F*CK, F*CK, F*CK!
I’m not someone who uses curse words. I believe that words carry weight and I try to choose them carefully. But after learning I’d be undergoing five months of chemotherapy, these were the only words I found falling out of my mouth.
F*CK, F*CK, F*CK!
I was sailing through my cancer journey. Getting the diagnosis was scary- mostly because of all the unknown variables. But once we had a plan of action with surgery, I was good. Plowed ahead, had the surgery, got off the pain meds within 2 days, was back to my daily morning walk within 3 weeks , driving at 4 weeks and doing sit-ups at 5 weeks. I felt good and was lulled into the belief that my life as I knew it pre diagnosis was returning.
To determine whether chemo would be necessary, my tumor was sent off to the lab for a Mammaprint test. It evaluates the likelihood of the cancer returning. For some reason, we thought it would come back highly unlikely. But nope- it showed a 29% chance of coming back if I don’t do chemotherapy. So, a five month course of action was recommended. Five months. OK, that’s not as long as it took me to carry my babies to term. It’s about the length of a gymnastics season. And it’s less than it takes to get a series out of development and into production.
But this gal, well, I just don’t like taking medicine. At all. Not even Tylenol. And while I’m tough as nails when it comes to dealing with pain, I’m a big ‘ole wuss at feeling ill. Not to mention, I’ve spent the last ten years becoming so mindful of what I put in my body. Also, I understand surgery. Something’s there that shouldn’t be there, just cut it out. But medicine- it’s mysterious and magical. Like when you have a body ache, how does Tylenol know how to go to that spot in your body and treat it?!
And the topper…yep, I’m gonna lose my hair. I’ve always been (naturally) blonde. Never had to touch the color of my hair, which I hear is a big deal for women.
And isn’t this ridiculous- all of my kvetching? This is going to keep me alive!!!! For a very long time!!! So to add another layer to all of this, there’s all sorts of judgments about all my kvetching now as well!
But I keep returning to the hair loss thing. I can’t seem to help it. There’s something about losing my hair that is dominating my thoughts and keeping me from focusing on the positives. I’m not aware of a sense of femininity that many women say their hair provides. And I don’t spend a lot of time styling my hair. (Although, I LOVE shampoos! All the great smells- I have 5 different shampoos in my shower.) But all through my earlier years of negative self-talk around body image, two things have remained positive: my hair and my breasts. And this cancer has affected them both. At least for a time. So what’s this all about?
A couple things come forward for me. First, I’ve always been self-conscious of my long face and I feel my hair has always helped to round it out. Second, from the time I can remember, being blonde has set me apart from everyone else. It’s something that makes me unique. Next, I’m getting old and my face shows the wrinkles of time. Having no hair is going to emphasize that. And lastly, everyone will now know I have cancer.
And one more thought that’s resonating as I explore this: how have I been hiding behind my hair? If all the thoughts above are true, what have I been avoiding dealing with because of my hair?
My Oncologist tried to stave the fear and disappointment by telling me about the cold cap. It’s a device that’s placed on your head during chemo and it freezes your scalp to save your hair. Wow, cool! (HA!) OK, I’ll just do that and not deal with the hair loss. Wait, it costs a fortune? It’s ok, parents and siblings jump on board to help cover the cost- yay! And just like that I’m lured into denial for a little bit longer.
We shared the chemo news with the boys but reassured them that I won’t lose my hair with the help of this cold cap. Losing my hair has been the one thing that my 10 year old has expressed as a fear for him. He had no problem helping me empty my drains after surgery or deal with all the gross, gory stuff. But a Mom without hair is where he stumbled. He doesn’t even like it when I come home with a short haircut!
The following day I begin to research cold caps. The cost is even more than we anticipated. The cap is worn during the entire infusion and then an additional 6 hours, which would be a total of over 9 hours for me. I’d be doing that 16 times. Evidently, it’s very cold and uncomfortable and someone must be with you the entire time to change it out every 30 minutes. Whoa- that’s a lot more than just putting on a cap. The cold cap people say there’s an 80% success rate and consider a 30% hair loss successful. So there’s no guarantee it’s even going to work. And if it does, there’s a good chance it’s not going to look very much like the hair I’m used to seeing. OVERWHELM. I have a talk with my boys. I mention some of my concerns and we decide I should try it for at least one chemo treatment.
But I’m starting to feel something shift; an opening to a different path.
The next day I wake up and….hmmmm… I’m not sure I’m up for 5 months of chemo with a frozen head. Or wondering if the cap is working. I start pulling my hair back as I check myself in the mirror to see what I’d look like as a bald woman. I speak with a couple of people who have gone through chemo and are in various stages of bald/ returning hair growth. I’m encouraged by their strength and courage. I begin to consider not using the cold cap. Denial is slowly being chipped away.
The next day I begin to research youtube videos on cold caps. I see some success stories, but many share their challenges and thoughts that it’s not worth the effort. The money, the time and effort, the discomfort and the huge chance that it’s not even gonna help that much. And I’m thinking, do I want to wake up every morning wondering if it’s working? Over five months?
Slowly I’m noticing that I’m coming to a place of acceptance. I’m gonna be a bald woman. Wow. OK. Somehow acknowledging that, out loud, allows me to breathe just a little easier. I feel less tight and an awareness that I’m heading in a direction that’s going to serve me better.
I share my perspective with my boys. I show my younger son a picture of a friend with her real hair before cancer and with the wig she now wears. He doesn’t mind it. I ask if it would be ok with him if I did something like that and, much to my surprise, he agrees. Wow- he came to that much quicker than I anticipated.
And so that’s how it goes. I’ve learned that on my regiment, my hair will begin to fall out on Day 17. My plan is to shave it on Day 18.
So begins my countdown to baldness. Yes, yes, yes, I’m trying to remember this is all to save my life! I know. But this is part of my process of acceptance. Please, don’t judge me. And Sarah, that goes for you too! So, I forgive myself for judging myself as petty, vain, ugly, old, and sick.
I remind myself it’s possible to be both grateful for all that modern medicine is offering me to keep me alive and pissed that it takes my hair at the same time.
I understand this is an opportunity- all of it- even the hair loss. It’s allowing me to look deeper and release some old, limiting beliefs, and maybe, just maybe, start to see myself a little differently. As someone who is so much more than my hair and my body.
Yes, I’m a soul having a human experience.
A few days later and I feel so much better. That was a whirlwind of information coming our way and it was tough going. But now, I have my optimism, hope and perspective back. This is just another thing. Everyone has a thing. For now, this is just mine.
Not sure how I’ll feel in the days leading up to my hair loss. Or how it will be for the year that follows, as a bald woman. I’m certain there will be many opportunities to explore this even further. For now, I’m looking forward to wig shopping. I’m also going to go buy a scarf! I’ve heard that the square, cotton ones are the best!