It was giving up a whole adult life of my beauty and sexuality being tied up in my hair. And then it was done, and I had short hair. We both looked at the mirror in surprise. I looked good!
Friday morning. Early, 6:18 and I'm up, on my second cup of coffee and finished all my newspapers, finished reading all my lovely Facebook likes and comments on my new haircut.
My new haircut. I have super short hair. I got it cut yesterday morning. I had to do two rounds around the block to get cash, I forgot my wallet the first time, and our corner pharmacy was closed. So, I came back, got my wallet and did it again. That is how my day started. Getting cash to pay for my haircut, and taking in the prescription for nausea medication to go with my chemo. Having to take two runs at it in order to succeed at those two simple tasks.
The pharmacy lady was very sympathetic. She got the whole story right away as soon as she looked at the prescription, she was worried about me. The government pays for a lot of this medication, but I still had to pay $50 bucks myself. I'll have to pay for it myself each time, for each of the 4 chemo treatments. Here is what is encouraging to me about it. It's a three day course of anti-nausea medication. So. Does this mean the worst, nausea part will only last three days, and hopefully this stuff will do the trick. One day people will look back on this treatment and will be horrified that people actually went through this, that so many people actually went through this. But for now that's all there is. For now the other option is to just start dying now.
And really, I guess that is my natural death. And I did say that my worst fear was having to live beyond my natural time. So. I guess I am a hypocrite. I do want to take my shot at living to 80 after all, if it's this, then so be it. If it goes as planned it will be bad, but not that bad, and then I'll be on the other side. So. In fact I am extending my life beyond it's natural span. This is my first step of doing that. Everything else, except for getting that infected tooth pulled has all been stuff that I would've lived through anyway. I wouldn't live through this. If I didn't do the chemo, and the surgery and the radiation then I would start dying now. The cancer would gradually spread and in three or five years I would be dying for real. I'm hoping to extend that, by going through this bad time now. That's why I'm doing it.
There are a lot of websites, books, and articles about alternative treatments. But I know that the alternative treatments do not work to cure cancer. And in some cases they hasten the death. And many of them make you really miserable, just from the treatment itself and so make it worse. So, this is the option I'm going for. It is realistically my only option even if I don't like it. Right now that's all there is. Do what the doctors tell me, and even if what's going to happen to me is crude and barbaric, it does seem to work pretty good. And there is a 75% chance it will buy me those extra ten or fifteen years that I'd like to live.
But that was not my day yesterday. Not mostly.
My day yesterday was taking care of myself, doing things for me, for me to get ready for the results of the chemo, for me to be as prepared as I can be, before it actually starts so that I can be comfortable as possible, as supported as possible.
And the haircut was a big one. The haircut was a near tears event, repeatedly. And if I had been at home I would've cried, I would've sat down and had a big, good cry for my hair. I loved my long beautiful hair. It's been an important part of my identity, that long silky blonde hair. And then recently, that shiny, blondish grey bob. And it's been my bit of glamour. My hair. I always felt beautiful and feminine with my long hair, that did it for me, I didn't worry so much about jewelry, makeup, earrings, even sexy or glamorous clothes, even a good body, that was never part of my good body ambitions - those things were always fitness oriented, about professional respect, never about me as a woman, never about me as sexy, beautiful, glamourous. I let my hair do all that for me.
That was me.
I got my hair all cut off, short, yesterday.
Suddenly I was right up against it, and I had tears in my eyes as the guy washed my hair and I tried to compose my words to Francoise, who has been cutting, trimming my hair for almost twenty years. I tried to get the words right to tell him we had to cut it all off because I was going into chemo and it was going to fall out anyway. I thought I would have to explain about chemo to him. Why I needed a short haircut that would look cute and fun now, before it all falls out, and be something that I could look forward to after it starts to grow back.
It was giving up a whole, adult lifetime of seeing myself one way. It was giving up a whole adult life of my beauty and sexuality being tied up in my hair. Not in my breasts. They are neither here nor there to me, yes they are part of my sexuality, but they are also functional, part of feeding children too. They were never part of my identity to myself.
So for me the hair really was the big trauma. Even if it will grow back. Even if I will probably live through this, and then live long enough afterwards for it all to grow back. I was losing an important part of my idea of myself.
But I wasn't going through the trauma on my own. Francois got it. He's had lot's of clients go through chemo. He's done lot's of pre-chemo haircuts. And he's cut my hair for so many years that he knows how important the length and texture is to me. And he loves my hair too, he’s been proud of my hair. It was a trauma for him too.
We laughed and joked. He gave me a really cute, modern looking cut. I actually look pretty good. My husband took a picture of me and I posted it on facebook lots of likes and lot's of good comments. Only a few from people know why I got the haircut.
So yes, I have just killed someone that I've been all my life. But, thanks to Francois who got it, someone else was born at that same time. And it's interesting. Both of us were surprised. And pleased. During the cut it was a bit heavy. And he did also give me good advice about getting cute little sporting caps like the snowboarders wear, with an open top, and they don’t look like old diva chemo hats, to wear inside, around the house. Why? because the hair falls out every where. You'll be cooking dinner and hair falls in your food. You'll wake up in the morning and there'll be hair all over your pillow. Wear these little caps and then it's not such a problem. You just take them off and shake them out, and all that hair gets dealt with. It will take longer than you think. After they stop the chemo it will take three months for the hair to grow up to scalp level, and then it will be another three months after that before I will have hair long enough for him to be able to cut it into this short style again. I have six months of treatment coming up. Enjoy this short hair now, it will be another year before I have hair, even short hair again.
That was the process of the cut. And then it was done, and I had short hair. We both looked at the mirror in surprise. I looked good! It was a good cut. I looked bright and fun, modern and more fashionable. Really maybe I should keep my hair short like this even after it grows back! It was a new me. And it was a cute me. And it was a strong looking me. And it wasn't a mannish me. I looked good. Genuinely good. Maybe not so glamorous/sexy. But what the heck, I’m over sixty. This look was both fresher and younger, fun. And also stronger and more confident. Professional. Interesting. Older and younger both at the same time. Still grey but it was a younger person's cut.
That was step one. And that was the big trauma. And it was okay. I'm ready now. I'm through that. I had a good cry, my good cry writing this, finally got to have it and let it out. Had that moment of mourning for that old me. And I am feeling good about this new me.
I did like to catch site of my reflection yesterday afternoon. I did like all the likes and wow's you look good on Facebook. I did send a messenger pic of it to my granddaughter, and she did respond, cool, I like it. I feel okay.
After the haircut I went on the rest of my, me excursion. I went to the department store and I had them do a make up for me. I told the lady I was going into chemo and wanted to have a new make up for when my hair all falls out. She was great. She did the makeup and she spent the time working through their foundation options until she found something that worked and looks good on me. So, now I have some better options for my skin, better eyelid stuff, she gave me this "base" that keeps the eye shadow from sinking into the little cracks and looking terrible. It really looked good. And she showed me how to contour the colors on my eyes. And what not to do. And she solved the foundation. That was the main thing. So now I have a range of make up options and if my old, favourite foundation runs out, I still have something. And they've invented a better mascara too. Since the last time I bought make-up. So that too.
And it was fun just sitting there and getting it done and being fussed over in that way. And you know, this is what I did when I was a teenager. When I was so geeky and awkward, and picked-on that my mom put me in "charm school" at the local department store to try and save me from all that social distress. It was my dad’s idea, he thought it would help me, that that was what young women had to do to keep from being picked on. I was thirteen. In charm school they taught us how to wear makeup and dress nicely. Not quite walking around with a book on your head lesson in how to be a lady, but along those lines. For the little graduation fashion show the hair stylists put my hair up in a French twist because I would not let them cut it into a more fashionable style. That was my first ever glamor moment. Those stylists stepped back and went wow and praised each other for how good I looked, how well that European style suited me.
But my favourite moment, my favourite memory and where I learned that you have to take all that ‘social’ advice with a grain of salt was putting on nylon stockings for the first time. I’d shaved my legs for the first time too, and they felt kind of numb and weird without hair. Mom and I were in the department store change room, she was helping me get dressed for the little fashion show. They taught us to wear cotton gloves when we put on our stockings so we wouldn’t snag them and create runs. This world and it’s rules was all just as strange to my Russian peasant immigrant mother as it was to me, hence the need for charm school. I went to put on that stocking, wearing the gloves so I couldn’t really feel anything through my finger tips and I pushed my foot right through the bottom of the stocking. Not just a snag - the whole foot of the stocking was gone! We both just stared at it in shock. We laughed so hard! It’s a wonder I didn’t pee myself too. And luckily my mom, in her own peasant wisdom had thought to bring a spare pair of stockings, just in case.
She’d already survived melanoma, and our relationship was complicated. But at that moment in time breast cancer was still in her future.
I used to get my make-up done for free at that same department store. Now I’m in a different city, but it’s the same department store and they are all laid out the same. So it was like stepping back in time. Being a teenager again. Being on the cusp of being a new me. Changing. Part of the ritual. Go to the big store of normal and get lessons. The last time I did the make up thing was at our local drugstore, it was the on-the-cheap version, I needed makeup armour for a teaching gig. I was going to teach filmmaking to a room full of high school kids. And I figured I needed a successful filmmaker look to survive the first ten minutes before they really got into the fun of the class itself. Getting makeup to teach school. Thirteen year olds.
So that was good. I think the makeup was a bit harsh, and I'll do a toned down version for my real life, and I'm looking forward to trying it today. Washing my hair and my face and trying the haircut and makeup, adapting it to my real life. Fun. Making lemonade.
And then it was off to the library. I returned my book. I got some cancer books. I didn't even think of cancer books before I went in, I was mostly just going because that's a part of my life, one of my anchors, going to the library. I didn't want to get any more cookbooks, much as I love them. Cancer books. I took out three cancer books, one is the biography of cancer, the Emperor of Maladies that looks at cancer over human history and how it's been treated, and regarded, and affected people. It will be good to read that, because while I'm not beating myself up with ideas that I caused this cancer, I admit that yes, I have been over weight, and yes I have eaten sugar, and other simple carbs, and yes I have stress in my life. And I know the environment I live in is full of the kinds of hormones that my cancer likes to feed on; plastics, even the coating on receipts, and in the water, not filtered out, everybody’s birth control pills, hormone replacement pills. Enough to make fish go weird. Even though I wasn't blaming myself. Even though I was thinking - age first, genetics big too - this is exactly like the cancer that mom had. Then environment next. And me being overweight before I lost all that weight last year, and eating too much sugar only a contributing factor not the whole story, not all my fault.
Even though I am trying to avoid the whole shame and blame side of cancer of course I still wonder how much of this is my fault? What else could I have done differently? So I think that even before I start reading this book it is good to know that cancer has existed through human history. It only seems so prevalent now because we are living longer, more of us living long enough to get it. And also that we know what it is. As I told M the bookkeeper, in the old days I wouldn't know I had cancer now at this stage. It would just be old age breast changes, and I would live another 2 or 5 years before I started to die from a full body shut down of different organs failing. That would put me at 65 to 70. A generation or two ago that would've been dying of old age, dying of natural causes.
And really. Let's face it. I am getting close to that dying of natural causes age anyway. It's worth it to go through this now at 62, but if it comes back in 10 years, would it be worth it to go through it again when I'm 72, trying to buy the years to get me to 82 or 83? The new normal lifespan? I think perhaps not.
Here is my problem with these late life interventions. They don't prolong life in any significant way. But they do interfere with the process of dying. There are things you have to do when you are dying. It's a job. It's a sad, hard job, and there are things you have to do. You have to talk to the people you love, and who love you. You have to touch them, and they have to touch you. You need to make eye contact and see into each others souls for a bit. It's hard, it's painful, but it's better if you do it. That is a natural death. You can't do that from an isolation room. You can't do that if they removed your throat and a big part of your chest and stomach. When it gets to that point you have to stop them from doing the things that will mess up the work you have to do in order to die properly. For the people who love you, for your sense of right to the people who love you and will miss you and who will have to go on without you. When you can't live any longer, they you owe it to yourself and to them to get on with the dying process.
But not today.
Today I have some cancer books to read. And I have some novels to read. And I have a line on some good audio books to listen to.
And I have my new short hair do, and I've taken control, and with the help of my hairdresser have re-invented myself and my look, before the chemo even starts. While I'm feeling good. I'm getting comfortable with this new, not relying on hair version of myself. I am the boss of how I see myself as I go through this. That was money well invested, even if this cut will only last a few weeks before all the hair falls out anyway.
And I think that maybe it will be good for me to let go of the hair, and look at the rest of myself differently. I think it's probably time I did that anyway.
And I did go sit in the greenhouse for a while. And I did remember all the fun times I've had in there with the grandkids. Funny how the library has turned into this great place that I share with the grandkids. And it always brings back nice moments for me to simply be there.
Then it was off to the yarn store. I got that last ball of wool to finish the toque for me. Yay! I can finish it now. And I got the nice store lady to help me buy the yarn to make a sweater for my granddaughter. Maybe even for Xmas. We'll see. I have knitting to keep my hands busy and some nice yarn to work with.
And the day was filled with virtual likes and nice comments on my short hair, even if I was roaming the streets by myself just being this new short haired person in front of people who'd never seen any other version of me. Interesting too.
There was a Kentucky Fried Chicken place by the wool store. I only noticed it this time. I almost went in. And in fact, if I could've gone in and sat down to eat a dinner for one, I would've done that. I would've done it as a solidarity moment for mom. Whenever dad was out of town. Whenever she was alone with us kids Kentucky Fried Chicken was her big treat. My mother who has been through all this breast cancer herself. My mother who gave me these genes, and who would never have given them to me if she had any control over where your genes go. My mother who got her genes from her mother. My mother who watched her own mother die of cancer. My mother who was a teenager helping her mother die of cancer in their house. My mother who was always resentful that she had to do so much extra work, grown-up work because her mother was dying and couldn't take care of her family anymore.
This is the very first time I'm seen her that way. This is the very first time that I understood what she must have felt when they told her that she had cancer. This is the very first time that I've understood our complicated relationship after Dad got me doing all those mom things, cooking and cleaning while she was in the hospital being treated for melanoma. I was eight years old. She came back and I was critical of the way she did her housekeeping work compared to the way I did it while she was in the hospital. This is the first time I realized how traumatic that must have been for her. My mother and her father left their small prairie town after my grandmother died. They left and never went back. The two of them left together and moved to the mountains. Now I have a new lens to see that whole story. Interesting.
I would have stopped and sat alone eating my KFC, thinking of mom. And also my brother. Closer in memory is the time that they made him stay for an extra day in the hospital after his lung surgery. He was so mad! He was so ready to get out of that place. He asked me to get him KFC take-out for supper that night. The judgemental looks from the nurses when I walked onto his floor. This is not health food. And how strong it smelled. And how satisfied my brother and I were to share that dinner, remembering mom, without saying, and just enjoying it together. Being bad kids in the hospital together. That secret treat feeling. We liked that too. Us two. So it would've been right to have a KFC moment yesterday. But when I looked in the door it was only a take out joint. There wasn't even one little table or counter to sit at, so just took a big whiff of the smell, and I let it go. I did it in my mind only.
I had truffle filled brie cheese on crackers instead, with a glass of my husband’s homemade, artisnal tonic water. Then a supper of rice, broccoli, and lamb chops with pea greens. That is how we treat ourselves in this house.
And it was a totally me day. It was a spoil myself day. And I don't do that very much. It was expensive too. Hair, makeup, yarn. I feel okay about it. For one thing, I know how important mental health is. I know this was worth it. I know it will comfort me in the days to come when I can't go out and do these kindnesses for myself.
We are going to visit the niece and nephew this weekend. It will be good for my husband. I think he needs their support and it will help him adjust. He originally suggested that we postpone this visit until after I start chemo. It was the nephew, who’s gone through this with his mother, who said that I’ll go down really fast once the chemo starts and if we want to do this visit we should do it now, right now, before the chemo starts. So we are off for a sudden little mini-holiday with the relatives this weekend.
Both of my granddaughters like my new haircut. My two granddaughters who may very well have inherited this gene and this cancer. My two granddaughters who might one day be going through this very thing themselves. I go through this as an example to them too. I try to go through it in a way that I'd like them to be able to start from and improve on in their own life. Whatever I go through now, whatever pain in the ass suffering I go through, hopefully I'll survive enough to be a positive story and example to them. And if not, then at least a realistic, and still good story, example of how to die. Either way.
I'm an elder now. This kind of shit is my job now. If it's not cancer this time then sooner or later it will be something else. And it's better than the alternative which is that they will die before me. Kids expect that their grandparents will die in their lifetime, just as we expected that Moose would die in our lifetime. It doesn't make it easy. But it's not a shock. It's not "wrong". There is nothing "bad" about it. It's just the nature of life. Death is the nature of life. Death is kind've what defines life, in my books.
Alright. Enough philosophy. I have a normal day to do. I have work to do, And I have to clean up this makeup mess. And get something to eat, have a bath. Do my hair and make up as if I'm going out. And in fact I am going out later today. And then I have to get on with a normal work day of paying bills, sending invoices and taking care of business. Get that done. Then enjoy the weekend.
Dispatched: Oct 12