Indefinite waiting is one of the harder parts of a cancer diagnosis. That, and some of the things you inevitably lose. The first week of January 2019, I had a mastectomy. And for some bizarre reason that I still can’t understand about me…I did not care one bit that I was losing a piece of myself. I still don’t, not at all. A week later, my plastic surgeon attempted reconstruction. Due to complications from the previous surgery, he fitted me with an expander instead. This is a place holder for my future anatomy, that they slowly fill to my original size. This thing is my nemesis but I have gotten used to it. A week after that, I visited my oncologist, thinking I would have some idea concerning whether or not I would have radiation and chemotherapy. I only got one answer: NO RADIATION! Which was fabulous news! But I would have to wait longer on the answer for chemotherapy.
I waited and waited and waited. My appointment to discuss the remaining portions of my treatment was postponed 3 times. The night before the second postponed appointment, I was sitting down at my piano, playing and singing my heart out to Lauren Daigle’s “Once and For All” – a song about surrender – when I had this strange sense come over me. It was a little bit like dread. I stopped in the middle of the song and I think I whispered out loud to God, “You are going to make me go through ALL of it aren’t you?” Just a quiet presence pressed upon me as my fingers found the keys again and I sang Ms. Daigle’s words, “Oh let this be, where I die. My Lord with thee, crucified. Be lifted high as my kingdoms fall once and for all.”
Well, I didn’t get an official answer until over 6 weeks after the mastectomy: chemo it is.
The first treatment day arrived and my mother came with me. I wore my prayer shawl that was knitted and prayed over by my cousin’s wife. It was a long, difficult 8 hour day that I don’t care to go into. However, the aftermath of side effects were very bizarre for me, very unlike what most people experience…until my hair began to fall out 3 days ago. That is something very common to people undergoing chemotherapy. I was minding my own business, reading a book before bed, when I reached up to scratch my itching scalp and pulled out several strands of hair. That first small clump drop-kicked my stomach into my neighbor’s front yard. I ran to the bathroom and reached up to my scalp again…more strands just falling into my hand. It unsettled me, horribly so. So much more than the mastectomy. That night, I had nightmares about it. I awoke in the morning to more hair falling. I put on my lipstick and my biggest, floppiest hat and tried to put on my bravest face for the day.
I realized that night that even the hat wasn’t keeping all my hair contained, so I wrapped my tender head in a scarf. The next day, I had absentmindedly reached up to scratch again but then pulled on what I thought was a bug or a leaf or something but it turned out to be the biggest chunk of hair yet and I involuntarily screamed. Scared my kids. I ran downstairs to show my husband and his jaw dropped. He looked at me and said, “I think it will be less difficult on you and you’ll have less nightmares if we just buzz it down short – like GI Jane.” He was right, I could go for that, channel some grit from my inner G.I. Jane.
So, we got all the necessary tools and walked into our small bathroom, anxiety gripping me. “Are you ready?” he asked. I shouted in panic, “NO!…..Let me put on some lipstick!!!” He patiently watched me run to find it. I chose a lovely rose color that the Almay Trademark entitled “Be Strong.” How appropriate. I marched back into the bathroom and I blasted Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” as loud as I could and my husband laughed. I looked in the mirror one last time and groaned. He tried to pat my arm but I shrugged him off. He backed away with “Okay, okay…” I don’t want sympathy. I need courage.
I threw my head over the sink lined with a trash bag and I sang along with Aretha as my hair piled up in there. He worked painstakingly and carefully. Ms. Franklin only had to sing the song 3 times before he was done, since I cut my hair significantly shorter before I started chemo. Then, I shielded my eyes, took a deep breath and looked in the mirror. For a second, I mistook myself for my brother…a much smaller more feminine version, of course. It was alarming. My youngest walked in and said, “Mom, you look different…like a different kid.” Oh good, I look like a child. That’s fun. Then, I closed and locked the bathroom door, and cranked up Alanis Morissette while I showered off. I think I belted out some of my frustration and dare I say rage? Singing feels better than crying.
My hair hasn’t fallen out completely yet – I have A LOT of hair on this head. But this is one hurdle that had me in its grip. It was the falling, the elongated losing that was bothering me and I was helpless to do anything to stop it or fix it. I had to just accept it – so I hit it head on, embracing the inevitable but on my own terms – buzz it off. Anxiety, nightmares, fear are all gone! So now, I make the best of it all with pretty scarves, earrings, lipstick, and channeling Demi Moore’s G.I. Jane. I am trying to fight the idea of loss or even my own ego with surrender. Surrender: a willingness to give it up of my own accord, knowing that this is part of God’s way of stripping me down of anything unessential and refining me into the woman He planned from the beginning…so I may as well do it with some serious moxie. Why fight it?