My friend Judy (JustEnjoyHim) has been going through a struggle this week. She’s lost her hair due to chemo and is resenting her wig. I happen to think she’s gorgeous bald, but it’s all about what makes her feel comfortable and beautiful, right?
She is being so brave right now, talking about her life as she goes through the early days of chemo. Talking about her loss of hair, her baldness, her scarves, and her wig. Talking about what it feels like to hear others’ comments about those, and about cancer. Way to go, Judy! You reminded me that I haven’t posted an update lately on appearances, and how it feels to look a little different than everyone else. I think it’s time.
My hair is growing back, thick, and soft, and fast, and it’s clear to me that baldness may soon be a memory for me. That I can pack away the scarves and give away the hats, and not think about being bald again until the next round of chemo. (No, I don’t have any planned. But IBC has a 90% recurrence rate, so none of us know if I’m done.) While I’m still here on the cusp of it and still look like a cancer patient, I have a few things I want to say.
1. Bald is beautiful. I know, corny, and not new, but I happen to be a big believer in encouraging cancer
patients survivors to do what makes them feel comfortable and helps them get through it. Especially those who are newly diagnosed and/or struggling.
I went bald my first summer with cancer. It was hot, and I was angry, and I just didn’t want to hide my cancer from the world. I worried, like Judy, about making people uncomfortable. But in the end, I decided that it wasn’t my job to protect everyone from the ugly realities of cancer. It was my job to protect my children and my friends’ children, and so I always wore a hat to playdates. (It slipped off, once, when it was so very hot and my head began to sweat, and for that, I’m sorry, girls.) But out in the world? At the cancer center, at the pharmacy, out to dinner? I went bald as a cue-ball (or a Q-ball, Stimey!), and it didn’t bother me.
If it bothered other people, I’m sorry. But it was so hot and I was so uncomfortable in so many ways, that this was my way of coping.
If it made people feel uncomfortable because it reminded them of a dear friend or relative they lost to cancer, I am truly sorry. I’m sorry for their loss, and I’m angry that it took another one of us.
But if it made people feel uncomfortable because they don’t want to have to think about cancer in their daily lives, or because I’m too young for cancer, or because moms who you bump into at the pediatrician’s office shouldn’t get cancer, or because it’s simply too pretty a day to think about cancer … I’m not sorry. Some of us have to live with this every day. All of us need to remember that it’s a possibility, and to do our self-exams every month. (Did you do your breast self-exam this month? Not yet? Okay, why don’t you go do that now? I’ll wait…. There, are you done? Was anything different on one side than the other, or different from last month?) If my going bald reminded one woman to go home and do her self-exam, or sent one man to the doctor to get something funny checked out, inspired someone to join the Avon or Komen walks, or even just reminded them that cancer is out there and they really should do something about it … then I’m okay with it. Bald was good.
2. I have no breasts. I mean, not just little ones. No breasts. I’ve had a mastectomy, and so now I just have two straight lines across my chest, one where each breast used to be. It’s not as scary as it sounds. It’s rather freeing, actually. But here’s the thing.
I can’t wear prostheses while I’m in radiation. And I’m in radiation for the next 7 weeks. So, for the next 7 weeks at least, I will be boobless.
How will I dress? How will I handle this? And what, ohmigosh, will I wear for my photo shoot on Sunday?
My first thought was to keep wearing the camis and big shirts, perhaps with patterns or stripes to fool the eye and distract from the fact that I am now sporting an utterly flat chest.
It worked for the first few weeks.
But then I began to feel as if I were hiding again.
Only this time, instead of hiding my bare head under a hat, I was hiding my bare chest under big flowy shirts.
And it’s just not me.
So, last weekend, I took a risk. (Anyone still with me? I know this post is horrendously long, and I AM sorry for that.) I went to a party with my bloggy girlfriends, chatted, relaxed, and had a great time. At one point, Momma K and Kristen gave away some fabulous t-shirts (from Baby Brewing, of course! Dude – she’s a celebrity now!) and cosmetic bags (courtesy Jazzercise). My name was picked out of a hat, and I chose a gorgeous little pink shirt.
Thrilled to pieces, I went to put it on immediately. It was … tight. It looked … tight. Now, normally that wouldn’t be the end of the world, right? But I was hesitant to come back out with it on, because it would make clear to everyone that I was NOT like them after all. It would remind them that I was sick. That I had lost my breasts (isn’t that the funniest phrase? Now, where did I put those darn things?). That I had cancer.
I walked back into the room anyway, exuding confidence I didn’t feel, and do you know what? My friends welcomed me warmly back into the group, picking up where they left off, and they even told me I looked great.
I didn’t believe them, of course (what woman does?), but I had taken a giant step forward.
I had worn a fitted shirt in public after my mastectomy.
Inspired, when I got home, I cleaned out my closets. I threw out the big striped shirts I wore to chemo. I threw out the hoodies I wore to cancer yoga. I threw out the wraps and chemo hats I slept in, to keep my head from freezing in the night. I even started to throw out my little pink tennies that I wore to every treatment and yoga. (I kept those, Kelley!)
Eventually, I cleaned out my closet, discarding or boxing up every single size large shirt that I’d had to buy this year to cover my swollen, cancerous breast.
I am a medium again.
And I will wear shirts that fit and flatter, even if they make some people uncomfortable because there are no breasts beneath them.