Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Cancer Doldrums

I haven't posted much in July as I am in the doldrums of cancer ... nothing moves far enough forward as to give one a glimpse at something different, nor does anything moves measurably backward as to give one a reason to fear that the inevitable is close. Instead, I remain adrift in an ocean without so much as a slight breeze to inch me toward one horizon or another.   It is a tedious, boring and repetitive existence and I am anxious to move out of it.

My weeks are excruciatingly predictable and measured only in terms of cancer maintenance.  I spend a lot of time with needles, receiving  16 to 20 "this is going to hurt for a minute" pokes each week at various offices and labs about town.  I spend hours tethered by IV to a pole from which hangs a bottle of poison I am voluntarily allowing into my system.  I waste the days following chemo fighting off fatigue and nausea.  I take countless pills to manage my nausea, my constipation, my diarrhea, and my joint pain only to take more pills to counter the steroidal rage and moodiness, tears and hopelessness that are side effects of the pills to manage the side effects of the chemo.   If I am truly blessed, I find a few hours or even an entire day when I feel close to normal and on those days I use my energy to visit the other doctors/technicians/clinical staff  required in the care and maintenance of cancer.

The doldrums pervade my home as well.  The flurry of visitors, callers, notecards and well wishes have evaporated into the hot, still air.  People remain uncomfortable with the idea of cancer, They often do not know what to say after their initial expression of shock or concern, after offering love, condolences and prayers and now, rather than have an awkward (or brutally honest) conversation, they choose to have no conversation at all.  With the exception of one or two brave souls, people have stopped calling/writing.  Even my supportive husband does not want to discuss it hoping that the day will soon come when we do not have to.  When pressed, he offers only platitudes and clich├ęs to end the conversation as quickly as possible and avoid the scarier "what if's?"   So I don't much talk about it.  It is eerily quiet most days.  

I no longer wish to go out in public and other than my visits to labs, clinics, doctors offices and oncology centers, find it so very difficult to make a public appearance. I am not comfortable going out sporting the oh-so-feminine bald look nor am I comfortable in a hat that only vaguely disguises that fact that I have no hair or eyebrows.   I am not comfortable going out in a scarf as no matter how artfully tied, it tells the world that I have cancer and elicits and entirely different and belittling experience when engaging with the public.  I have not yet found the right way to wear a wig without feeling like a 17th century English barrister or a woman with a hairy hotplate on her head so I rarely try to fake that I am as I was before chemo began.  I wish I were not so vain as to let any of that bother me, but it does and in the doldrums, the discomfort is only magnified.

I should consider myself blessed to be stuck in a place where nothing moves,  I suppose.  I have read accounts of others who are not so lucky as to be living in the doldrums.  For them, chemo and other treatments do not go well...there are allergic reactions, resistance, toxicity, infection and other life threatening complications.   I have none of those.  There are those who take their treatments bravely and faithfully, complain to no one and suffer in silence and still succumb to the disease despite doing all that was possible.  There are those who have to manage young families, aging parents, tentative jobs and unimaginable bills all the while dealing with treatment and it's side effects.   I should not complain - at all - ever.

The doldrums will no doubt subside.  Eventually a light wind will whip up and fill my sails taking me in one direction or another. If I am lucky, I will skip the sometimes post-doldrum storm and instead, blow gently to whatever lies next.   Having had several weeks of nothing but waiting I should be ready to embrace it.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow


Today is my last day with hair.   The chemo has taken its toll and what was once a source of pride is now a source of embarrassment/humiliation.  Gone are the long, strong, thick and healthy strands that contributed to a messy mane of blonde hair and in its place are short, broken, sparse and unhealthy strands clinging randomly to my pale pink scalp.   Where I used to feel like a lioness, I now feel like a cat with mange. 

It is time to shave it off.

Am I ready?

I knew that I would lose my hair when I agreed to move forward with chemotherapy.  I prepared by visiting my stylist (who also happens to be my best and lifelong friend) and having her cut my hair short as I heard it was less traumatic to lose your hair when short than when long. In reality it is no less traumatic, just a little less frightening to find clumps of shorter hair in your hand, on your brush, on the floor and on your pillow than it may have been to find the same amount of longer hair.  She custom fit a wig and ensured it would match my hair beautifully and she has already styled it so that I am ready for whatever lies ahead.  I purchased several new scarves, chemo caps and summer hats for those days when a wig is too much.   

I have intellectualized the loss and understand that it is temporary.  A year or so after my chemotherapy ends I will once again have hair, albeit short hair, and should be able to go out without a wig or a hat.  Several years from now as long as there are no recurrences of my cancer and no further need for chemo, I may even have shoulder length hair again.  I could be happy with that.

I suppose I am ready and yet…

Emotionally, I am anxious about being bald.  It will change the way people interact with me, it will make my cancer “visible” to others, and it will make me feel vulnerable.  I was comfortable with the way the world and I interacted; I don’t need that to change.

Superficially (and now let’s add guilt and shame for my vanity to my emotional anxiety), I am a “girlie” girl and my hair is important to me. I am simply going to miss my hair.   

I have always had hair – lots and lots of hair.  It has been a defining physical trait.  It is tied deeply to my sense of femininity.  It is part of my identity as a woman and making it “look good” has been something I’ve enjoyed ever since I was young and my mother rolled my hair in sponge curlers.  Over the years, I have changed my hair with my mood and it has been brown and red and blonde and grey.  It has been curly and wavy, worn neatly up or wildly down and has almost always been long.  Losing it as I am, in strands and clumps and chunks, makes me sad.  And it makes me angry.  It is surprisingly traumatic.  

But it’s just hair.   It will grow back.

I am ready.

Would You Rather...

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