Dr. Wendy Harpham of On Healthy Survivorship poses a great question to cancer survivors last week. She wants to know which stage of cancer was the most challenging? Diagnosis? Beginning treatment? Ending treatment? Some time in the middle?
For Dr. Harpham it was those limbo days between initial diagnosis and treatment beginning. I know what she means. For me, it seemed an exceptionally long time. I was diagnosed on December 22, 2005 – the Thursday just before Christmas. Most every healthcare professional was heading out of town. Certainly no one wanted to take on a new patient over the holidays. Consequently, I didn’t meet with my new Oncologist until January 3, 2006 and began chemo the next day.
Those 13 days were beyond horrible. There was a cancer inside me thriving at my expense. It seemed to grow bigger every day! I could feel it. I swear, I could hear it whisper dark promises of an early death and motherless children.
What bittersweet Holidays that year. Daddy-O and I had agreed not to tell anyone about my diagnosis until after New Year’s. Why ruin everyone’s Christmas? The end result, however, was a great burden on our hearts that we couldn’t share with our friends and family. Each seasonal tradition was painful beyond belief. Who would search with loving dedication for just the right gift from Santa? Who would listen to their babbling, aimless words and sift from them their heart’s desire? Would I ever read The Night Before Christmas to my little boys again? Would I ever see their eyes alight with the wonder that is Christmas morning ever again?
The day I began chemotherapy was the. best. day. of the next 10 months. No more being hostage to fate! No more victim! At last I was fighting back!
Still, I don’t think that was the most trying time for me… My toughest day was the day I truly started losing my hair and made the decision to shave the rest off. Until that day I had not really felt ill despite my first round of chemo. Until that day cancer had seemed vague and ephemeral; death had been theoretical.
Roughly two weeks after my first chemotherapy treatment my hair began coming loose from my scalp. Initially, it was funny. It’s really the strangest thing. It doesn’t fall out all over the place. I didn’t wake up with a scalp on my pillow. All the hairs still look firmly attached but they’re not. It’s like they’re all held on with Post-It glue. One little tug and it comes away in your fingers without so much as a “pip” to indicate the separation. It’s kind of amusing in a hey-look-at-my-cool-new-party-trick sort of way. A couple of mornings later and it’s not so funny anymore. I won’t bore you with the details again.
Losing my hair took me out of the closet. I became a walking Poster Girl for chemotherapy. Every time I looked in the mirror I was confronted with my mortality. The baldness literally stripped me bare. I couldn’t walk through the store without drawing stares. My son would beg me to take off my hat to show his friends my bald head.
With my hair went my vanity, my anonimity and my delusion that I would live forever. Looking back I feel very, very blessed.
Cross-posted to I Can’t Complain Any More Than Usual.