In 2011 a life changing, monumental shift cracked wide open my world. As a writer and a blogger I knew it would just be a matter of time before I would be ready to share my story. Until now it has always been too raw, too emotional. But eight years have passed and for posterity… here it is.
In the late spring of 2010 my mother’s breast cancer returned. This time it moved quickly and within five weeks she was gone. As I sat along side her hospital bed, little could I ever imagine that I would be diagnosed with this same deadly disease just eight months later. In February 2011, down the rabbit hole I fell.
Surgery determined that my type of breast cancer was extremely aggressive and my tumor was large. I went through fifteen months of chemotherapy, and twenty-five rounds of radiation. I still continue with conjunctive medication, regular testing and follow ups with my oncologist and my surgeon.
Thankfully with the passing of years the raw terrifying details of this experience have clouded over. Now when I have a strange pain in my back or headache my first thoughts don’t immediately run to something worst. I have forgotten those waves of panic imaging my own death. I now assume that I will still be here next year.
My chemotherapy was horrible and I experienced every one of the usual side effects and more: blood clots in my legs and the roots of my teeth dying. But, would it surprise you to learn that the one most difficult aspect of the whole rotten experience was losing my hair?
Alopecia was inevitable with my type of chemo drugs. I had been warned and I tried to be prepared. I purchased a number of bright scarves, sassy hats. My big purchase was an expensive wig very close in cut and colour to my own hair at that time. The wig manufacturer called this particular style of wig: “The Samantha” which was supposed to be a fun reference to Sex in the City. “Not!”. It looked ridiculous on me. It felt even worst. I felt like a fraud. I booked an appointment for Samantha and me with my hairdresser. Oh dear. I made it tough for Rachael that day as I sat in her chair completely overcome; tears streaming down my face. She snipped and fussed trying to make my stupid wig look a little more like me.
The day I actually lost was my was peaceful and personal. Two weeks after my first chemo treatment, Warren and I took a mid- week, day trip up to our cottage. It was late April and no one was around. The over casted sky was thick and grey and a strong wind whipped the still leafless trees. I remember this well. Warren took the car to run into town and I sat outside on the steps. Everything was still and quiet except for the sound of spring birds. I felt the emptiness like a vacuum. No one was around for miles.
At one-point wind tousled my hair and while smoothing in back in place I noticed several strands of hair caught between my fingers. This was the start. Combing my fingers through again and again, more hair slipped away. Loose strands floated up to be caught by the wind. I watched them lift high and disappear. There was no mess. No pile in the grass. It all just flew away into that gray morning air. Maybe the birds would use it to build their nests. This felt reassuring. In a matter of minutes, I was bald. It’s funny how cold and bare the skin on my head felt with that wind.
Everyone said that hair loss would be rough. They were quite right. It was actually harder than I had imagined and I’m a pretty confident person. It was not a vanity thing. NO. It was that my disease was visible now. Everyone, even total strangers passing me on the sidewalk could see that I was gravely ill. My odd baldness was a symbol of dead and disease. I stood out. I looked unhealthy.
The summer of 2011 was hot. I was off work. Every morning I would take Molly our Irish Wolf Hound for a long walk or when nausea, diarrhea or extreme fatigue were an issue I would sit for hours in a living room chair doing nothing. Molly was such a great companion. Dogs know. She was so loving and patient that summer.
I never ended up wearing the Samantha wig. Not once. No big surprise. When I went out in public my to-go covering was a simple beige cotton cap. Sure, you could clearly see the bare immediately above my ears but I stopped caring. The new normal. Sometimes when I could catch my reflection in a window or mirror, I couldn’t help but think of Sinead O’Connor or maybe I was more like Uncle Fester from the Addams family with my puffy steroid red face and glassy eyes. I was just glad that work colleagues couldn’t see me.
As my chemo treatments continued that summer, I eventually lost my eye lashes, eye brows, the hair inside my nose and all body hair. Ending on a positive note – I was a slippery sea lion in the shower. Imagine the time you would save if you didn’t have to blow dry and style your hair. You save a lot of money too. That part was pretty cool.
These memories feel like a life time ago. It was on a little break between chemo and the start of my radiation that Warren and I visited the County. We stayed at the Merrill Inn and accidentally discovered our current beautiful home. It was up for sale. We made our escape permanent. Desperate times require you to cease the moment. My life now is rich and I’m healthy again. (Oooo….I still hate to declare that. Am I taunting the fates? Its like saying Beetlejuice three times). But sometimes we need to be reminded of the past to truly appreciate how wonderful our lives are today. These times are a gift.