By Jody C. Brown, Director for Lee’s Summit Physicians Group.
Cancer. We hear that word all the time. I’m pretty confident that the majority of people reading this blog have either themselves been affected by cancer or know someone who has been affected by it.
My family and I are no different. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 39 years of age, with no family history at the time.
Getting the call that something is “abnormal” is jolting to say the least.
I remember going for my biopsy. At the end of the procedure, my doctor asked me if I would like to hear her thoughts on whether or not it was cancer. Or if I would prefer to wait until the following week for the biopsy results. I’m a very matter of fact person so of course I wanted to hear what she had to say.
She believed it was cancer.
I would hear this information on a Friday and my husband and I would spend that weekend in a state of shock. But by Monday when we got confirmation that it was cancer, we’d already been able to process the information. We were ready to take on the fight.
I could go into the details of all the appointments that would start to be scheduled. And the very heavy decisions that would need to be made. Like telling our families, trying to stay positive for our school age boys, trying not to Google mastectomy and breast cancer and all those other scary words.
But I don’t want to talk about that today. I want to talk about the upside to a cancer diagnoses and treatment.
Breast cancer ended up being a bit freeing for me.
What could possibly be worse than being bald??? It turns out there are a million things worse than losing your hair. When I started chemo, they told me I would begin losing my hair 14 days after the first treatment. They were spot on.
14 days exactly.
My husband and I were in San Antonio, TX on a trip on the 14th day. That morning, as I began fixing my hair, I pulled out a big clump. That was startling, and then I couldn’t keep my hands out of my hair. I kept pulling clumps of hair off my head. By the time we made it back to Kansas City that very same night, I knew I would have to “do the deed” (have my head shaved) immediately.
That night, at 11pm, I made my husband get the electric razor and shave my head. But I made him put a “one guard” on because I was not ready to face being completely bald at that moment. I looked rough, I’m not going to sugar coat it. The places where I’d pulled my hair out were completely bald. The rest of my head still had a very short layer of hair.
I went to work the next day with a hat, and a coworker met me there with some scarves that she had used during her battle with breast cancer. By the following weekend, I was ready to have my head shaved completely. I went to a friend’s house and she shaved my head clean. My middle son had accompanied me on this errand. I will never forget what he said as we left her house. He said, “well, at least you don’t look like you have mange any more!” and I burst out laughing. He was so right, I’d totally looked like I had mange!
I found that being bald was actually a blessing.
I could now cook bacon inside my house on a night that wasn’t a “wash night”. I could sit out at a bonfire any night I wanted to. It was wonderful to ride in a car with the windows down. Getting up, showered and out the door in 5 minutes was fantastic. I could drastically change my appearance regularly by wearing a different wig, or a scarf or nothing at all on my head.
The thing I noticed most is that everyone was nice to me… all the time! Perfect strangers would be so kind to me. They would hold doors for me, let me go before them in line, and not get irritated if I happened to unknowingly cut in front of them. I probably could have stolen someone’s coveted parking space and when they saw my head (I generally wore scarves, a sure sign that someone is battling cancer) they would just let me go with no confrontation.
Losing my hair, once thought to be the worst thing that could possibly happen to me (okay, that’s a slight exaggeration… slight!) would end of freeing me in so many ways.
My hair grew back.
Growing my hair back was actually more painful than being bald. There were some really rough “bad hair days”. But even during that time there were blessings. We had moved to Kenya two months after I completed treatment. My hair was just beginning to grow back. No one in Kenya had ever seen me before, so they had nothing to compare my appearance to and no one ever said a word about it! By the time we came back to the States my hair was well on its way to being exactly like it was before, curls and all.
My story had a successful conclusion. Many do not. It’s important to understand what going through breast cancer can feel like for a woman. Compassion and support are important things to give someone you know facing breast cancer. My family and coworkers surrounded me during my battle and it really helped. So as we recognize October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, thank you for reading my story. And I am so thankful to be able to share it with you!