There are days I am still taken aback when I see myself in the mirror. It is the new me with the sassy silver fringe standing up every which way some mornings. The old me was a chin length bob, streaky blonde colored faithfully every eight weeks with highlights and low lights and styled to perfection. I loved my old hair and over the years followed every style trend from perms to the Dorothy Hamill cut, to whatever was au courant. The hazel eyes are the same though the lines at the corners are still there, maybe a little more etched. I see more wisdom in those eyes, some weariness too.
Two years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a complete surprise, discovered in a follow up to my annual mammogram when the radiologist had told me to come back sooner than the usual year visit because he had seen something he wanted to view again. I did not have a family history of cancer and I was perfectly healthy, I thought anyway. It was clear to me on that second visit by his body language and grunts that the news was not good. I asked him point blank if he thought I had cancer, and he said he did though I would have to get it confirmed with a surgical biopsy.
That started the careening roller coaster ride, over which I had no control. I had to hang on and have faith in my surgeons and oncologists at UCSF, one of the finest medical facilities in the world. I had a lumpectomy, then eight weeks of chemotherapy, which was an ordeal, followed by twenty-five radiation treatments that I sailed through.
I lost my hair. When you are taking chemo they can tell you the day it will fall out. I had cut my hair very short ahead of time because I didn’t want to have long pieces falling out everywhere. I had to get used to seeing myself in the mirror bald. It is not easy but I managed. I had two fun wigs and a wardrobe of colorful scarves and funky hats. It took a while, but the day I noticed new cute eyelashes had sprouted, I shouted out loud. Gradually my silver fringe started to fill in. My kids loved my “Annie Lenox” look and I got many compliments even from strangers.
I learned that losing my hair was the least of what I endured. In a way, ironically I am glad I have that daily reminder that I look different because I am not the same. I’m a survivor and I have come out of this trial stronger. I’m feeling great and continue with my check ups and try to do everything the doctors recommend. I hope I am a better person for all I went through and will be able to do good in this crazy world of ours with the rest of my days and years.
published 4 June 2016