Cancer Lesson #62: Chemotherapy Has a Long Tail

Rosa's Long Tail

Cancer Lesson #62: Chemotherapy has a long tail.

I’ve been lucky. My cancer lessons could have been much harder learned. Soon after I finished treatment, however, one slouched into my brain forcing me to comprehend that exhaustion – sheer debilitating fatigue – had become a part of my day.

I’d never felt so feeble, even during chemo — probably because I was at home during most of that time and could rest whenever I wanted.

You see, I had access to both my accumulated sick time and the library’s sick bank, which meant I didn’t have to work during that period. Plus I was between positions so there were no worries about how my department was functioning without me.

Returning to work made all the difference. I discovered I couldn’t work and do everything I thought I needed to, let alone everything I wanted to do. And I was only working part-time!

Most evenings I came home and stared at the walls.

It was weird to feel mostly healthy when you’re not yet completely recovered, but I knew it would get better.

My oncologist told me I was at about 50% of my normal energy level. Chemotherapy, he says, has a long tail.

It’s a great image, bringing to mind a sleek cat slowly disappearing from view. The last one sees is a flick of that tail, and then it’s gone.

I expected my “new normal” to appear as silently as the cat, and it did. One day I realized I felt, well, almost normal. And that was that.

No more tail.

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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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