Going, going, gone…

February 23rd, 2014 § 35 comments

ImageSunday morning.

A different kind of strength: shave the few soft but strong hairs that are finally ready.

Now gone to the floor.

No tears.



You’ll be seeing more posts here in the near future about some of my feelings over the last two months. I’m starting to feel more like myself. The vertigo is lessening with the decrease I’ve been able to make in the pain medication, as we’d hoped. I’ve reduced the pain meds by 20% and the hope is that as the radiation effects start to kick in I will be able to decrease more. It’s been five weeks now since I finished radiation. I needed these Fentanyl patches desperately while the tumors were out of control. I could not have done it any other way. But certainly we all want me only using the amount I need to control my current level of pain.

I will be going back to meet again with my palliative care doctors this week to reassess my pain meds and talk about the plan for the next few weeks. I was thrilled to see that my last post about the importance of early palliative care and its definition (not end-of-life pain management… but instead total patient care pain management) was so well-received by patients and doctors alike. I encourage both sides to really form a team and focus on all side effects that patients are having with all kinds of treatment.

Patients function better not only emotionally but also physically in that they will heal better if their bodies are not weakened by pain. It takes trial and error to find the right drugs and the right amounts. It takes patience. Most palliative care doctors are experts in patience, I have fortunately found. I know that is not always the case and I always receive emails and comments from people who have had distressing experiences with their care. I am so sorry for that. I am hoping by relaying my own experiences, readers who have not yet found help with pain will have strength to ask again or pursue help if they’ve been unable to.

I’ve started my second month of chemotherapy (Taxol). I do three weekly treatments in a row and then have one week off each month. I had my first infusion of my second month on Thursday. I haven’t had any additional reactions to the chemo so I’ve been able to have the sessions done rather quickly (30 minutes for the 3 pre-medications and then 60 minutes for the actual Taxol). Sometimes I go alone and sometimes I have a friend join me. I am developing a routine and it has worked well so far.

IMG_2023We still have a lot of snow on the ground and on sunny days like today the brightness is astounding. We are all anxious for Spring but it’s just not here yet (more snow due to arrive this week). I am thinking of my snowdrops and daffodils just waiting under the snow pack. The photo at left is from last year… can’t wait to see this in the front yard again soon.

For today I’m sporting a head scarf and getting used to seeing a new reflection looking back at me in the mirror.


Make the most of this day. Whatever that means to you, whatever you can do. No matter how small it seems to you. Don’t waste it.

No Matter What, It Matters (The Psychological Importance of Hair)

December 17th, 2010 § 6 comments

originally published September 12, 2009

My friend Andrea found out she needs to have chemo. I cried a lot the day I found that out. Last night she emailed me that she was thinking about the whole “losing her hair” thing. She has gorgeous hair. Thick. Straight. Reddish-brown, in the sun I’d say it has a honey shine in it. She usually wears it back in a ponytail, as she says, “taking it for granted.”

I started writing her back to tell her that focusing on her hair wasn’t silly. There are many things about cancer that are real worries. One of them is going bald. Especially for a woman. And as I typed to her I realized the words were flowing fast and furious.

I realized all the things people had said to me when I was worried about losing my hair and all of the things people had said to me after it eventually happened.

Everyone wants to reassure you that it isn’t as bad as you think it is.
Some days you convince yourself it isn’t that bad.
Some days you are sure they are all lying to you.

Either way, you get through the days.
The day you take that hat or wig or scarf off and wear your newly-grown stubble or “mouse fur” out in public is a great day (My first hair was so fine and soft and thin that it didn’t resemble hair at all… I called it mouse fur because while it blissfully covered my head and was dark, it couldn’t be cut or styled).

So, for my friend, and for other women who are getting ready to start chemo (and those who bravely walk through the world every day without hair because of alopecia and other conditions), no matter what, it matters.

No matter what anyone says…
all the things they will say:
It’s only hair.
It’ll grow back.
You’ll look so pretty anyway.

With a face like yours it won’t matter.
We’ll get you a cute wig.
We’ll get great scarves.
It’ll grow back in no time.
Maybe it’ll be better after it grows in.

It might be curly.
It might be straight.
I know someone whose hair came in gray.
I know someone whose hair came in red.
I know someone whose hair came in black.
I know someone whose hair came in white.

Hers came in curly.
Hers came in straight.
Did you see hers?
It looks great.
Did you see hers?
It looks awful.

I like her better with short hair.
I liked her better with long hair.
You’re gonna look great.
I don’t know what I’d do.
I don’t know how you do it.
I don’t know how you’re gonna do it.

You are so brave.
You are so strong.
You can do it.
You can beat this.

No matter what anyone says–
It is just going to suck.

You may shed many tears over this one.
It may be harder than you thought.
I’ve heard brave women say it was harder than the actual chemo.
Reports show women actually turn down the chemotherapy they need because they don’t want to go bald.

It’s real.
It’s hard.
If it weren’t,
Women wouldn’t cover their heads.
They would just walk around bald.
They wouldn’t care.

But hair matters.
To us,
To our kids,
To our husbands,
To our friends.

My hair has never been the same since chemo.
I’m not alone in that.
In fact,
My hair now grows “the other way”…
My part is on the opposite side of my head than it used to be.
I think that’s kind of neat.
There’s the way my hair was B.C. (before cancer)
And the way it is now.

It is a big deal.
Don’t let anyone minimize it.
If they do, make them go shave their heads.
Not just clipper cut.
Straight razor shave it until there’s nothing left.
Then the eyebrows.
Then the eyelashes.
And then the stuff they might not think about.
Every piece of body hair.
Of course there are jokes.
And giggles.
The Brazilian wax done for you.
It’s funny.
But not so funny.

Then when your nose hairs fall out you suddenly realize how
Much you needed them.
Your nose runs constantly.
And it’s embarrassing.
Mine dripped clear liquid constantly.
I was so embarrassed.
No one had told me about that part.
I had a tissue stuffed in every pocket.
Because there were no hairs to stop the drip.
Chemo drip.

You try to imagine what it will be like.
You try to picture what you will look like bald.
You pull your hair back,
Slick it back,
Try a wig on to see what it might look like.
But nothing can prepare you.
For that crappy day,
Two weeks in.
When you scratch an itch
Or touch your head
And take away a handful of hair
Or find it on your pillow.
And the sight of it is so sad,
But so disgusting
So repulsive,
That you need it gone.

And then if you need me
You will call me.
And I will come.
And I will cut it.
Or maybe I will just come and cry with you.
And remember what it felt like.

No matter what anyone says,
It isn’t nothing.
It is something.

And even in the scheme of all of the things to be afraid of with cancer,
How you feel about losing your hair is real.

It matters.

And I remember.

The Woman in the Ivory Knit Cap

February 19th, 2010 § 0 comments

I took my friend Brenda out to lunch for her birthday today. While we were sharing an appetizer, a group of four people entered the restaurant: three men dressed in business attire accompanied a woman with a knit cap on. I realized in an instant she was bald underneath that covering and postulated that the hat would not be coming off.

They took off their coats and sat down at the table. I watched them for a while, from a distance, across the restaurant. The hat did not come off. She was bald, most certainly, and likely undergoing chemotherapy. My mind started to wander, and I started to wonder. Was she at a business lunch and able to keep working during this crisis? Was she done with treatment and waiting for her hair to grow back in or was she on an “off week” of chemo when food might be somewhat appealing?

I kept looking at her hat. It was freezing cold out today, so it wasn’t particularly out of place. But I kept staring at it. It looked handknit. Had someone she knew made it for her? Had she gotten it from the basket at the cancer center where people knit and donate hats for cancer patients?

I wonder what she’ll do with the hat when her hair grows back in: will she throw it away? Burn it? Give it to someone else who needs it? After wearing those head coverings day after day, you don’t want to lay eyes on them again. After my hair grew back, I saved my scarves for a friend’s sister who was set to start chemo shortly after I finished. I recently saw pictures of her wearing them. It’s odd to see them, associated with so many memories for me, on her head too. Now I have the scarves back, and some have already been lent to another member of the club.

My wig, worn twice, is packed away in the basement. I will soon donate it to a charity that provides wigs to women who can’t afford them. I hate that wig. I hate what it looks like. I hate how it feels. I hate how I looked in it. Twice I wore it, and I had to keep from tearing it off every second it was on my head. It wasn’t me; I felt like someone else in it. But I just can’t get rid of it yet. It’s like a trophy for walking through the fire.

I wonder if that woman I saw at lunch today feels like that. She and her group finished their meals and left before I did. I was really sorry I didn’t get to tell her that her hat looked great on her.

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