Right before Christmas my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Like everyone’s cancer journey, hers has been tumultuous. She is over halfway done with chemo now and her prognosis is good. As you know, cancer changes everything. I wrote this back in January, at the beginning.
The only person whose hair I have ever cut is my son’s. He is 3. So I’m not sure if that even counts. I am not ‘good at hair’ and I never have been.
But yesterday’s task had nothing to do with style. The only prerequisites were owning a clippers and loving my mom. And a short-term gift from God of fearlessness.
Mom’s hair started falling out dramatically exactly 13 days after her first chemotherapy treatment. Days 1-12 were pretty normal (as far as her hair was concerned). And then just like that – it was not normal anymore. She spent the weekend grieving for her hair and cleaning up after herself. My dad spent the weekend hugging her and following her around with a vacuum.
By Monday she was ready.
“I’m going to call Jay (her hairdresser) and see if he can shave my head today,” said the woman with gorgeous soft red hair that she had always treasured. When she and my dad got married it fell far past her shoulders, the model hairstyle for the year: 1974. Her strawberry-blonde sheaths framed that face until after she started having kids and cut it short to make it more manageable. When she was 24 and pregnant with her first boy, her hair turned a rich red. The hue has always been fabulous and she’s never colored it a day in her life. Even now, in her late 50’s, it has softened in color, but has not grayed.
“I can take you over there if you want, Mom. But if he can’t do it, I can do it for you. I know it’s driving you nuts.” I didn’t hesitate, other than treading lightly so as not to push. I wanted to help. It was the least I could do.
“Yes.” (pause) “Would you do that? That would be great.”
I hadn’t seen her since Thursday so I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I got there. It didn’t look as bad as I thought it might. A few bare spots on the back of her head and the dropped hairs on her collar were the only evidence. She looked good other than that – better than she had looked since chemo began.
We got set up and before I started I said, “Ok, Mom, 2 things: You know I don’t cry when other people do. So I’m not heartless, just strange. And second – Don’t forget: Your hair is going to grow back.”
“Well, not for a year.” She looked up.
“Right. But in a year. You will have hair again.”
“I didn’t cry this morning when I got out of the shower. I’ve cried a lot already. I’ve been getting used to the idea…” she said to convince both of us.
Moving my hands thru her hair, I was stopped by how soft it was. But every time my hand came out, it brought with it a pile of loose hairs. It was time.
As I began, we continued to joke and laugh. She said she’d always wondered what it would feel like. To shave her head.
“And?” I asked.
As we cleaned up the red hair off the floor and the chair and the towel, we laughed about whether she looked more like her brother or her mom. We commented on the release it would grant her now that she didn’t have to worry about Dad cleaning up after her when she gets up off the couch. We asked her 3 year-old grandson what he thought about her new hair and he got his first glimpse of Mimi beating cancer.
Out with the old, in with the… new. The old life, for now, is gone. A temporary hiatus while we go over here and do this thing we didn’t choose, nor can we control. Settling into new routines that include doctors and needles and new definitions of phrases like, “You’re going to do great,” which doesn’t mean what you think it does. Less control and more sleeping, but not restful sleeping; sleeping that comes up from behind and kidnaps you and shoves you into a car to take you on a trip you don’t want to go on. And then startling awake at 3 am for what seems like no reason, but you know there has to be one.
When this year is over and her hair grows back.. she can return to old routines and fewer doctors and a schedule she is in charge of. She can go back to work, to running through the yard with her grandbabies, to making plans and keeping them. But they say it might not grow back the same.
And of course they are right: because can anything be the same after all of this?