my head.

I was okay with being a baldie after that. Taking control of the situation helped, I think. In an upcoming lesson, you’ll see we even managed to have some fun documenting “The Great Shave.”

Note: When I posted this originally, it contained following addendum:

This isn’t a plea for sympathy, so if you leave a comment, please make sure it’s of the “Buck up, honey” variety and not telling me I have a right to feel sorry for myself. Such a statement would be wrong when there are so many people who struggle every day with so much more. However, do feel free to tell me to sort myself on and get on with it.

I’m pleased to say my friends honored that request. These are the comments I received:

Buck up, honey I have always thought that, if I lost all my hair, the first wig I would buy would be a full Irish dance wig, kind of like what I wear in competitions. I’ve often fantasized about having tight, springy curls that bounce in RL  Of course, you know how short my hair is! I’ve often wished I could wear the wig in real life…or any other wig that looked good.

 Honestly, I’ve often been surprised that changing hair styles like one changes nail polish has never caught on. Even Barbie does it! No more bad hair days. No more dandruff (well, where anyone can see). I’ve been going gray since I was 18 years old…I should buy stock in Clairol. I’d save SOO much money on hair colors and dye-friendly conditioners. And changing colors would be easy. I can change the style and color of my Second Life avatar’s hair on a whim–and I do! I bet if Oprah came out with a line of wigs, everybody would do it 

Hey Kym, Look on the bright side. After you shave your head. . . at you and Dave with still be a fine looking couple. LAUGH DAMMIT ;p)

Dave’s had no hair for as long as I can remember, hugs xxxx

I read too many old books of fairy tales and legends in my youth and so can’t help but transform this into an illustration from one of them. So, picture it: a woodcut print, of course, but hand tipped with colors and gold by some long fingered scribe working by candlelight that picks up not just the gleam of the gold on his brush, but the gleam of his eyes which, though wise, are merry – if too old for his youthful face.

And, there, on his paper sits a figure clad in the garb of a knight, but one slim and supple as a reed. The shining plate of the armor is picked out in emerald enamel forming a lush vine with the leaves shaped as hearts that twines around tiny books, an inkwell, flowers, birds, and other motifs the artist has only hinted at and we can only guess at. Just past the knight’s shoulder, and mostly out of frame, stands the a squire holding a helm and though we can only just see the fingers of one hand, from their delicacy, we can see that the squire is a young girl.

Behind you, a man stands clipping your hair with gentle hands to let it fall at your feet in a gleaming and silken heap. And, though the knight is weeping, the tears glittering like stars on the pale face, it is the eyes that strike us – for through the pain and fear and tears, strength burns through like a flame and they are fierce.

Someone who does not know the truth, would surely mistake this knight for Joan of Arc, but those of us who know you, Kym, would recognize your face there and would know just how sharp the sword that lays across your lap to be.

(And that is what comes, my dear, of having self-indulgent writer friends.  )

Buck up honey! Thinking of you and your lovely soon be beautifully hair-free head. 

I have been thinking about your post ever since you sent it. There are so many “handles” in it to grab on to for a response. As Jean d’Arc wrote above, sort of, it is what hair symbolizes, or some such thing. What not having hair symbolizes. It’s not just, “a visible sign to the world, but a representation of an inward state.” Maybe. Without hair, in many ways your privacy is gone, and there’s therefore more internal pressure to “buck up”. There’s a new teeter totter to find balance with. So many images and ideas came from your writing. I just wanted to share some of them, tell you how much and how often I think of you, And I send you that blue calm shield.

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Cancer Lesson #44: Damn! That Hurt!

Cancer Lesson #44: Damn! That hurt!

Until you have a <insert procedure here>, you have no way of knowing how much it will hurt. Sometimes, appointments I dreaded turned out to be mere doddles. But occasionally, the opposite proved true.

Everything affects everyone differently, so no one can actually tell you what to expect. As my friend Dale once told me, “You have to just give yourself up to it.”

I’m not Zen enough to have followed this advice one hundred percent, but it’s still good advice.

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Cancer Lesson #??: Having Survived Cancer Makes Me Luckier — Not Braver — Than Those Who Didn’t

Cancer Lesson #??: Having survived cancer makes me luckier — not braver — than those who didn’t.

It’s nice to be a cancer survivor, to act as a symbol of hope to others. And yet, I have a problem wearing a label which seems to imply I did something more than those who fought cancer and didn’t survive.

That’s not true.

I’ve been lucky.* My treatment worked, leaving me clear of cancer.* But it’s not because I fought any harder than those who didn’t beat the disease.

In truth, I had it pretty easy. One big surgery, rehab, three months of chemo, and now, nearly three years later, I’m doing well. So, I have scars (big ones!), and the muscles in my stomach and right shoulder will never be quite as strong as they once were. I can do pretty much everything I did before. 

I call that damn lucky.*

So many others go through so much more with less positive results.

They are the brave ones, don’t you think?

*at least for now. (I add this because, like many survivors, I believe that once you’ve had cancer, you are never truly free of it.)

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Cancer Lesson #43: It’s Not Fair

Originally posted on 4 July 2011. Reposted in honor of a co-worker fighting to stay alive and a friend about to undergo chemo for the second time.

Cancer Lesson #43: It’s Not Fair.

A friend died this morning.

As his wife put it, after more than a year fighting the disease, today he declared his own Independence Day from cancer.

It’s not fair. Some people spend their entire lives abusing their bodies – jumping from one medical crisis to the next – yet live on, while Dale, who struggled so hard to stay alive just couldn’t catch a break.

I’m not stupid. I understand life isn’t fair.  But at times like this, it’s hard to accept that reality. Twice in the last six months, cancer has cut down a friend who had much to live for and much to give. Someone who was kind and brave and fought like hell to live.

In memory of Dale Hood and Pat Carterette. The world is a lesser place for having lost you.

In honor of all those who continue the fight.

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Cancer Lesson #42: “My, What Bad Taste You Have”

Cancer Lesson #42: “My, what bad taste you have.”

Chemotherapy frequently results in a change in how things taste. When I started treatment, my inner brat constantly whined about how I would survive if I couldn’t taste my beloved Caramel Frappuccino Lights. It would have been more useful to ask what I would do with the money I saved by not buying them, but my childish self is always more concerned about instant gratification rather than money. I refused to think about whether or not I would survive cancer — I just assumed I would.

Dr. H. said some patients compare it to chewing on a metal fence.

Me, I thought it was more like eating a rubber bath mat after not brushing your teeth for a week.

I consoled myself with the idea that some breast cancer patients lose weight during treatment.

Alas, I proved to be in the 50% that gained.

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