So, here it is. My last post for BCAM 2019 (yes, in the breast cancer world we even have an abbreviation for Breast Cancer Awareness Month..insert eye roll). I'm really a little uneasy and feeling extremely vulnerable about what I'm about to dive into. To be honest, it's probably not such the big secret that I feel it is and it's something a huge number of cancer victims have to go through. For me, however, it was one of the top three most traumatic experiences I've faced during this life changing experience I'm navigating. That sounds dramatic I know, but when I was told I had cancer, my very first thought was "how will my kids grow up without me? I don't want to miss it.". My second...was..."I don't want to lose my hair". Maybe that sounds superficial and ridiculous to some, but that is and was my very honest feelings.I had long hair. It was my armor and in part contributed to my identity. I'm not so stuck on myself and my looks that I feel like it is the most important quality.... not in the slightest, but I do take pride in looking and in turn, feeling my best. I like it when I'm having a good hair, good outfit kind of day. It makes me feel strong and powerful. It gives me confidence. I was scared what it would look and feel like to lose that. I'm hoping by acknowledging this aspect of my journey I'm going to free myself from the confines that I've been carrying with me for so long. So here's how it all went down....
On December 26th, 2017, I checked in for my first ever surgery. I was to have my port-a-cath put in just under my right clavicle. My port is a device surgically placed under the skin that allows easy access to my veins. I received my chemo treatments through the use of my port and since then, for the gazillion blood draws I've had post chemo. (side note...I still have my port. I look forward to the day I can get it surgically removed. I feel like it will be another victory and step in the right direction in my cancer free life.) I remember that day so vividly. Christmas, as you can imagine, wasn't very merry for me that year. I literally shopped for my kids' Christmas gifts between MRIs, CT scans, PET scans, more biopsies and doctor visits. I spent the holiday bracing myself for the fight that was before me. I had never had surgery so I was so scared. I remember the weird warming blanket pre surgery, the bright lights of the operating room and waking up to a chest x ray I could barely stand up to that was necessary to make sure everything went as planned. It hurt. Just breathing in and out was painful. It felt like I had been punched really hard in the chest. No one told me it would be like that. After recovery I had a wig appointment. Looking back, this seems like a horrible idea. The timing was crazy, but I think my cancer team was trying to get me prepared because we were now ready to hit the treatment journey at warp speed. Things, meaning my hair falling out, were going to start happening...fast. At my cancer center, they have this amazing program where every patient receives a free wig. If you ever feel the need to donate money for a good cause, programs like this is where it's at! When your money is going directly to survivors for programs like this, it is life saving for so many people. I had never tried on a wig before and to be honest I was feeling like crap having just had surgery. This probably wasn't the best time for me, but we knew hair loss was on the horizon, so let's just do it. I tried on several wigs and I felt like I was an extra on the Golden Girls...funny now, not so funny then! haha! Once again, the fact that I was a young woman dealing with this diagnosis was smacking me in the face...and chest because I was in so much pain and just needing to go home. I graciously accepted a wig that was the closest thing they had to my current hair, which in actuality was not even close. If you are a Sex & the City fan then maybe you remember the episode where Samantha goes on a mission for a wig. She is given one from the Raquel Welch wig line and she is not so happy about it....that was me. I wasn't rude, however, and I actually put on a happy face because the woman helping me was so nice and the program donating these is so important. It just wasn't for me. We got to the car and went to eat something because I hadn't had a thing to eat all day. Sitting at Fuddruckers waiting on my burger, I googled "I need a kick ass cancer wig". I didn't even have the strength to come up with a better search than that. I was tired, sad and the reality of my situation was adding to the pressure I was feeling on my chest. I was feeling pretty abandoned by God, the angels...everyone. Then, like magic, (or just the power of the internet, haha), a new wig shop appeared in my search that was a chain in some bigger cities like Omaha, Dallas, etc., It had just opened about a 30 minutes from where I live. This was the answer I was looking for, or at least I hoped for. Four days later, I started my first round of chemo on December 30, 2017. Happy Freakin' New Year. Everyone told me that it takes 10-14 days for hair to start to come out, so I knew I needed to act fast because I wanted something on hand. I didn't want to have to be bald. My goal was to go from my hair to new hair. No one needed to see/know anything different. I applaud people who don't care and flaunt their baldness. As much as I tried to be that person, I just wasn't. I don't see that as failure or anything less than it was just me. I was doing me. Chemo takes about 3-4 hours, so during that first session, I emailed the wig place. Within minutes, the stylist contacted me asking for pictures of me and information about what I was looking for. We set up an appointment and it was just feeling right. My sister and one of my soul sisters went with me the day of my appointment. One might think a wig appointment would be fun! It wasn't really fun. It was just survival. I was so pleasantly surprised to see this salon had human hair, lace front wigs. This is what I wanted but the last place couldn't provide! Even better, they had long hair wigs that looked just like my normal hair, but better. I found it. I went home and I'm not ashamed to say I got my finances in a row. These kind of wigs aren't cheap ya'll! What's a few thousand if it means , well, everything to me. I remember texting a picture of myself in my wig to my dad asking what he thought...his response was "It looks just like my Meester!" . That meant everything to me.
Once I had my wig, I would try it on at home periodically and try to get use to wearing it for more than five minutes at a time. It felt weird. No hot, not itchy like EVERYONE asks...just weird. But it was my safety net, so I was determined to make it work. For the two weeks until my hair started falling out I wore my real up in a top knot bun almost every day. (See top left hand corner pic. That is the last picture I have of myself with my old hair. And yes, the animal filter made it all seem a little better. haha!) I did this so that when it was time to wear my wig, hopefully no one would notice if my hair seemed a little longer or different than before Christmas break. I also did it because I just didn't know how it was going to fall out. My hair hung on for about 16 days. I woke up one morning, I believe it was a Monday, and it was in this clump. Like one big snarly mess on my head. When I went to brush it, it was coming out in clumps. I froze. I didn't even finish combing it all out, I just went and grabbed my wig and put it on. Through the tears, I called my soul sister "J" and she told me to come over to her house that afternoon and we would take care of it. We had planned that she would be the one to help me shave my head. Our friendship changed dramatically that day. She was there for me for one of the darkest moments of my life. She was calm, loving and full of so much grace and compassion for my vulnerability. She was my angel in that particular moment and many more after that day. She helped me to pick up the pieces and I am eternally grateful for that kind of support. I was staring at my cancer diagnosis now square in the face. Shit got really real that day. When it was time for me to face the music and start shaving my head, J' had some great music playing, the wine had been poured and her newborn baby girl was there for me to cuddle. I didn't cry. I knew I had to do this. My soul sister cut my hair, but it didn't really seem like my hair. It was just this lifeless pile of mashed up locks. It was weird that this was my reality. I went home and went to bed. Early. Fast forward to present day and I still wear my wig even though my real hair is growing longer. I'm excited that I can finally put my real hair in a little ponytail! Finally!!! Even though I'm more apt to work out and run errands with my real hair, my wig is still the "me" that feels the truest to me. Weird, but true. I've learned how to style my wig and incorporate head bands and even ponytails. She is a part of me and let me tell you, even now when I put her on in the morning after I get dressed and put on my makeup, I feel powerful. You see, for me when I was bald I felt sick. I looked like cancer. I felt powerless. With my wig on, I was me. Better than me, I was this warrior goddess who didn't care about anything but defying the odds and rising up stronger than before. I felt/feel beautiful and invincible. I feel like it still suits me to this day.
I'm grateful for so much about this chapter in my story. The pictures I'm sharing today, I show you because it's a real, honest look at how I got through this challenging time. For me, I snapped pictures with animal or crazy filters to take the focus off of what I was really dealing with....a change that was painfully out of my control. I honestly never planned to share these with anyone but my daughter and niece who would receive them on Snapchat. I hated the way I looked and saw sickness and just ugliness when I looked at myself. Now I look at these pictures and see strength. I also see beauty. Wow. I will repeat that... I. See. Beauty.(yes, now I'm crying!) I know that I am not my hair. I am beautiful even minus the locks and armor. I'm also proud that I have gone through this and made it my own story. I navigated it as best as I could and as true to myself as I could be. That is strength. It might seem like I was hiding to some, but to me, I was thriving. Taking my shitty situation and turning it into gold. Hell, I learned some really useful make up tips during this time of my life! Losing hair also means losing eyebrows and eyelashes. I had to figure out how to pencil brows in, all about microblading and putting on false eyelashes. Just add these skills to my Cancer Survivor Resume' (wink). I learned I have friends willing to be there for me when I am at my worst. I learned the value of my now even bigger stocking hat/beanie collection. Most of all, I learned it's ok to make any journey you are on your own. There really aren't any rules. You have to do what feels right to you and go with it. We have the right to change our minds and fuel our souls and our hearts any way we see fit. No one told me how to proceed with any of this. I just did it. I don't know how much longer I will wear my wig and I don't care when people see me without it and tell me how "cute" ( I hate this) it is and that I should wear it like that more often. I'm doing what I feel like...I'm just doing me. I also learned to stop listening to ignorant people who say how empowering it must be to shave your head. There is nothing empowering about losing a piece of yourself without a say in the matter. Just a little food for thought.
So, in closing, thank you cancer for schooling me in how to work around the inevitable and push me to go outside of my comfort zone to create this powerful woman who once was just a persona I needed to create and now is actually me. I've learned so much about my life and myself. I am stronger for taking on this challenge and dealing with it MY WAY. As long as we are true to ourselves, there is no wrong way. There's only confidence, strength, beauty and grace. -M