Monday, June 17, 2013

Cancer and Chemo: No Place for Vanity

Marla Crider, Fayetteville, Arkansas, Little Rock, UAMS, breast cancer, hair loss, diabetes
The Haircut 
It was June 13, the seventeenth day after my first chemo treatment; the day I realized that Mr. Nurse Ratched was right.  The second infusion of adriamycin was going to take its toll on my once healthy, thick head of hair (Drat! I hate it when he’s right.).

As I dressed for work that morning, I realized that the term “fixin” my hair no longer meant what it did a mere 24 hours earlier.  As I moved the brush gently through my thinning locks, I hesitantly looked at what used to be my abundant mane tangled within the bristles of the brush.  My unemotional response surprised me.  I collected the wad of salt and pepper strands from the spine of the brush, walked out on my balcony and scattered the hair for the nest-making birds to find (I did that several times and felt like I had made a major contribution to Habitat for Feathered Friends).

After that eventful hair-brushing episode, I knew that a visit to my hair stylist was imminent. I asked myself: Should I get a close-cropped “do” or go ahead and shear what remained. I decided to take the recommendation of the professional with whom I had a noon appointment that day. 

When Michael, my stylist, brushed through my hair, the loose strands went flying everywhere. Even with that drama, he determined that we should cut it shorter and try to keep a little of the hair for as long as possible.  (Only Mr. Nurse Ratched and the chemo gods knew how long that might be.) I agreed. When I returned to the office, my colleagues commented that the cut was “cute” and “practical” under the circumstances.  I appreciated their verbal support, although I knew they were just being kind.

Friday night, June 14, was one of those restless occasions when the night sweats and insomnia decided to make it an all night affair.  I never fell asleep and made the decision to get out of bed about 2:45 a.m., instead of tossing and turning for two or three more hours. I made coffee and read. About 5:30 a.m., I felt that a shower might rejuvenate me. When I stepped out of the tub and looked in the mirror, while gently towel-drying my hair, there it was - bald gaps in my otherwise very short hairstyle.  There were no tears, no real emotion. Losing my hair really wasn't about vanity.  It was just further confirmation that I have cancer.  My balding head was merely the “fallout” from the treatment that will eventually cure me.

I stared in the looking glass for quite some time then shrugged my shoulders and determined that it was probably going to be a baseball cap-wearing weekend, or I might even don one of the fun and fashionable wigs that I had ordered in advance of my pending alopecia.  No doubt, it was time for me to swallow my pride and participate in a grooming decision that hundreds of thousands of women in treatment deal with every day. This just happened to be my day.

Later that morning, I packed a small bag, placed a baseball cap on my shiny head and departed for Hot Springs and some R & R at Don’s house on Lake Hamilton. It’s the place where I can exhale and nothing is expected of me. I must point out that I have never been a wearer of caps, or any hats for that matter, except on Derby Day at Oaklawn Race Track. Ironically, I always had too much hair to wear head gear appropriately. 

When I walked into Don’s house and he saw the cap, he knew. “It looks fine,” he told me.  As I removed the cap for him to get a closer view of my little, bare head, he was surprised that I had lost so much hair in a few short days.  But he hugged me and reiterated that it was just a temporary inconvenience. 

Marla Crider, Fayetteville, Arkansas, Little Rock, UAMS, breast cancer, hair loss
The "Irish Setter" look
That evening, we decided to go to dinner in downtown Hot Springs at one of our favorite restaurants.  I packed a strawberry blonde wig just in case we left the security of Don’s house. Keep in mind that I am a brunette with green eyes and have never felt compelled to experiment with hair color over the years; however, I decided that taking a fun and frivolous approach to counteracting the effects of the cancer treatment would be okay and even forgiven. Was I going to look attractive as a strawberry blonde “babe?”  Probably not, but it’s one way - my way - of coping with this crisis.

I took my time dressing for dinner and left the wig preparation and styling for last. Don was watching the U.S. Open Golf Tournament in another room and was unaware that he was about to be introduced to a new girlfriend with strawberry blonde hair. I pulled the wig on and spent several minutes brushing and spritzing it so I wouldn't resemble an aging Irish Setter.  I added big earrings and a necklace to my outfit and decided it was time for the big reveal. 

When I entered the great room, Don was cheering on Phil Mickelson as he made another birdie.  I walked into his line of sight and his expression was beyond priceless. “Wow,” he said. “I really, really like the look" (OK, one "really" was enough). Whether that was Don being his usual caring, compassionate self or if he was being honest is still the great unknown.  Regardless, he’s now aware that for the next eight months or so, he will never know which girlfriend will be at his side.  

Several times during dinner, I noticed Don staring at me. I knew it wasn't just the wig. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for a dynamic, confident man like Don to look at the woman he loves and not recognize her. Because he is a physician, the changes in my physical appearance and emotional demeanor are less of a surprise to him than to me. This adventure (and it is definitely an adventure) has proven one thing: Even though we aren't married, we understand implicitly the phrase, “in sickness and in health.”


1 comment:


  1. Life is a battle, if you don't know how to defend yourself then you'll end up being a loser. So, better take any challenges as your stepping stone to become a better person. Have fun, explore and make a lot of memories.

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Hi, friend

Thank you for commenting on my blog. I'm very busy now (as you might imagine), so please know that I will get to your comment as soon as I can.

Love,

Marla