When people find out you’re receiving treatment for breast cancer, but haven’t yet lost your hair, they’re calm and encouraging and full of fight for you. Once you start losing your hair, expect the same encouraging fight with a heaping side of uncomfortable unknowing about how to react properly to your cancer insides showing on the outside.
Laswy, that’s a lot of head. (DON’T SAY THAT!)
It’s easy to forget cancer when you have a full head of hair. It’s easier to deal with when you look healthy on the outside, even if your insides need the chemo that will take your hair.
I don’t blame one person who has instantly become sad at seeing my head without hair. I don’t blame one person for being left without words they feel they can tell me, but instead offer tight smiles and unspoken worry. I don’t blame anyone any of their emotions. Not one.
Seeing the upending reality of cancer, up close and bald, is a sharp slap to the psyche, even for the strongest among us.
Bald chemo heads represent sickness, hardship, uneasiness, the unknown, tears, pain, but most of all, death. We know not everyone who has cancer dies, but we also know many do. When you see that head on the body of someone important to you, on the body of someone you love, it can leave you feeling helpless, scared and countless other awful emotions. I know this. You know this. But until you’re the one sporting the head without hair, you have no idea the weight of the emotion you evoke among the masses.
The first time I went out shopping, wearing a ball cap on my newly shaved head, I could see the lingering looks of strangers. I saw folks look away as I went to meet their gaze. I saw shy smiles offered. I saw care given to make sure I was given my space. None of it was unfamiliar because I’ve done the same; I’ve offered the same. The only difference now was I was on the receiving end and it was intensely uncomfortable.
Not because of the love that surrounded me, but that I elicited the deeply instinctual emotion we have to care for those we think are frail. That part was hard.
This is what happens when your cancer insides show on the outside: folks want to love you well. Man, wouldn’t that be a blissful alternative to chemo, to be loved to complete wellness?
When people offer me what I have offered others in my position, there’s nothing I can do about it but let it roll on by and know that while I have unwell days, I’m certainly not frail, no matter what my head telegraphs to the world.
I am more than my bald head. I am still a person of action and faith and fight. This bald head does not define me, nor did it define the others before or those after me. It’s a lesson that took me all of 5 minutes to learn once I stepped outside without my blonde locks.
Yep, my cancer insides are showing on the outside and it’s unnerving everyone. So what can one do, other than offer tight smiles and an unsure spirit of expression?
* If you see me, give me an air high-five (I have to be careful with germs, so a full-contact high-five is a little outside my comfort zone with strangers) as I fight the fight.
* If you see me, smile the smile of one who knows another as conqueror. Nothing tight and uncomfortable about victory, is there?
* If you see me, acknowledge that I am trying my damnedest to kick cancer’s teeth in and my head is proof of such kickassery.
* If you see me, understand that I have not given one millimeter to cancer, nor do I plan to allow it to take from me that which I love.
* If you see me, rejoice in modern medicine’s ability to be my sharpened sword dripping with cancer’s entrails.
* If you see me, offer prayer for my restored health.
* If you see me, tell me your best knock-knock joke. Laughter is good for the soul.
* If you see me, I am still alive; I am still living. Please do not pretend that I don’t have the same death sentence you have. We’re all dying baby, and my bald head is no guarantee I’m leaving this earth before you.
* If you see me, know that I am not frail, but fighting for my life in a very public way, which brings us back to the air high-five!
Obviously, cancer is not easy. Obviously, we’re gonna worry. We can’t turn that part of ourselves off; I wouldn’t ask anyone to try. What we can do is offer a moment of solidarity in the fight.
Yep, my cancer insides are showing on the outside. Ain’t nothing I can do about that, but live. Join me and reject those tight smiles and unsure spirits of expression.