Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Hairy Tale


So here it is. I absolutely, unequivocally do not want to lose my hair. (photo on left from 2005)

Call it my one vanity.

I am not one to wear much adornment. I have little jewelry in my possession. In fact, I was 40 before finally getting my ears pierced, and in the two years since then have found wearing earrings somewhat of a nuisance, dealing with ongoing infections in my left ear lobe.

Nor am I one to wear much make-up. I prefer the natural look, wearing a bit of foundation and some powder. Also a bit of eyeliner. Never wear lipstick, excepting the rarest of occasions.

And then there's my hair. Long, thick and straight. It's become somewhat wavy over the years, and that is noticeable when I let it air-dry.

I love my hair.

Some history. One of my earliest memories of childhood. I don't even know how old I was, possibly first or second grade. My family was eating out in a restaurant. The waiter came to the table and asked my parents "What would HE like." I was mortified at being mistaken for a boy. Indignant at the comparison. How could he not know I was a girl? I reasoned it was because my hair was too short. So I let it grow.

Except for a few years in high school, when stuffing hair under a marching band hat was a nuisance, I have kept my hair long. In college, I really let it go, and by my mid 20's my hair was past waist length. I cut it perhaps twice a year, each time taking off about 6 inches each time, yet even that was barely noticeable. When I graduated from seminary, I had to wear my hair in a long braid down my back because it was covering the red master's degree hood I had worked so hard to earn.

The past few years I have worn it shorter. A little below shoulder length, but still long.

And now I face chemotherapy. My hair will not be short. It will be gone altogether. Compared to my childhood self, I am not so worried about being labeled a boy. (though I will hold the label of "cancer patient") Well-meaning people say things like "it will grow back" - "it's worth it in the long run" - "what is hair compared to saving your life" - "you can wear a wig" - or I love this one "you might be one of the rare few who doesn't lose their hair." Maybe...but not counting on THAT. Please don't give me that one. Those odds just don't interest me.

Folks, let me just put it out there, I am not stupid. I know these things. And unless you've gone through it yourself, don't even try to understand. And even if you HAVE gone through it, for goodness sake, don't be patronizing. Empathy, yes. Patronizing, no.

Don't try to offer rationalizations. Don't try to offer fixes or substitutes. These things are not helpful when I am feeling very strong emotions. I may ask for suggestions about what I could do. THEN, you can offer your suggestions. Otherwise just say "I'm sorry."

My hair is one of my most recognizable features. I love my hair. It is an integral part of my identity. A year after my mom finished her treatment, her hair is still extremely short. Maybe I will look fine in short hair...but let's get through the 24 weeks of baldness first.

24 weeks. 168 days of looking in the mirror. (numbers are obviously approximate here) Being reminded each and every day that cancer cells have invaded your body. Never mind the other side effects...

I am pissed. So very pissed. And not just about the hair. But everything. I didn't ask to have cancer. Nobody does.

Cancer sucks. It really, really sucks.

Thoughts From a Dream

I just awoke from a troubling dream. In it I was walking across a bridge, and in the distance saw what appeared to be a lighting storm. The clouds obscured my view, yet the lightning seemed to be concentrated in one cluster, and it was drawing closer to me. I started to hurry. After I got over the bridge I was in a large open area, and suddenly what seemed to be lightning was actually a column of fire - sort of looked like a waterspout that you'd find over a body of water.

It was coming toward me, and I began running away from it. But it kept coming. I tried to judge its direction, but every time I went the opposite way, it seemed to follow me, getting closer and closer. I began to tire. The fatigue was incredible, but I kept dodging the fire. I felt myself panicking, wondering how I could keep the energy to save myself from being consumed by the fire. The fear was intense, and hopelessness was started to seep in. I finally was able to drag myself into a friend's home, and then that part of the dream was over.

When I awoke, it was not hard to see the correlation with my current circumstances. With everything that has been going on in my life the past several years, I had no trouble with the metaphor. I do feel relentlessly pursued by some destructive force. It seems no matter what direction I try to turn, it follows me anyway, getting closer and closer. I feel enormous fatigue. I am weary, and I wonder how I will get through this.

My friends, colleagues, and family have been wonderfully supportive throughout this. I know I have people to whom I can turn. Yet in the recesses of my own mind, I know that this is my battle. I have to go through it. I know I am not really alone, but I am tired - from everything that has gone on before - and I just don't know how I am going to get through this next year.