Cancer Lesson #84: Locks of Love

Cancer Lesson #84: Locks of Love

If I seem a bit obsessed with hair, that’s partly because people associate hair loss with chemo, and not because I’m especially vain about my hair, though I used to be.

My wavy chestnut strands dwindled in importance when I was diagnosed. And when the doc confirmed I would lose those strands with chemo, I decided it made sense to get them cut before surgery. A shorter cut would be easier to care for during my recovery and might make the inevitable loss of hair a little less stressful.

It also made sense to donate the hair instead of leaving it on the salon floor. I was going to be bald, but maybe my hair could help someone suffering a more long-term hair loss.

So, here’s an idea. If you’re making a similar change in hairstyle (hopefully not because you’re going to lose your hair to chemo), perhaps you’d like to donate your clipped ponytail to  Locks of Love.

The process is simple, and it’s a nice thing to do. Just click on the link above for more information.They’ll even send you a certificate of appreciation like the one below.

And, for what it’s worth, you’ll earn my thanks too.certificate-of-appreciation2



Cancer Lesson #67: Lowbrow Humor

Cancer Lesson #67: Lowbrow Humor

Your eyebrows and lashes may disappear more slowly than your hair. Likewise, when they reappear, the process may be sluggish.

This means you could be sporting the Uncle Fester look for longer than you expected.

While I was grateful not to lose my lashes and brows entirely, I found I missed them more than my hair. And though both returned eventually, neither they nor my hair are quite as thick as I remember them being before cancer.

Cancer Lesson #64: Hair Today Revisited

Cancer Lesson #64: Hair Today Revisited

When my hair first started to grow again, I looked like a baby ostrich.  I couldn’t quite carry off the uber-chicness of extremely short hair,  so I kept my head covered for the most part, usually with my baseball cap (very un-chic).

My daughter would take off the hat and rub my head like it was Buddha’s belly. I put up with it because I love her.

By the time I went back to work, the weather was getting cooler, so I started wearing wigs. I was working in the children’s section of the library, and the kids’ reaction to my hair color was sometimes quite entertaining.

For my first storytime in seven years, I felt like I needed a little extra oomph. I wore Darling Daughter’s fluorescent pink wig and promised my small charges the next time they saw me my hair would be a different color.

To follow through on that pact, I bought a new wig from a place I call “the hooker store.” (Darling Daughter didn’t appreciate the humor, but if you saw it, you’d understand.)

“Ooooh! Your hair is violet,” said one little girl, exhibiting an astonishing vocabulary and knowledge of color for a five-year-old.

Another little one said, “I like your hair dye.”

Her mother was aghast.

“How do you know it’s dye?” she asked.

“Because her hair was a different color last time I saw her,” replied her unfazed daughter.

The Starbucks barista asked if my hair color was in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

It was, I suppose, albeit unintentionally.

Even when I wore my “normal” wig, people commented. Maybe the raspberry pink streaks made me more approachable.

My favorite was midnight black with electric blue tips, also Darling Daughter’s.

She wouldn’t give it to me, though, not even when I played the cancer card.



Cancer Lesson #55: A Close Shave Can Be a Wonderful Thing

Cancer Lesson #55: A Close Shave Can Be Wonderful.

Every year, The Engineer, Darling Daughter and I go to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for Airventure.

This event is a celebration of aviation with over 10,000 planes and 100,000 people camping out on the field on any given night. We camp with a group of friends from all over the country, most of whom we see only at Oshkosh once a year.

This group, the Metro Warbirds, has been together for more than thirty years, (though we’ve only been part of it for the last ten). And over the years, they’ve developed some traditions.

One of these is brät night, complete with Wisconsin bratwurst, corn on the cob, and polka music. Metro Warbirds, old and new, and many guests join in the yearly tradition.

Then, as dusk falls, Bernie, master of all things ceremonial, asks us to look toward the sunset and join him in remembering those who have “gone west.”

We quietly gaze at the sky, each of us mentally reciting a litany of friends we have lost this year.



Buffy’s father.

All who are now gone.

The sun sinks below the horizon, and Bernie’s voice raises again in words that have become familiar to us all.

“The clock of life is wound but once, and no man has the power, to tell just when the hands will stop, at late or early hour … The present only is our own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in tomorrow, for the clock may then be still.”*

But during my cancer year, Bernie added something new. Pulling out a package of index cards, he instructed several teens to hand them out to everyone.

“Tonight,” he said, throwing his hat to the ground, “we’re going to help the American Cancer Society in their quest for a cure.”

He urged us to write down a dollar amount on our card, the amount that we would donate in the next year, and we began fumbling for pens, passing them on after writing our numbers and throwing the cards into the hat.

My eyes soon brimmed as full as the hat, and still Bernie – a cancer survivor himself – wasn’t done.

To honor these pledges, and all who have fought cancer, he pulled up a camp chair with a dramatic flourish, seated himself, and announced  “A Cut for the Cure.”

Tiger, one of the Arkansas contingent and a barber in real life, pulls out his electric razor.

The Engineer follows, then Rand from California, and Mike the margarita maker. Mississippi, who cooks the best barbecue in Illinois, is followed by his son Robert.

Robert ends up with a temporary Mohawk but Tiger eventually relents and cuts off the middle before Tom the Colorado beekeeper is seated for his turn.

Next is Sir William, who flies for United, clutching my hand for moral support, and then I lose track.

A kid I’ve never seen before is shorn. Maybe he just wanted a free cut.

Cameras flash, probably reflecting off our bald heads.

My friend Steve make the cut. Later he tells me he did it to honor both Dale and me.

Another guy I haven’t met. This is getting a little weird. Still, I can’t stop crying. I understand this night is for all who have fought cancer, but I also know that includes me.

I’m not the only one bawling. Almost everyone here has given me an emotional — and wet — hug. Two men I’ve just met tell me, with tears in their eyes, of their wives’ battles with cancer, and I’m grateful to hear that both women are survivors.

Finally, Tiger puts away his clippers. Darling daughter, wearing her flourescent pink wig, counts up the pledges and cash. In a few short hours, the Metro Warbirds have raised more than $3300.

At least seventeen men now sport a haircut like mine, and they look like little boys who’ve just gotten their summer haircuts. I feel accepted, a little less freakish, for the first time in weeks, surrounded by smiling (and crying) people who love me.

We go to bed that night with a new Oshkosh memory, leaving only a pile of human hair near the tail of the plane in the row across from us and wondering what the owner will think when he discovers a pile of human hair while pre-flighting his plane.

But in the end no one is around to ask.


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.

Enhanced by Zemanta