When the cares of my heart are many,
Your consolations cheer my soul.
~ Psalm 94:19 (NRSV)
When the doctors finally began to talk to me about the next course of action after surgery one of the first warnings I heard, concerning the type of chemo that I would be receiving, came from each of my two surgeons – and one isn’t even an oncologist. They both said,
“You will lose your hair.”
Not you may or you might … you will. Definitive and definite.
Hearing that sentence didn’t really phase me at the time. Wasn’t that part of the deal with chemo, I thought to myself? Doesn’t every cancer patient lose their hair?
I soon discovered that different cancers are treated with different mixes of different drugs. So not only did not everyone lose their hair; every body is different and reacts differently to the drug mixture and follow-up shot.
I received so much information in those initial days that I was swimming in papers and websites and was busy trying to cram all of it into my pea brain. Truly, when I started the chemotherapy, every little thing that occurred in my body – every ache, every pain, every twinge – sent me running to the volumes of information littering my bedside table to see if it was something I should be expecting.
Trying to anticipate the nausea, wondering if the neuropathy in my hands and feet would go away, attempting to determine if I was constipated or not all became of utmost importance in my day-to-day considerations. That was until the middle of the second week after my first infusion.
That’s when I started seeing hair on the bathroom floor.
I watched it for a couple of days. I found more and more strands gathering like dead soldiers on the cold tiles. It wasn’t noticeable on my head. But here was proof that the inevitable was happening. With a sigh I got out a wet paper towel and gathered up what I could.
That night as I plumped up my pillow for bed I discovered that it was fuzzy with hair, so I got out some packing tape and whisked it away.
Still, I thought as I tossed the packing tape in the bin, the docs had said it would happen and I told myself that I was unconcerned. This was a rite of passage in the world of cancer. But inside I was more than a little sad it had happened so soon.
It was only a few days later, early on a Saturday morning as I was showering for BSF leadership class, that I realized I was standing in water. I swiped the shampoo out of my eyes and stared down … the drain was clogged with my hair.
I exhaled and leaned back into the hot stream of water allowing reality to sink in. There was no turning back.
I’d already decided that when this time came I would shave my head. I had, probably ridiculous, ideas about clumps falling out without so much as a whisper and didn’t want to have to deal with that embarrassment. I’d also found (free because I am a Cleveland Clinic patient) a hot mess of a wig that I kinda liked … completely opposite from my normal hair.
That morning at BSF, the first meeting with a large group of women who had already been praying for me throughout the summer, the teaching leader asked us to go around the circle and offer one bad thing and one good thing that had happened in the past week and one thing we’d like prayer for. When it was my turn to speak I teared up as I described that morning’s shower and admitted to a level of vanity I didn’t even know I possessed. I asked God to forgive my pride.
That afternoon I readied the troops for the following Monday. My hair stylist, my parents, and a dear friend would accompany me to the salon for the shearing.
A bittersweet moment.
For the next week I contemplated my reaction to my hair falling out. I realized that I really hadn’t allowed myself to mourn my own condition and the changes that were taking place in my body. After all, how could I mourn with the incredible strength and comfort I had been receiving from God, I thought? But God allows us to mourn. He wants us to bring Him our cares, to run to Him for comfort. To lean on Him for strength to keep going, to mush through this trial knowing He was right here with me. So I had a 2-minute pity party, asked God to forgive my pride (again!), and donned my hot mess to face the world …
In His merciful love,
Up next … Divine appointments.