This blog documents the journey of Marla Crider, a 60 year-old travel professional from Little Rock, Arkansas, as she battles a breast cancer called invasive ductal carcinoma (stage 3). From the moment of her diagnosis, she chronicles her experience. Be forewarned this blog may provide a raw glimpse into the author’s psyche and ability to deal with a life threatening challenge. Hopefully, her honesty and humor will provide advice and help to others who find themselves in a crusade of their own.
Monday, June 17, 2013
Cancer and Chemo: No Place for Vanity
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 LakeHamilton.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.
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.”