Month: January 2012

Loss of Hair, Loss of Self

I look in the mirror and I don’t see myself.

It’s not like it’s bad, but I don’t really look like me. Even though its been a year, I still don’t feel like myself.

Losing my hair was a huge deal. I’d never realized how much I identified with my hair. So much so that when I lost it, I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I was ashamed. I didn’t want to face my friends and family.

You can never really prepare for what chemo will do to you. It made me feel so sick. And my shoulder-length, straight, thick hair kept falling out and out and out. I needed to get a broom to sweep up the bathroom every morning.

The constant shedding got to be too difficult, so I went to my trusted, longtime hair stylist on a Sunday when the shop was closed to shave off the remaining strands of my hair. I had no idea just how emotional it would be for me, so, when she asked, I allowed my sweet daughter to join me. Big mistake.

When my hair was shaved, tears just rolled down my face. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t keep them from falling. My daughter was rubbing my leg and telling me how beautiful I looked. My 8-year-old daughter. It is a memory I don’t enjoy bringing to mind. Yes, I had a beautiful wig to wear (which is a long story in itself), and felt OK with it on. But from that day on … even still today … I don’t see the same woman in the mirror. I remember my husband’s face when he saw me when I returned home. It was that swift look of horror before he could put his game face on. My son gave me that same look.

From that day, my son and daughter never wanted me to leave the house without my wig on. As time passed, I didn’t care so much anymore and the wig was itchy, but my children felt better when I wore the wig. My Bella would say, “Mommy, are you going to wear your wig when you come to my school?” “Mommy, if my friend so and so comes over, will you wear your wig?”

So today, even though my hair is growing back — curly! — I still don’t see Viki in the mirror staring back. It’s not like I hate the person I see. It’s more like I’m resigned to the person I see. My mom asks me why don’t I cut my hair short and spiky like when it was first growing in? It looked so cute and contemporary then, and I know it looks more like a mullet now or something out of Vegas in the Elvis days, but I need to get it back to that shoulder length. Somehow, I’ll get control back then. If I want to cut it off at that point, at least it’ll be on my own terms. I’m in control, not cancer. But I wonder, when it’s shoulder-length again, will I look like me again? I fear not.  Certainly, there is the possibility that it will never get that long hair again because my disease will return and I’ll lose all my hair again … but mostly I fear that that person I’m looking for in the mirror is gone.

I realize it doesn’t have to be bad to be different, but when you are used to something for 40+ years, it takes more than a year to grow accustomed to someone else when you look in the mirror.

One Year at a Time

Wahoo! It’s 2012 and I made it through the year!!! One year down and, hopefully, many more to come, but I’ll take a year at a time.

Boy, what a relief to see 2011 come to an end. I sure do hope this new year is less stressful. I realize I will be on chemo and cancer drugs for the rest of my life, but the current drugs I’m on are not as debilitating as the treatments I’ve endured this past year. The bottom line here is (just like the song by the Dixie Chicks) I have a Long Way Around, but, dammit, I’m gonna look forward to a new year.

As a mother, I strongly believe I owe my children hope and a positive attitude, no matter how long I may have on this earth. Children are vulnerable and need love and continuity, no matter how long we are given to provide it. I’m getting stronger, and I’m going to start walking outside no matter how far I can walk. Going outside in nature is important. I want to breathe the air and know I’m alive. Forget that treadmill.  I need to get outside, listening to my favorite tunes. Or just listening to my thoughts.

One step at a time.

Just like with this disease … one treatment at a time, one positive thought at a time, one favorite moment with your family at a time. If I can say this with my stage 4 diagnosis, anyone can believe it.

It helps that I’m feeling better now than I did through most of the holiday season. In November, I ended up back in the hospital with another infection. Yuck. So many powerful antibiotics! They sure can do a number on you. They made my November and much of my December miserable.

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Throughout the ordeal, my Jere was so sweet. Back in November, he’d driven me the hour-and-a-half to my doctor to check out the redness spreading across the left side of my chest, but we weren’t so prepared for the doctor to say I needed to go check into the hospital for surgery the next day. I was so upset to be there and missing my daughter’s 9th birthday party, but Jere made it OK.

And after surgery, the nurses on the floor were so kind to us, so unlike my previous hospital experiences. (Jere and I think it’s because we were on the trauma floor, where many of their patients couldn’t even speak!) One nurse was so sweet … he found a chair that pulled out to a bed, staked a claim on it, and pushed it into a room for Jere before anyone else could take it. It was like we had a six-day vacation. Jere moved in, they gave him a hospital gown to wear (since he hadn’t brought extra clothes with him) and waited on him with drinks and snacks. What a character my husband is! I know we were there for scary reasons and there was pain, but it was surprisingly fun. Jere held my hand at night and ate all my hospital food. I will always remember that hospital stay with a smile … all because of my Jere!

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I know things don’t always go my way, but I’m so lucky. I have a great family and unbelievable friends. (Remember, my friends fed my family for a full year!!! 365 days. That’s a lot of love!) And now I’ve got a new year to look forward to. Wow, that’s so corny but somehow OK.