Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Flashback: March 31, 2010: Gimme a Head with Hair

There is a Cancer Resource Center on the same floor as Dr. Laudi's office and the infusion center.  Since it is run by volunteers, it is not always open.   Mark has checked it out himself before when I have been waiting for labs or chemo.  Today, after visiting the clinic, Mark noticed it was open, so he, my mom and I stopped in.

The door opens into a room with a fireplace and comfortable sofa facing it. There is a table surrounded by chairs.  Books and brochures fill the shelves that line the walls.  Off to the left is smaller, closet-sized room filled with drawers and baskets filled with wigs.  A volunteer had encouraged Mark to have me take a look, because they offer one wig to each cancer patient free of charge. 

My sisters and I have grown out our hair before and donated it to Locks of Love, an organization that collects hair and makes it into wigs for people who have lost their hair. I am curious to look at the wigs.  I don't know if I really want a wig.  I don't need one.  My Aunt Connie said her wig was itchy and hot and she was always self-conscious about people staring at her.  She imagined people whispering to each other about it as she passed by.  She said she once left a grocery store in a panic, because she felt she was on display- eyes burning holes through her, inspecting her fake hair, judging her because of the obvious fakeness of her hair.

My head is bald.  It is what it is.  No more.  No less.  I actually forget about it at times.  I feel acceptance, even a sense of freedom.  My self worth is simply not bound to hair- probably to the disbelief and horror of my culture.

The reactions I see in others is an interesting study of human behavior.  When faced with a bald woman, do you:
-stare with curiosity?
-stare with disgust?
-stare as if you aren't staring?
-wonder if she has cancer? 
-look away and ignore her?
-think she is attention-seeking?
-wonder if she is part of a cult?
-feel at a loss for words, but find a way to show her you see her and care?
-stop your child from asking her about her hair?
-or do you just ask her about it?

What do I do when I see a bald woman? 

The volunteer asked me about my hair color and previous hairstyle. She pointed out a section of wigs that were similar to my own hair, then she left us alone so I could try then on. There were drawers and drawers filled with wigs, each in its own ziplock bag. There was a large mirror to look in. We started pulling out the wigs, comparing them to my old hair, trying to match it, but why should I let my DNA dictate the color of my hair now? I am bald. I am a blank slate. Soon, we were all venturing away from my usual brunette, shoulder-length bobbed hairstyle.

We took a hair adventure.....

You can imagine Mark's comments-
"just need some high heels and a street corner." 
(looks like I already have the wardrobe malfunction going on)
"And now for the 5 o'clock news.  For our first story..."
I had trouble stretching this wig around my head.
When I let go of the back to secure it in the front,
it slipped from my fingers 
and sailed through the air like a rubber band-
giving it a tossled look. 
Mrs. Claus
 or Mark said, "Oh, Mom!"
I think there's still a rat in this nest.

Our laughter filled the wig closet and spilled out into the adjoining room. The volunteer returned smiling. She asked if I had found one I liked, but I wasn't sure. She said she had another wig back in her office- a story wig, she called it- and she wondered if I would like to try it on.

"Can we hear the story?" we asked.

She told us a woman had purchased the wig for her daughter, but her daughter had died before she could ever wear it. So the mother donated the wig and asked that it be given to a young woman with cancer. I said I would like to try it on, so she went to get it. We were putting the wigs back in their respective bags and drawers when she returned and handed me the wig. I put this wig on carefully, with reverence. This wig was not just some fake hair. It had been intended for someone
The Story Wig

"What do you think?" She asked me as I looked at myself in the mirror.
I shook my head, "I don't know."

"Well, I can put this one back in my office and you can let us know what you decide."
It's a surprisingly hard decision.  To me, a wig is not something to hide beneath or replace something I have lost or pretend I am someone I am not. I am very clear about what a wig is not.  I just don't know what a wig is... to me.  
On another day, I tried this wig on
 while I waited.
Then, I tried the Story Wig on again.

Something in me was drawn to this wig,
or more likely,
to the story of this wig.

While the volunteer fussed with the strands of hair,

I decided to give this wig a home.
And that's what I did...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Flashback: March 15, 2010. Chemo Comedy Scene 2

My second trip to the clinic infusion center for chemo.  YeeHaw!

Hey, did you hear the one about the bald, pregnant woman getting chemo for breast cancer?   Me either.  People don't seem to joke around about such things. 

This reminds me of a story:  My mom went to the University of Minnesota to get her Nursing Degree.  As one of her electives, she chose the class "Acting for Non-Theatre Majors."  Why did she choose that class I asked her? 

"Because it scared the shit out of me," she said. 

A major portion of her grade was based on her lip-synching performance to a song of her choice.  On that particular morning, she frantically searched through her class catalog to see if it was too late to drop the class without taking a failing grade- it was too late and she was stuck between an F and a hard place.  With courage and a positive attitude- she did it and she ended up getting an A in the class.  She still says this class should be a college requirement.  I don't think she means the acting part itself.  I think the experience that "scared the shit" out of her and terrified her so much she wanted to bail out, actually forced her to dig deep.  This was the real lesson- the buried treasure- of this class.  The courage and positive attitude it took to get to the other side was not created by the experience, but was always inside of her just waiting for her to find it. 

Today, I was thinking about one of her earlier assignments for that class.  She was randomly paired up with another Acting-For-Non-Theatre-Majors Student.  My mom, a thirty-something, married, mother of four was paired up with a guy who already had a college degree, but was taking the class hoping to potentially tap into a new dating pool.  Too bad for him.  Each pair in the class was given the exact same script.  The assignment was for each pair to use this script to create both a tragedy and a comedy. 

My mom's partner was into the tragedy.  He thought up scenerios that all had a similar theme: They were playing a couple.  He was breaking up with her.  She was devastated, desperate, begging him to stay.  My mom patiently listened to the variations- sometimes they were horny high school sweethearts, sometimes professionals dating exclusively for years, sometimes married with children,...  My mom told him this would be a huge test of her acting ability, because in real life she would just caution the guy not to let the door hit him in the ass on the way out.  She laughed.  He didn't get it.  They had to meet outside of class to work on this project.  He wanted to meet in restaurants or bars, but she put the kabosh on that.  He admitted he wasn't really concerned about his grade- he was taking the class pass/fail and it showed.  She ended up writing both scenes.

The pairs acted out their scenes for the entire class to see.  My mom shares this story, because she said it was amazing to see the same script played out in so many different, creative, surprising ways. 

I was thinking about that today.  I think about that a lot.

Cancer handed me a script with tragedy written all over it.  But then again...cancer handed the script to me- a bald, pregnant woman getting chemo for breast cancer- a woman who loves a comedy....

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Flashback: March 13, 2010: False Alarm!

The experienced Ortho doctor said the condition of my bones is concerning, but he did not recommend surgery at this time.   I was discharged from the hospital today without having a Total Hip Replacement.  I will continue my treatment as planned. 

Whew, dodged that bullet!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Flashback: March 12, 2012: Orthopedic Conference

Mark and I went to the University of Minnesota Hospital for an ortho consult.  To my surprise, I was admitted to the hospital on the spot.  The surgeons are unsure of how to proceed, so they are consulting ortho specialists far and wide.  I am on complete bedrest.  They are bouncing around words like "total hip replacement," so they have our attention. 

My awesome sister, Amy, took over our parenting duties- picking up Amore from our house and Natalie and Larissa after school, feeding them and caring for them.  I don't worry at all when they are with her, which allows Mark and I to focus on the decisions at hand.

To spare you the suspense:  I AM NOT having a Total Hip Replacement.  I WILL NOT sign a consent for one. 

Mark asked a million questions.  He asked for doctor's opinions and about their level of experience.  He learned that many of the experienced Ortho Specialists are currently out of town attending a Ortho Conference.  Mark told them we will wait until they return to decide.  

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Flashback: March 11, 2010: Bones

I have horrible left hip pain.  Mark called Dr. Laudi who ordered an Xray. 

Results: Bony disease is worse. 
              I have possible fractures in my pelvis and the head of my left femur is 70-80% tumor. 

Cancer cells infiltrated and displaced my bones.  The chemo is killing the cancer cells.  Now, there are  holes in my bones where the cancer cells used to be, so my bones are fragile.  Dr. Laudi is concerned about fractures, so I have an Ortho consult tomorrow.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Flashback: March 8, 2010 zzzzzz zzz Buzz Cut zzzzzz

Natalie's 10th birthday is on March 6, so Mark surprised her by taking her for her first airplane trip to  Chicago to visit her uncle, Steve, Aunt Laura, and cousin, Nicole.   The house is quiet without them, though we call each other throughout the day and Mark sends pictures so I can see what they are up to.  Larissa, Amore and I are hanging out at home, making popcorn and watching movies. 

I had labs drawn on the 5th, Dr. Laudi said my tumor markers have dropped into the 50s.  The chemo is doing its job.
My hair is falling out.  I wake up with hair on my pillow, hair in my eyes, hair up my nose.  It tickles and makes me feel so itchy it's driving me crazy.  I have balding spots and thin spots and thick spots.  I remember my great- aunt Connie describing her hair loss after chemo. 

She always laughs and says, "I looked just like the Crypt-keeper on that old TV show."  

Good grief!!!   The really scary thing is.... I know how she felt.

My mom, Amy and Terran planned to come over today to help clean the house and catch up our laundry.  I called Amy before they left and asked her to grab the dog clippers.  I know hair is a huge deal to many people- it's usually the first side effect oncologists and nurses prepare you for- but it's not a big deal to me.   At least, I don't think it is.  It's just hair.  Hair isn't me. 

Larissa and Terran played as we cleaned.  The clippers sat in their case on the kitchen island until the dishes and vacumning were done and the clothes folded and put away.   Then, we were ready...

I know from the outside, it doesn't really look like it

but it does feel like the crypt-keeper from the inside.

Now I know how the dogs feel.

It is kind-of funny

and surreal

and shocking

and hilarious

and Amy says everyone should have a mohawk at least once. 

It also feels kind-of ...
a loss.... 

I will keep this hair until Spring,
then leave it outside
as a gift to mother birds
building their nests.
Always honest, Larissa said, "I don't like it."
Amore stood on my offending boob,
squashing it into submission.

Then, with the simple wisdom and grace of a dog,
Amore showed me what I already knew.         
Hair is not me.  I am still me.  

Cancer and chemo can take many things,
but they can't take love :)