What an understatement! If you choose a conventional route of chemo and radiation as I did 10-plus years ago when it was my name in that sentence, the days become a whirlwind of doctors' appointments, surgery, chemo, and radiation. Personally, I would make different choices today, but that’s a different post for another day.
So instead, let’s talk about hair. First, you have to picture me, the ultimate un-hair gal. At the time, I was a fairly youthful looking 40-something with long straight dark hair just a teensy bit salty with silver. Good old wash and wear hair. Throw it into a ponytail hair. These are very important hair attributes for me. (Yes, I tried Big Hair in the 80s. Big Frosted Hair. We all have youthful indiscretions.)
So it came as a complete shock that the words “…and all your hair will probably fall out” were the ones that caused me to come unglued. Not surgery, not chemo, not radiation…hair loss. Suddenly, my whole identity was wrapped up in the hair I was about to lose. Turns out that “un-hair” was actually a statement about who I was and I was about to not be me in that way any more.
Not being brave enough at that time to flaunt a bald head or wear scarves, I made a bee-line for the wig shop. Maybe this was my chance to be a bombshell blonde or a flaming redhead, to assume a new identity or maybe more than one. Naw. That was fun in the shop, but the wig that came home with me was a cute bob like Catherine Zeta Jones sported in “Chicago.” The deciding factor was the huge thumbs up from the twinkle-eyed octogenarian gentleman who whistled and cat-called “Sexy!!!”
Sure enough, shortly after the first chemo treatment, all my hair fell out and I was wearing that wig. Then, a funny thing happened – strangers started asking who did my hair. People on the street. A nice lady at a party. After the third or fourth incident, I wrote in my journal “Dear God, if you wanted me to change my hairdo, you could have just said so!”
Slowly, I began wondering what else might have needed changing that I had been missing and a turning point blossomed. Cancer became an opportunity to clean house, get rid of whatever really needed to be gone, and to define my next chapter. I jettisoned things I could no longer do or that didn’t work or that I just didn’t like.
Fast forward to today. It’s almost 11 years later. There is long brown hair attached to my head again, though it has a little more frizz and a lot more gray, but almost everything else is different. I re-vamped my career, moved (twice), and got married.
Getting cancer felt a lot like getting whacked by a cosmic two-by-four. Wake up! Pay attention! For each of us, the task is to simply allow the power of whatever comes our way every day to propel us towards something better. Life may be full of people getting sick, losing jobs, and ending relationships, but it also full of people getting well and finding better jobs and new relationships.
Kris Carr of Crazy Sexy Cancer is quoted as saying, “I would never call cancer a gift because I wouldn’t give it to you.” Very true. And yet it is precisely when we can see the gift in each and every thing that comes our way that our true healing occurs. Life after cancer will be different. It’s up to you whether it will be good.