Heads Up! #8: Dad’s Gray Stetson

DadinStetson
Dad in his Stetson

My father taught for well over forty years in the public school system; he started with a few years of high school in Texas, and then, for the bulk of his career, taught chemistry at a community college in Georgia. He’s retired now, and tomorrow is his birthday. In honor of the contributions he and all other smart, dedicated, and hard-working teachers have made to the education and growth of our young people, I’m featuring his vintage gray Stetson in today’s Heads Up! post.

The hat itself testifies to the kind of opportunity and success access to public education offers. My dad, Garry, grew up on a farm in rural Texas, and he was the first in his family to go to college. When he graduated in 1964 from what was then East Texas State University, his parents gifted him the Stetson as a graduation gift.

It fits!
It fits!

According to the receipt, still tucked in the box, the hat cost $12, the equivalent of around $94 today. After graduating, he put his degree right back to work in the service of educating others.

I remember him wearing the Stetson on occasion during my childhood. When I was in middle school, we discovered that it fit me, too. Both my father and I have (at least judging by the general inventory of the hat industry) unusually small heads. So it was a kick to discover that I could sport his Stetson.

Having grown up in the Southeast, I never had my parents’ bent for Western style (though I am partial to boots of all kinds). To give the Stetson a little feminine flair I added a (removable) floral band and paired it with a cozy blue wrap over a mixed calico-print dress and jeans.

According to the official Stetson website, the company was founded in 1865 by John Batterson Stetson, who, after traveling out west as a young man, returned east to open a hat-making shop in Philadelphia. His father had also been in the trade, and passed his skills on to his son. With an initial investment of somewhere between $60 and $100 (accounts vary), Stetson finally struck a chord with his “Boss of the Plains” design in 1869 and in 1870 purchased property for his own factory. After his death in 1901 and well into the 1950s, the company designed and manufactured a wide variety of styles, including hats for the military during the war.

When hats began to drift out of daily fashion in the 1960s, it was President Lyndon B. Johnson’s influence that encouraged the company’s turn toward Western styles. That proved a long-term lucrative market. Manufacturing moved to Missouri, and movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark helped keep the hats popular. The current Stetson factory is in Garland, Texas.

Changing up the band of my Dad’s hat to a narrow one in black, rust, and gold makes the Stetson the perfect accessory for a black poncho, jeans, and equestrian-style boots.

So here’s a hats off to all our educators, especially those like my Dad who’ve dedicated their entire careers to public education. Thank you for your service. We are indebted to you and will continue to need your wisdom, guidance, and strength.StestonBridge1

And happy birthday, Dad! Thank you for the loan of your wonderful hat.

———————————–

Heads up!

∼ Beautiful, quirky hats make me happy. The “Heads Up!” series is a reminder to keep my (still bald-ish) head up, to pay attention to the good in the world, and to encourage myself and others facing a tough road that it’s possible to find the fun in even the most challenging circumstances. ∼

Photos by Steve Prisley

Past Perfect: The Grammar of Healing

My husband is the math mind in the family; I’m the English nerd. But lately I’ve found myself thinking less about settings and symbolism, and more about symmetry and statistics.

img_1044
Mirror, Mirror…

Many years ago, I did an experiment where I held a small mirror up to the center of my face while looking in a second larger mirror, so I could see how I’d appear if my face were perfectly symmetrical. All of us are at least a little asymmetrical, so the trick quickly reveals the differences, large or small, in the two sides of one’s face: the right eye has a little more tilt than the left, maybe, or one cheek is a bit fuller than its counterpart. The altered reflection, for me, almost felt like looking at different person, perhaps a sibling of myself.

notetnc2The process of bilateral breast reconstruction has a tendency to highlight other asymmetries. The first thing my reconstructive surgeon said to me when he looked at my pre-surgery chest was that my left rib cage sat a little more forward, was a tiny bit more prominent, than my right. I’d never noticed this particular (minor) anomaly, but it’s apparently just as common for there to be asymmetry in the rib cage as in the face. The difference in my bone structure became most noticeable immediately after surgery and during my early tissue expander fills; for a while the right expander lagged behind the left, making me look lopsided. I also discovered I have a pocket of fat on my right upper back, unmatched on the left, which appeared only when I didn’t have breasts to pull the skin forward and keep it flattened out.

howard-schatz-and-beverly-ornstein-olympic-athlete-body-types-gymnastics-high-jump-triple-jump-wrestling
Even Olympic athletes’ bodies vary dramatically. (Photo by Schatz and Ornstein)

Studies indicate we equate higher levels of symmetry with perception of beauty, so it’s only too easy to worry over our various anatomical irregularities. But there’s so much about our bodies that’s out of our control: the set of our features; our bone structure; height; the size and shape of breasts, booty, genitals, hands and feet. We can exercise and lift weights to affect our body composition—but the ability to bulk up muscle mass, and the places our fat cells are predisposed to distribute themselves? That’s pre-determined. Significant elements of our health are hardwired too: some suffer multiple allergies from birth, for example, while others are born with immune systems seemingly hewn from impenetrable stone.

Bodies are glitchy and unpredictable in surprising ways, for better and for worse. The fact my body grew a malignant mass is somewhat mysterious: I am, as best we can tell, the first person in my blood family on either side to develop cancer of any kind. My body’s responsiveness to treatment is, to my mind, equally mysterious, and awe-inspiring: I learned this week that only 20 to 30 percent of triple negative breast cancer patients have, as I did, a “complete pathologic response” to chemotherapy. I was thrilled when we got the pathology report stating they’d found no evidence of remaining cancer during surgery, but the news felt weirdly abstracted. Learning the actual statistical probability of achieving that response was sobering. It made me realize just how incredibly fortunate I am. Having a complete response lessens the chance of recurrence dramatically, dropping it from 35+ percent down to 5 percent. As my oncologist said, it’s cancer, so there are no guarantees. But short of never having developed it in the first place, the odds for long-term survival are the best they can be.

davinciI’ve often felt lucky to be in the body I am. Aside from some cranky tonsils, a couple bouts of pneumonia, and one broken bone, I’ve been hale and hearty most of my forty-seven years, and I’ve managed to stay active and maintain a healthy, if not altogether svelte, weight into my middle age without Herculean effort. Excepting the sixth grade, when my legs had a sudden growth spurt separate from the rest of my body that briefly turned me into a sort of hybrid stork-human, my parts are mostly proportional, and my face, while perhaps not symmetrical enough for Hollywood’s standards, is reasonably attractive.

I did nothing (unless you count that bane of puberty, wearing braces) to “earn” any of these features of anatomy. They just are, like my cancer, like my cancer’s responsiveness to treatment. Why did my body grow malignant cells in the first place? I don’t know. Why were those cells especially sensitive to death-by-chemotherapy? I don’t know the answer to that either. I do know I’m extremely lucky and profoundly grateful to be in the relatively small percentage of survivors who have that experience.

survivorship4I’m just vain enough to feel relieved that the obvious asymmetries that appeared in my chest and back are slowly evening out as reconstruction progresses. But I’m far more reassured by a different realization. As I walked into the dining room Tuesday night, preparing to sit down to dinner with my hubby, it suddenly occurred to me: I no longer have cancer. Granted, my treatment isn’t quite done–follow-up radiation is the standard-of-care for triple negative diagnoses, even with a complete response to chemo, and reconstruction will take a while longer. But the chemotherapy worked; the surgery confirmed it. No more need I say, I have cancer.  Now I can say, I had cancer.

My inner English nerd reappeared, rejoicing: the simple past tense has never sounded so beautiful.

Of All The Hair I Lost…

Of all the hair I lost, I missed my pubic hair the most.

I know a lot of people go to great effort and endure significant discomfort to remove the hair in their nethers. I briefly tried shaving once a few years ago, and I didn’t get the appeal. When after chemo my pubic hair shed alongside all the other hairs on my body (exception: seven eyelashes), I’ve never felt more profoundly naked.

hairless2
Minimal eyebrows, maximum cheeks
Losing my eyebrows was a close second. When I was first diagnosed, I knew I’d lose my head of hair; I knew, eventually, I’d lose my breasts. No one warned me that, for a while at least, I’d also lose my face.

As a born blonde, my brows have always been light, especially in summer when they’re bleached by sun exposure. I usually fill them in a bit with a light brown pencil, lest it appear I have no brows. For the month or so that I did, in fact, have no eyebrows, I almost couldn’t recognize the pale, perpetually startled face in the mirror (an effect enhanced by my having the cheeks of a puffer-fish, courtesy of steroids). Eyebrows are a key factor in facial recognition, according to a 2003 study conducted by behavioral neuroscientist Javid Sadr: study subjects asked to identify fifty famous faces in digitally altered photos could ID the celebrity only 46 percent of the time when the eyebrows were absent. Small wonder my browless visage looked unfamiliar, even to me.

img_9523
The borrowed wig
Losing the hair on my head bothered me least, which is probably why I never opted for a wig. I tried them on twice. The first time, I borrowed a short wig from another survivor so I wouldn’t have to take my new driver’s license photo bald. It was a very nice wig, but the weave was thick, and I’ve never had that much hair in my life. I felt like a fake.

Later, a friend of mine invited me along to visit her hairdresser’s wig shop in Lynchburg while she got a haircut. I found a few wigs there that I felt more comfortable in; they were constructed differently and better mimicked my naturally fine hair. I couldn’t decide if I should be comforted or alarmed that the one we all liked best was an angled bob—especially in gray.

My chemo had already concluded at that point, though, and I was hoping my own hair would soon return. Plus, it was hard to imagine asking my doctor for a prescription for a “cranial prosthesis” with a straight face—the term most insurance companies require for coverage.

Thankfully, my various hairs have begun to grow back, though the universe has had a great sense of humor about the order of things. The first place I detected stubble was on my legs, specifically my calves. Seriously? I thought. The first hair to come back is the hair I deliberately shave off several times a week?

img_0829Hair also began to grow “back” in places I didn’t remember having hair before. Like the front of my neck. Large downy patches on my cheeks. As a fine fuzz began to cover my scalp, tiny hairs also outlined the helix of each ear in a soft halo. I know most humans, women included, have a layer of fine facial hair, but I don’t recall mine previously having been quite so thick.

The verdict is still out on the color of my incoming head hair. My mother thought the initial peach fuzz looked light, “like the white-blond hair you had when you were a little girl,” she said. I wish. Steve thinks it’s brown. I definitely see some lighter highlights, but I’m guessing they’re gray. If I’m lucky, they’ll be that pretty, glinty, silvery gray some folks get. And texture is a real toss-up post-chemo: hair that was once straight often comes in curly; curly hair grows in straight. Since mine is maybe yet a quarter-inch long, the only texture it has at present is soft and fuzzy, like a velour jacket. My head seems to invite a lot of rubbing.

img_0837As my eyebrows have returned, I’ve stopped having to draw them on from memory (tricky to get even, easily smeared). They’re coming in the same light-brown, taupe-ish color they’ve been since college. It’s nice to see a glimpse of the familiar when I glance in the mirror, instead of a surprised alien.

And yes, it’s a relief to be less bare “down there.” I’m told there are wigs, called merkins, available for one’s nethers; movie stars sometimes wear them in nude scenes for a little extra coverage. But though I felt unduly exposed, I can no more fathom going to the trouble of attaching extra hair to my crotch than I can fathom enduring the pain of waxing it bare. Besides, according to an article by Ian Lecklitner on the Dollar Shave Club website (oh, the irony), all of our naturally-occurring human hairs have an evolutionary purpose: eyebrows, in addition to identification, are “ergonomically engineered” to protect the eyes from moisture and debris; pubic hair helps to foil bacteria; head hair serves as insulation. So I’m glad, for the most part, that my follicles are up and at ‘em again.

Though I do wish someone could explain just what evolutionary advantage I’ve gained by having fuzzy ears.

 

Rest Up

I’m tired of resting.

Go ahead, roll your eyes. Think: some burden. Your privilege is killing me. Oh, the whining.

ImohResting
Imoh’s good at resting!

I get it. I’ve lived many years of my life when I would have been thrilled to have time, especially generous quantities of it, to rest. To slow down the semester, not bring work home every night. Not to have a sick cat, a visiting writer, and a traveling husband all fall in the same week. Not to berate myself for neglecting to phone family more often because I’m too exhausted at the end of the day to make one more call, even to someone I love.

I’ve written elsewhere about the need for more rest, more leisure in our lives. With rest comes reflection, and with reflection, innovation. Not to mention that rest is fundamental to good health and self-care. I don’t by any means mean to malign rest, and I am extremely grateful to have the privilege to rest when I need to, especially when I know so many, whether ill or healthy but simply tired, don’t.

It would be better stated to say I am tired of having to rest. Tired of having to parse out my days, knowing if I want to enjoy an evening with friends, I shouldn’t go to the grocery store in the afternoon. That if I have a doctor’s appointment, it might be the only outing I have energy for that day. I think maybe I didn’t really believe the doctors or other survivors when they told me how fatigued I’d be, and for how long. I used to compile errands, thinking, hey, while I’m out, I’ll stop at X and take care of Y, too. These days I’m mostly a one-stop shop, and sometimes even then I come home and nap.

spoons3There’s an article that’s made its way around the internet about the “spoon theory.” The writer, Christine Miserandino, has lupus, and recounts the day, over lunch, a friend of hers asked what it was like to live with the chronic condition. On impulse, Miserandino grabbed all the spoons from her own and several surrounding tables, handed them to her inquisitive friend, and an analogy was born. Though the spoon theory initially described life with chronic conditions, the theory also applies to those with long-term illnesses. The basic premise: a person with chronic or long-term illness has a limited number of “spoons” (energy) to use each day and has to decide how to “spend” them. Different activities use up different amounts of spoons; the person has to plan carefully, because once a day’s spoons are used up, that’s it. For example, one thing Miserandino points out is that simply getting showered and dressed requires a spoon or two. As I gain strength, making myself publicly presentable takes less of a toll, but I still sometimes leave a little time between getting ready and going out so I can rest up for a few minutes.

Hubby Steve and I just spent a lovely weekend in New York City, the first traveling I’ve done since July. We started slow each morning, sleeping in and heading out for brunch between 11 and noon. Both afternoons we visited small museums for about two hours, then returned to our hotel for a couple hours’ rest before going to a show in the evening. We had a fabulous time, but the difference in our itinerary from our first trip to the city two years ago, when highlights included an afternoon walking tour of chocolatiers and going for a run through Central Park, was marked.

coloringbook
Coloring has meditative effects.

Some of my anxiety about resting probably comes from guilt. Though I do find value in rest, there is a part of me that feels like I should be doing something, doing more. Some days I get in a few hours of writing, or organize a file drawer or two in my office. But some days I don’t have the physical energy or mental concentration for much of anything, even reading. When I was really sick from chemo early on, I binge-watched television shows, but I grew weary of that fast. As a child, I only watched TV during the day when I was home sick, so I associate daytime TV-watching with illness, and it makes me fidgety. Instead, I’ve turned to podcasts and coloring books. Both have their perks: I’ve laughed a lot through the podcasts (laughter is the best medicine), and coloring is quite meditative. Still, there’s this little part of my brain that says, “Coloring? Shouldn’t you be doing something more productive?”

The first year I moved to Roanoke I contracted pneumonia in early January. When the doctor diagnosed me, he prescribed an antibiotic, then told me to come back for a check-up in six weeks. “Six weeks?” I asked, incredulous. Yes, he said, it would probably take that long to clear. I drug through each workday, went home and lay on the sofa until bedtime, then retired to my bed for the night, repeating the routine every day for weeks. One mid-March morning I woke up and realized, with surprise, “This is what it feels like to wake up feeling good!” I’d been sick and tired for so long, I’d almost forgotten what it felt like to be healthy. It was a revelation.

img_0361I’m looking forward to experiencing that revelation again, whenever it finally arrives. I know it might be a while. Until then, I try to remember what my friend Sarah said when I shared my frustrations with her about my lack of productivity, my inability to do all the things I need and want to do.

“You are doing something,” she said. “Something very important: you’re healing.”

And in the meantime, I have my headphones, and a plethora of colored pencils.

Heads Up! #4: Red Velvet Day

This rolled-and-ruched red velvet cloche is one I found at an antique store and fell in love with immediately. Its hue falls somewhere between red and pink, depending on the light, and its organic folds and pleats are full of movement, even when it’s simply resting atop the head.

The hat is finished with one wide grosgrain band that wraps and encircles its narrow brim, and a second, doubled ribbon in the same shade that gathers the pleats on the right side of the back crown. The only tag inside indicates that it was “Union Made in the U.S.A.”

Sometimes I feel a bit silly or indulgent playing with my hats. I mean, I have cancer. I should be serious, right? Every day I’m reminded that energy and time are finite quantities, so I should use them wisely, yes?

Pish. Today is the only day we have. That makes it all the more important to embrace frivolity, joy, and superfluous delights, which really aren’t superfluous at all.

This topper’s bright color and sassy cheer, by the way, make it a great hat to mark two notable milestones: the conclusion of my chemotherapy, and the advent of the autumn leaf hues that are finally beginning to appear!

Heads up!

All photos by Laura Wade Photography.


∼ Beautiful, quirky vintage hats make me happy. The “Heads Up!” series is a reminder to keep my (currently bald) head up, to pay attention to the good in the world, and to encourage myself and others facing a tough road that it’s possible to find the fun in even the most challenging circumstances. ∼

 

Special Guest Post: The Chemistry Professor & the Poisonous Tree

Today’s post is authored by my wonderful husband, Steve.  As I approach my last chemotherapy appointment this Friday (yay!), he shares the story of Taxol, the drug at work on me.

Pacific Yew
Pacific Yew

My wife sleeps in the reclining chair of the chemotherapy treatment room. A shawl knitted by her sister-in-law, herself a breast cancer survivor, is wrapped around her shoulders. A bright fuzzy blanket made by her mother lies across her lap and legs. Two plastic bags on the IV stand feed a clear liquid through the tangle of tubes to the port on her chest and then straight into her heart. The chemical in the liquid works in a unique way to halt cell division, which stops the cancer from growing. Drop by drop, minute by minute, it flows through her veins to poison the tumor that threatens her life.

I’ve spent my career as a forester, so I’m fascinated by this chemotherapy agent which was found in the bark of a tree. An unremarkable and slow-growing tree compared to its neighbors in the moist mountains of the Pacific Northwest, the Pacific yew, Taxus brevifolia, rarely reaches 50 feet tall. All parts of the tree, except for the fleshy aril surrounding its seed, are extremely poisonous.

Bark of Pacific Yew
Bark of Pacific Yew

Seven years before Sandee was born, botanist Arthur Barclay from the New Crops Research branch of the US Department of Agriculture and several graduate students were roaming the deep forests and steep slopes of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington. They collected samples of stem, fruit, and bark from a scraggly Pacific yew and sent them to labs for study. Researchers spent decades trying to identify the compound in the bark and its medicinal properties. It wasn’t until Sandee was in her mid-teens, however, that the drug derived from the yew bark, Taxol, entered clinical trials for cancer treatment. Only in 1991 was it shown to be effective against breast cancer.

But while life-saving for cancer patients, the production of Taxol could have been devastating to the yew trees.  In the early days of Taxol research, it took about 6 trees to produce the 25 pounds of bark needed to produce just one-half gram of Taxol, the amount required for a single patient. And removing the bark kills the trees. There simply were not enough of these trees to supply the needed quantities of bark; mass production of the drug could eradicate the species.

~ ~ ~

In 1999, when I moved to Blacksburg, Virginia, I met David Kingston, a tall, lean Englishman with a penchant for bowties, born in London and educated at Cambridge University. He was an elder at the church I attended, and his earnest yet compassionate and thoughtful approach to preaching made his sermons some of the most impactful I have heard.

English Yew, Oxford
English Yew, Oxford Botanical Garden

Dr. Kingston is also a chemistry professor at Virginia Tech. He was part of the research team that tackled the problem of synthesizing Taxol so that it could be produced sustainably. The Pacific yew has a cousin, the English or European yew (Taxus baccata), with its own long and storied history. English yew has been used to make bows for centuries, dating as far back, according to Homer, as the siege of Troy, and poet William Wordsworth spoke of a yew tree “of vast circumference and gloom profound.” The English yew is far more widespread than the Pacific yew, growing even as an ornamental shrub in the US, and its needles can be harvested without killing the tree. Dr. Kingston and his collaborators found a way to use a compound from the needles of the English yew to create the molecule needed to synthesize Taxol. It is this compound, hidden away in the bark and leaves of trees, decades in the making, that is coursing through Sandee’s veins while she sleeps.

Oxford Yew Stats!
English Yew in Oxford: 370 years!

I think of the times Sandee and I have hiked through forests, sharing our love for natural spaces. I remember the hike we took in the Cascade Mountains of Washington on a day off from her writers’ conference. We may have walked right by one of these Pacific yews. I recall the 370-year old English yew in the Oxford Botanical Garden we encountered a few years ago. I think of the millenia that people have used plant products for healing.

And I marvel at the decades of patient, persistent efforts of scientists and doctors who have overcome so many challenges to bring a compound from the bark of a poisonous tree into the very heart of my wife.  I’m honored to have known one of these scientists, but I am grateful to them all.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Once I knew I’d have chemotherapy as part of my cancer treatment, I assumed I’d be bald for a while. My oncologist confirmed that fact at my first appointment: “You will lose your hair,” he noted. I just nodded. It would begin to thin within a week or two after the first treatment, he said, and likely shed in earnest after the second round.

minority-report-precog
Precog at work

Before I even lost the first strand, the vision of my bald self that kept appearing in my mind’s eye was of one of the Precogs in the 2002 movie Minority Report, a sci-fi thriller set in Washington DC in 2054. The Precogs are three mutated humans with extra-sensory powers who spend most of the film floating in a tank, “previsualizing” crimes so that Tom Cruise’s character can arrest potential perpetrators before any heinous acts take place.

minorityreport2
Precog, rescued

The Precogs—specifically the character of Agatha Lively, played by Samantha Morton—are pale, near-bald, and wide-eyed, and for some reason, every time I tried to imagine myself without hair, that’s the image I saw.

I’m not sure why, as my one previous near-bald experience involved neither liquid immersion nor futuristic crime-fighting. I got a buzz cut in my mid-thirties when, at the university where I taught in Georgia, I played the lead role in Wit, Margaret Edson’s play about a stiff-lipped professor of British literature who faces ovarian cancer. Actors typically shave their heads for the role, and I was game. I made the transition gradually, having my bobbed hair cut short, then shorter, finally shaving it down to a buzz.

Weeks after -Wit-
Weeks after -Wit-

At that point I’m sorry to say I lost my nerve. Though I didn’t take it all the way to bare skin, that experience helped prepare me for the prospect of being bald once I became a real cancer patient who didn’t have a choice in the matter.

My approach was pragmatic. As the doctor had outlined it, the timeline of my treatments meant I could retain my regular haircut through my parents’ 50th anniversary party in mid-July. After that, a transition to a pixie cut would make the progressive loss less immediately obvious, and probably less traumatic. As I told an old friend at my folks’ gathering, I decided to relish, with intention, those last couple of weeks of having hair: I went a little brighter blonde than usual for fun, styled it deliberately each day, tinkered with a new curling wand I’d bought a month before. Once the hair was gone, my plan was to break out my vintage hats and scarf collection, and enjoy the inevitable simplification of my daily grooming routine with equal deliberateness.

The first significant thinning took place while Steve and I were visiting my parents for the anniversary party, a week after my first chemo. When I got up to go to the bathroom during the night, there in the mirror, by the light of the nightlight, I saw a distinct shadow on my left breast, a darkening of the skin where the cancer was located. Instinctively I understood the shadow to be a concentrating of the chemotherapy drugs in the mass. The first significant cluster of hair strands shed into my hands as I showered the next morning. So, the drugs were working. That was good.

The next week my Roanoke stylist Brandy gave me the anticipated pixie cut, accompanied by a welcome mimosa. The pixie got raves, but it only lasted about a week. I let my hair come out on its own until it got patchy, then invited my girlfriends over for a head-shaving porch party. I cried as the hair fell away, but we laughed together, too, and I felt surrounded by love and support as they rallied around and Steve kissed my head, which now matched his. When a few days later my thirteen-year-old nephew showed up shorn and shaven, having cut his long hair off to donate to Locks of Love, I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

My daily routine has shifted dramatically. No shampooing or conditioning, which I expected. No blow-dryer or flat-iron. But also: no leg or underarm or bikini shaving. The number of products I use regularly has been cut by at least a third. The change has made me wonder how many hours of my life, how much of my money, I’ve given over to hair all these years. I feel more confident when I’m coiffed and styled, when I wear makeup, but the investment is bigger than I’d ever reckoned. Now I’m left wondering: is all the time worth the trade-off?

For a while I did a double-take anytime I passed by a mirror. Wait, who’s that woman with the short hair/buzz cut/no hair? I wore something on my head most all the time at first, even sleeping with a blue wool beanie (sexy!) like Pa in his cap, T’was the Night Before Christmas-style. After the hot flashes set in (another side effect courtesy of chemo), I was almost glad not to have a hat of hair closing off the handy heat-vent that is my bare scalp.

Ulta flyer
Whose idea was this?

Compared to the prospect of permanent loss and alteration of my breasts, temporary hair loss is just that—temporary, and not so terrible. But there have been a few irksome moments. On our recent visit to Asheville, I spent a day at the Grove Park Inn Spa. As the attendant took me and another patron on a tour, she pointed out all the luxurious goodies we’d have access to in the showers: citrus shampoo and conditioner, body wash, shaving cream. I smiled ruefully. Well, yay for body wash. Just a few days ago I got an Ulta Beauty catalog-advertisement in the mail that made me shake my head. The cover advertised two events: a special promotion for October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the month’s beauty focus, “The Gorgeous Hair Event,” tagline “Every Girl’s Way to Good Hair Days.” The first fourteen pages of the ad are devoted solely to hair care products and tools. Then follows a two-page spread on Breast Cancer Research Foundation initiatives–two support options are getting a shampoo/cut or pink hair extensions. Someone did not think that combo through fully, methinks.

Grove Park Spa Pool
Spa pool oasis

No one seems to mind the state of my head, really, though that day in the spa, I did get a few startled glances from other patrons when I first shed my headscarf. As I lay back in one of the pools, I imagine I really did resemble a Precog, ready to send and receive messages from the larger store of humanity. Across the room, a man with an artificial leg removed his prosthetic and slid into another pool; an elderly woman helped a frailer friend navigate stone tile steps. As I floated, listening to the underwater music, I gazed up through the skylight above me, watching the clouds shapeshift in the blue beyond. I had no predictions to make, for ill or good. I simply rested, my shiny head and healing body absorbing the truth of our shared imperfections: we’re all bald beneath our hair.

Kittycuddle