Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Off with the Hair and Back to the Laughing…

I figured something out in the last couple of days. I am entirely too comfortable with this cancer thing for the rest of the world. What’s funny about that is that before I had cancer, I would have been one of the people that walked by me yesterday uncomfortably, made sure to look me directly in the eye, and say nothing about the hair. Then I would have obsessed about whether or not I did/said anything wrong. That’s crazy! But, nevertheless true.

Believe it or not, I’ve learned a lot of how people want to be treated from having this cancer and even more from my 5 year old son. I know that I’m supposed to be teaching him stuff, and I am every day. But, he has taught me things as well. And I don’t mean things about parenting. I mean Christ-like acceptance of others. It’s strange, but he has an acceptance and kindness of spirit about him that is almost not of this world. It manifests out of nowhere and when you least expect it, but it also never leaves him.

I first noticed it when he was 2 and we went to see Grammie in the nursing home. I don’t like nursing homes. Who does? They always have a bad smell and there is so much sadness there. I didn’t know how he would react because I was terrified of them when I was a much older child even. We used to go and sing to the residents at Christmas and things with my church group growing up. As bad as it sounds, I couldn’t wait to leave and some of the things I saw really scared me. Not him. He walked in that place like he owned it, talked to everyone like they really mattered to him, and wasn’t scared of ANYTHING.

There was one gentleman who had lost his legs to diabetes and was terribly overweight. This made his legs look like giant tree stumps in his wheelchair bigger around that Brayden’s entire body. It was a sight like nothing I had ever seen exactly and chest high to Brayden. Truthfully, it was quite shocking to both me and Mom. He didn’t say a word about it. Instead they discussed ice cream. I didn’t know what to say, but my 2-year old did. We were all in line for ice cream in the nursing home. Instead of staring at or talking about his legs, they just discussed ice cream. They were on the same wavelength, and Brayden made his day.

Sunday when I asked him to help me pick out hair for church, he said, “Don’t wear hair Mommy. You’re beautiful without it.” I would never have said that to my mom at that or any other age. Instead, I would have been making sure that she had the “right” one on at all times (even at home) and in constant prayer that it wouldn’t shift or blow off for the sole purpose of embarrassing me. I guess that’s also the difference between boys and girls. I was born to be the mom of this boy, that’s for sure.

So, back to my point…Day 2 in the office with the wigs. I wore the one that looks most like my own hair. It’s Mom’s favorite and my least favorite, for now. But, it does look the most like me. Someone who didn’t know me well or didn’t pay attention could think nothing of it. In fact I had a co-worker in the elevator ask me when I was going to start treatment. So, if incognito is the goal, mission accomplished sort of. Anyway, the cap on this one is so much itchier than the one I wore yesterday since I still have stubble on my head. (I’m told that will be different once it falls out sometime in the next week.) But for now, it is UNBEARABLE in that particular wig. It felt like the aftermath of a bad beach prep or stuffing stubble covered legs in tights three sizes too small. By 10:00 this morning I was in trouble and my head was bright red on top. So, I forfeited my normal lunch time and lunch money to run to Target and get an inexpensive microfiber hat.

I know what you’re thinking…another hat?? No, this was not another manifestation of my addiction. This was different. I bought this one for a scalp emergency and for everyone else in the office. It’s to leave in my desk for days like this one. The hair had to go! So, if you’re counting, it took less than a day and a half to get comfortable enough to be “hat only” within my department. But, as much as I don’t care it seemed inconsiderate of me to walk around the building with nothing but a hat on my head. Especially with all the ignoring the wig that was going on yesterday. (Still Funny to me…) So, when I get up and leave my desk I put back on the hair. It’s kind of comical really, the whole on/off hair thing. Hair on...hair off. Hair on..hair off. Hair on...hair off. Like the Karate Kid, only with cancer.

But here’s the thing…Cancer doesn’t give me the right to make everyone else in the building feel uncomfortable at work. There’s a whole lot more people here without it than with it, and they should be comfortable at work regardless of what’s going on with me. I don’t get to be entitled to walk around purposefully making people uncomfortable just because I happened to get cancer. That’s the way I feel about it anyway. I hate entitlement of all kinds, but that’s a whole rant for another time. So, I need hair on my head for all those people. My own department, well that’s different. And at my own desk, in the corner by the window…

So once I got the hat, I ran back upstairs, ripped the hair off, and put on my super soft hat. Relief! Then the nose bleeding thing started…It’s a side effect from the chemo that I am not enjoying. I’ve already got that horrible winter nose and it’s going to stay that way for months. Not fun. Don’t get me started on the acne side effect either. My face has texture, like the walls in my house. No eruptions, just a consistently inconsistent texture that is red and jacked up. What about all those women I see with beautiful chemo skin? Where’s my beautiful chemo skin that looks angelic??? If you're going to have no hair, you should at least get the beautiful skin. But, I digress...

So, I’m sitting in my cube trying to get my work done and dealing with no hair, a damaged scalp, bloody nose, and not too pretty skin. But, I have work to do. So, since it’s just me…I had my wig on a make-shift wig stand (a roll of paper towels) and a Kleenex crammed up my left nostril securely but with the majority of it hanging out to try and stop the nosebleed. So, I’m typing away, feeling pretty good about my progress on something, and around the corner comes one of my co-workers. Cast your mind...no hair, Kleenex filled nostril, typing away like everything is normal. That's not what he expected to see, I'm certain! Based on the look on his face and the 25 blinks he had in 3 seconds, I don’t think that’s what he expected to see AT ALL…Now, no one comes to my cube anymore. We’re in a “call-first” pattern even if you’re a couple cubes away. How is that not hysterical? I wish I’d had a camera.

And I can laugh about it no matter what happens while I’m there because I have my very special boy to come home to. You know, the one that doesn’t see missing limbs, missing hair, or any kind of disability. He just loves me the way I am, in whatever state that might be. That’s such a beautiful gift.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Unexpected Perks of Breast Cancer

Today was the first day back at work with my new “hair”. It was quite the decision trying to decide which one to wear. I like them all for different reasons. But, I settled on the one my sister bought me. It’s the only one that I’ve worn since the “shave” besides my Terry Bradshaw. I call it my Terry Bradshaw hair because there’s nothing on top just some hair around the sides. It’s “hat hair”. It’s also the most comfortable because it’s not itchy and it soothes the guilt of having purchased what I now know to be about 28 hats.

Work went well. It was kind of funny when I got there this morning. Some people bless their hearts, just don’t know what to do or say around a bald cancer patient with a wig. The first few people I encountered acted like I wasn’t wearing a wig. I felt kind of bad that they were noticeably trying to not look at my hair and terribly uncomfortable. Then it kind of became funny. I shouldn’t laugh at others discomfort, but talk about an elephant in the room! Really? I say this because my new hair is so totally different than my real hair was. My real hair is naturally curly and shoulder length. Today I have long straight hair that is layered and only curled on the ends. It would have had to grow 7 or 8 inches over the weekend to be mine. Call Ripley’s we got a “Believe It or Not” situation over here. Everyone else was complimentary and kind. Not one asked why it wasn’t pink…

Now that the shave is behind me, I have to talk for a minute about the unexpected perks of having cancer. I say this with all sincerity, but not to diminish the seriousness of this nasty disease. It’s terrible. It kills people for goodness sake. So, please understand that I’m just looking at this situation from the inside and there are a couple of perks to enjoy while going through all of the rest. They don’t make chemo worth it or the whole experience a good idea. I still recommend avoiding it all together. But, hey, as long as I’m dealing with it anyway…

I take back everything negative I said about hair as an accessory. It is a fine idea, a little itchy but EASY! The downside of having more than one look is trying to figure out which one to wear with what. When I got out of the shower this morning, my hair was already dry and styled. It’s like some “Jetson’s” set up, without the robots of course. And if it gets messed up during the day, you just have to stop by the house on your way to wherever and put on one of the others.

It’s also kind of fun to not be recognized anywhere. In plain sight, but out of sight...That is fun for a people watcher like me. Plus, getting to take it off when you get home is priceless. I know many women who look forward to ditching the bra after a long day. I used to be one of them. That’s a good feeling, but doesn’t even compare to ditching the hair. So, that’s a big perk.

Another thing is that you can do extremely stupid things and people excuse them because you’re just not yourself! Here’s an example. Right after I found out about my cancer and before our trip to Mexico, I was frazzled one day dropping Brayden off at Mom’s. Dad had the sprinkler on out front showering my normal path, and I broke my routine by pulling around back to drop him off. My sister and her family were living with Mom and Dad waiting to close on their new house at the time. So, blah, blah, blah a lot of cars in the driveway/parking lot.

When I came back outside to get to work, I backed straight into my sister’s car. Hard enough to smash both of our cars up pretty well. Her car got wrecked and she was in the shower at the time. So, I ran back in the house yelled, “I just wrecked mine and Michelle’s cars!! But, I've got to go to work! I'm late!! Tell her I’m sorry when she gets out of the shower!” (Keep in mind that she purchased her dream car about a year ago.) Not only was she not mad, she offered to pay my deductible because I was about to have so many medical bills. I didn’t let her, of course. But, when else can you smash up someone’s dream car and not only are they not mad, they offer to pay your expenses? Only when you have cancer. That’s when.

One last thing… I hate to even admit this, but I’ve done it. So, here goes. Have you ever wanted to get out of a situation really badly? You know, just can’t seem to end a conversation that should have ended long ago and you’re annoyed? As I have said before, people just don’t know what to say about cancer. So, if you bring it up, you can effectively silence them and escape. It went something like this...

When I went to get my rental car from the accident while the body shop fixed both mine and Michelle’s cars, it took forever. There were 2000 (slight exaggeration) people there and I waited over an hour (NO exaggeration whatsoever). So finally after much negotiation, they had a car for close to the price of my insurance coverage. So, I pay 5 bucks a day out of pocket and think I’m on my way. But, no. We have to have an additional 10 minute conversation about the extra insurance. At the end of it, I had about had it. Still being nice, but getting seriously annoyed on the inside. As a sales person myself I can respect the attempt to close me, but I HATE pushy sales people. They give all of us a bad name. Sometimes NO means NO, especially after the fourth one.

So when he said to me, “What about this doesn’t seem like a good deal to you? How is it unfair?” He was talking about me paying an extra 20 something dollars a day for coverage I already have with MY insurance after we just spent an hour looking for and negotiating on the price of a rental car. A car that they finally produced for me because they didn’t have any more for my $30/day coverage. They had already given everything else away, but wouldn’t turn loose of the claim so that I could go elsewhere. Yeah, then. So I said, “Fair has nothing to do with it, all of the extra money I have right now is going to pay for my cancer.” To which he responded (once he recovered and closed his mouth) “Please initial here.” Checkmate. Escape achieved, even if it did mean playing the cancer card. I have to admit it was the only enjoyable thing about the whole experience and the only time in more than an hour that he actually quit talking, was speechless in fact. I chuckled all the way home because the look on his face was priceless. So, I have to add effectively silencing people like that as a perk, too.

The point I guess is to find the humor in it all. I can’t imagine life without it. Sometimes the only thing that will get you through is the humor. I can’t even begin to count the number of times something so awful, or a series of things strung together, has caused me to laugh uncontrollably. And that’s where the key is hidden. It’s all uncontrollable anyway. As much as we plan and think we’re controlling things, we’re just not. So, sometimes you just have to stand back, take it in, and chuckle.

©2009 80% Sporadic | by TNB