August 18, 2019
Pre-cancer, when someone would ask, “What physical attribute do you like the best about yourself?” my response would be, “My hair!” I had lots of it and like my astrological sign of Leo, it was my mane. In the 80’s it was “BIG”. In the 90’s it was still “Big” but not as “BIG”. In the 2000’s, “BIG” became relative and I added highlights and color to my still long, but less “BIG” tresses. My hair spoke to me. It reminded me of my femininity and I was adamant about not cutting it until I was very old or no longer capable of raising my arms high enough to put my mane into a ponytail.
Chemo changed all that.
In May of 2017, shortly after I started on my second line of chemo, I had my head shaved. I didn’t want to wait for the day when it came out in handfuls. What remained of my long hair fell to the floor as Hana applied the clippers, a precursor of the changes yet to come. The day was significant because I had members of my posse with me. We made a day of it, taking pictures, lunching, it was a celebration of female camaraderie and support. There were no tears shed as these women fortified me and I didn’t dwell that day on my shaved head as my pate was quickly covered by a beautiful natural hair wig. Over the next couple of years, I developed a love/hate relationship with my wig. It was hot. At times it felt like there was simply too much of it. Traveling was a challenge as was washing and styling. More and more, I found myself with a baseball cap, ignoring the wondering and often times, pitying looks.
Changing treatments allowed my hair follicles to regenerate and slowly but surely, my hair grew back. No ponytail, only sassy, spiky, easy to deal with short “BIG” hair. It felt pretty amazing. My wig was placed out of sight, no longer a reminder of hairless days, relegated to a shelf in the closet surrounded by darkness behind a closed door.
But, the last time I found myself facing chemo and losing my hair it didn’t hurt this bad. This time it hurt and I mean physically hurt. My dying hair follicles were screaming in agony as I looked at Jim with tears in my eyes and pleaded with him to use the clippers we use for grooming Tess to shave off my hair. Being the good man that he is, he complied as I cried. Hearts were breaking in the back yard as Tess, hiding hyper vigilant behind glass doors, made ready to run if the clippers came in her direction. After the deed was done and my hard earned hair growth was swept up and tossed, I once again plunked a baseball cap on my freshly exposed scalp and we headed up for a few days of mountain therapy. Grateful not to be in pain, grateful that there wouldn’t be hair falling out in our mini house on wheels, grateful for the respite of the mountains with my man and my dog. Grateful that I had a few days to process the return of this crappy disease.
My wig has reemerged from its previously relegated position as closet shelf placeholder. Washed and trimmed, I wear it when I want/need to go cancer incognito. With or without my wig, I can feel my leonine alter ego once again noticeably thriving. Perhaps a bit wiser, more realistic and most importantly…still alive.
The first month of treatment (infusions once a week for three weeks followed by one week off) is behind me. I started round two on 8/12 and I’ll get a two week break following treatment #6 on 8/26, perfectly timed so that I can be in Dallas to speak at Foundation Medicine’s annual meeting in September. Scans are scheduled for September 16 and I’ll get results from my Super Ninja Most Wonderful Oncologist on the 17th. While my neutrophils are taking a hit, my tumor markers are responding favorably. The side effects are mostly the same as before, raw tongue and fatigue being most bothersome. I continue to rely heavily on acupuncture, massage, meditation and Love to ensure I’m doing everything I can to help mitigate the damage to healthy cells while encouraging the medicine to work. xoxo