The Ugly Truth

Its been almost 2 months since my final chemotherapy session and by all accounts it appears I’ve beaten the Big C, notwithstanding that I’m still awaiting that absolute CANCER FREE designation from my doctors.  You would think all would be wonderful but alas no.  I’d been surrounded by family and extended family just one week after my last chemo during a cousin’s wedding.  By the 3 week mark, my taste buds were coming back and my oncologist had given me the all clear to resume eating raw vegetables.

The ugly truth is I’ve been a ball of emotions, exhausted and I dare say experiencing depression.  I’ve gotten mad at myself for feeling this way, after all I ought to be happy to be on this side of treatment.  I’ve wanted to blog but felt paralyzed, unable to put my thoughts down in any sensible way.  Hot flashes have become the bane of my existence.  It’s as if I’m now just mourning, just able to process what I’ve been through over the past 7 months.

I learned about my cancer diagnosis while in the throws of working on a concert production late last year.  So ‘Breast Cancer’ simply became another heading on my checklist, according to my BFF I went into full show production mode with it.  I planned everything meticulously and was in surgery just 10 days after the concert took place.  My sister calls it ‘warrior mode’, which is I suppose, exactly what I needed to be to get through surgery and chemo.  But now that its all done I’m sad, in a way mourning the loss of the person I was before all this.  In many ways I’m a much better person now, certainly healthier, but I still miss the old me, my old body.  And yes, I miss my breast. And I hate dislike the prosthesis.  It’s heavy and uncomfortable and makes me feel self conscious.

Although I’ve approached my diagnosis with general optimism, right now I feel heavy.  Cancer has laid bare things I wasn’t ready to face, my vulnerability, the sheer uncertainty of life.  And while it’s likely that I’m cancer free, cancer is always going to be there, as if it’s waiting in the wings or perched on my shoulder like an annoying fly.  It was easy to write about cancer, writing about depression, not so much.  Cancer you can explain, how on earth do I explain these feelings of melancholy.

Thankfully, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  I truly believe in the power of community and sharing.  Last week I reluctantly made the trek to my monthly cooking club session, I was not feeling myself at all.  Thanks to the moderator and my sister for pushing me to go.  These folks, the majority of whom I just met in January allowed me to cry and be vulnerable, and had no judgement when I pulled off the prosthesis and shoved it in my handbag.

Cooking Club Family

Pictured with my cooking club family at Stush in the Bush

So while right now I feel like I’m in a bit of a fog, seeing things in varying shades of grey, hope springs eternal that the color will come back.  Soon.

Turns Out I Wasn’t Ready

I thought I had things under control.  And then came hair loss.

It’s widely known that one of the side effects of chemotherapy is the loss of hair.  No big deal…it will grow back.  After all, I had watched my mother deal with losing her hair not once but twice as she tackled the ‘Big C’.  I had fooled myself into thinking that the hair loss was the least of my worries.

My first chemo cycle was not as rough as I had expected, yes I had some slight nausea, pains in my feet and hands but overall I just felt weak and fatigued.  Nothing too unbearable.  When there was no hair loss in the immediate days after that first cycle, I was like…”Maybe I’ll be lucky and not lose my hair”.  And then a week and half later it began.  At first it looked like normal shedding, but then it got progressively worse.  Next thing I knew there was hair everywhere, on my pillow when I woke up, in the bathroom sink, on the floor….just everywhere.

Exactly 2 weeks after my first chemo treatment, I headed to the hairdresser to do a big chop.  Again, no big deal right, especially since I’ve worn my hair in a ‘teenie-weenie afro’ many times over the years.  Once I had cut it I remembered how much I loved wearing my hair short….yeah I could do this again. Teenie Weenie Afro

Except I was still losing hair.  If I so much as brushed my hand across the top of my head, hair came out.  Pretty soon, I had resorted to only touching my hair once for the day in the morning.  Less than a week after cutting it while market shopping, a friend hinted that I might need to start wearing a scarf.  A bald patch had now appeared in the back of my head.

The next morning (last Thursday in fact) on the dreaded chemo day, as I massaged hair product in, the hair loss was more profound than before.  Literally the side of my head had peeled out.  I sent this picture to my sister who joked that I looked like a little birdie.  My response to her…. “more like a peel head jankro”.

Peel Out

It threw me into a tailspin.  For the first time since this whole experience began, I felt real depression.  I had planned to go into work for a few hours that day before chemo at 5pm but I simply couldn’t move.  Over the course of the day  depression turned to guilt, guilt because it felt like I was being vain to put so much stock in my hair of all things.  Turns out losing my hair was actually harder than losing my breast.  It hit me like a ton of bricks that no matter what I did, I had no control.  No matter how much I cut my hair, it was still coming out.

Later while scrolling through Instagram, I came across this post from The Laurus Project (@thelaurusproject), a non-profit organization focused on helping breast cancer survivors thrive.

The Laurus Project

https://instagram.com/p/BgWeeWZhCyy/.

The image and caption was just what I needed in that moment.  Better to take control and just shave it off.  So on the way to chemo, I made a quick stop at the barbershop.

Bald

BEST. DECISION. EVER.