Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Though there isn't much news to report, I really felt that I needed to write a bit about hair again. I have to say that it is very interesting being a bald woman. Well, I'm not yet really bald--that will be in a few days. It's actually fascinating to me how fast my little buzz has grown in just 5 days. I kind of wish it hadn't, since that just means there's more to fall out over the weekend.
As I said earlier, I have been wearing one of my wigs to take Lenny into school and to pick her up. These kids have no clue that one day my hair is significantly longer than the next. They don't care--but they would if they saw me without a wig, and then Lenny would have to answer some questions, and that's not fair for a 4 year old. She has made it clear that she wants me to wear a wig to her school, and that's fine. She's going through enough. Since they're little, I'm sure her classmates' interest would be fleeting. But of course they would notice--for example, the boy next door just laughed when he saw me, and until that moment I hadn't even really thought about being bald in my back yard. I'm sure he'll get used to it though, since he'll see me all the time. And in that situation his parents could explain it to him, leaving Lenny out of the equation.
At work it's been a different story. I've taken the wig off as soon as I got into my office. So in the hall, the cafeteria, and the gym, I've been bald. And everyone has pretended not to notice. My old boss saw me and said "Gaa!!"Then he kind of looked at me and said, "that doesn't look so bad." A few minutes and several non-sequiters later he said, "that looks kind of good actually." Our admin said "Oh, you poor thing!" One of the economists, who happens to be bald himself, told me that he liked my hairdo. Almost everyone else acted as if they noticed nothing different about me. At the gym yesterday it was the elephant in the room. Who is looking and pretending not to? Um, everyone. After class one guy came up to me and said "Well you look different!" Yeah, I know, I said sheepishly. "Well, it looks nice." Today, a young girl saw me at the gym and said "your hair!" I said, yes, well, it wasn't my first choice. She asked if it was "for something." I said yes--breast cancer. She said she was sorry, how long did I know? We got into the whole conversation. At some point she said "at least you have a beautiful face to go with it. It looks good."
In the general world, it's been a mixed bag. On a walk the other day I was wearing a bandana. A neighbor whom I didn't even know knew my name called out "Hey Katy!" from across the street. I thought, how did he recognize me? Gabe thought by my legs. Then, Gabe and I went out the other night and I did indeed go bald. We ate in the south loop and went to see a movie. When you're hanging out in an area full of art students, a hairdo like mine doesn't attract much attention. It was refreshing to be able to not worry about wearing anything on my head and still blend in. I guess in a city the size of Chicago, you could be edgy, you could have cancer, and there's so many damn people most people have seen one or the other and they just don't care. I got a few looks of curiosity, and a few of appreciation, all from men. This just reiterates what women's magazines tell you. When they ask 50 guys what they like about anything pertaining to women they get 50 different answers. The lesson is if you'e got something, someone out there is bound to like it.
What else did I learn from my first few public days as a bald lady? One, that it helps to have people acknowledge a difference. But then again I knew this already. I remember being in a wheelchair and having several kids come up to me at different points and ask what was wrong with my legs. Adults, on the other hand, would give me weird looks or do that adult thing where you pretend not to notice something, thereby making it more obvious that you notice. I much preferred the kid version. Same with this baldness. It helps when people say the right thing too.
Two, I learned that it helps to look good bald. I feel almost strange about it. I mean, it's not like you get a free pass if bald won't flatter you--you do chemo for breast cancer, and you lose your hair. Everyone going through this should have the prerogative to go bald if it makes their lives easier. Sometimes I can almost feel the relief when people tell me I look good, or that it's not that bad. It's like they would just feel terrible if I didn't, and I subjected them to looking at me anyway by not wearing a scarf or a wig or something. Now don't get me wrong, I greatly appreciate the compliments and it makes it much easier to go through a transition that I still wish had never happened. I wish I needed my hair clips and bands, my shampoo. It's hard to get used to rubbing dove soap on my head and taking three minute showers. And there's this strange pressure to somehow change your whole style when you go bald. There are all of these classes and articles written about the right makeup and jewelry to wear if you're bald due to chemo. I've either worn no makeup or the same, and I don't even have pierced ears, so I can't do the jewelry. But I just find it curious that there's so much attention being paid to lessening the impact. One article said that if you are a bald woman, people will notice you. It's inevitable, so give them something good to notice. Really? When men go bald they're told to just rock it out. It's sexy. So I guess I'm going to take that advice. While I greatly miss my pretty hair and the identity that went along with it, it does in a way seem like just hair now. Once my hair was actually gone, at least down to this stubble, I looked at it in the plastic bag and thought, well, that's some very pretty, very dead stuff right there. Part of me, laid out in a bag.
Well, enough with the hair for now. My exciting news is I slept like a normal Katy last night. I fell asleep on the couch watching tv with no melatonin or anything. I woke up about 4 hours later, went up to bed, actually fell asleep eventually. Let's hope the same is true tonight, before I start chemo again tomorrow and the process starts all over. Sigh.
Sleep and hair have dominated my post-chemo blogs, so I feel like I haven't said much about the other chemo side effects. Does anyone really care about this? Who knows, but here goes. I have a super-nose now. I can smell things I never thought existed, and I'm not sure it's a good thing. I'm never thirsty but I am absolutely parched. It's hard to describe the difference, but it's there. I've lost my balance and I get motion sickness. Moreover, I was told I would never get nauseous after the first few days. I got through a week without vomiting. I've gotten sick twice this past week. When Gabe and I went out the other night we got some Indian food, and I took the advice of all the docs who told me to take advantage of days when I was hungry. So I ate a nice big meal. Now this is 113 pound me, so we're not talking huge quantities of food here. And it was low-fat, vegetarian Indian food. But I felt SO sick during the movie. At home it was no better. In fact I felt so sick I did something I've never done in my life--I sat there until the very act of the dry heaving made me vomit. In a sense, I made myself do it. Bad idea. Will I ever eat Indian food again? Boy does spicy food not taste good on the way back up. My stomach and throat hurt for a day after that.
I told the chemo nurse about my vomiting. She said, get this...that maybe I have a stomach bug. So, immediately upon starting chemo I got some anxiety attacks and the stomach flu? They're not, you know, related to chemo or anything right? I'm just giving up on telling them about my side effects unless they might land me in the ER. The docs also seem annoyed with me that I went to a neurologist and to my GP about my sleep. Well, maybe I wouldn't have done that if you hadn't told me to just go to the social worker to sleep! I have since talked to two other breast cancer survivors who had the same exact sleep issue as me. And I only know about 8 survivors, so that's a pretty big percentage, it seems to me.
I've since learned that it can be pretty common on A/C to have this anorexia/bulimia response. You have very little appetite so you don't eat much. Then, when you do eat, it makes you feel sick and you want to vomit. This is exactly what has happened to me. You all know I love to eat. My weight loss has not been achieved by dieting so much as be exercising and eating less. But now, there are so many foods that just aren't appealing. And I can only eat a little at a time. I just ate too much of that Indian stuff the other night. Not literally--just for my new appetite. And I had to make myself get rid of it. I never thought I would do that in a million years. Of all of the strange things people go through, there are a few I could never relate to. Drug and alcohol addiction are two. Anorexia and bulimia are some others. But of course this type has a totally different cause, due to extreme nausea. Regardless, it's kind of bizarre.
Chemo has changed my body so quickly. But except for this hair, it's all going on inside of me. The girl at the gym today came up to me after our initial conversation and said "I'm sorry, should I not have done that?" I said, hey it's no secret. Yesterday everyone acted like they didn't notice so I appreciate you saying something. And she said "Well, you would never know." I got what she meant. I had told her I found out about my breast cancer on May 4 and that I've had two surgeries since then. She's seen me for two and a half months in the gym, favoring one side, not showing up as often, but there, looking like myself. I'm bald, but other than that you would never know. Unless you live with me, or read this blog, that is.
I was reading an article today in BrainChild about stuttering, and the author said a few things that really hit home. She said, "I don't believe everything happens for a reason. I don't believe every problem is an opportunity, or at least an opportunity worth the price." She also said that when asked if the glass is half full or half empty, she sees it as both. That's all exactly right, at least to me. So, here's to round two. I just need to get through the next several days and I can tell myself I'm half done with the really bad stuff, a quarter of the way done with all of it. Dealing with the actual day to day bullshit of chemo is the half empty part, and getting it over with fills the cup.