The last few weeks have been a rough go as the cumulative effects of chemo pile up. Last week was the first time that I ventured outside in weather where it would just be silly to wear a toque (yes, those days exist Claud). I’ve been dreading the warmer weather that comes with spring on the coast when even my lightweight beanies would be too warm. I refuse to go into public wearing one of those cancer-caps or scarves that scream CANCER PATIENT as loudly as the bald head. Reminds me of when I refused to carry a diaper bag, instead stuffing everything Natasha needed into my backpack.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we identify with our tribes, especially now that I’m not patrolling or responding to SAR calls, not skiing or biking, not working in my profession. A friend who is on the tail end of a years-long cancer chapter said she tried out a couple of support groups but they didn’t work for her. She said she felt like she didn’t want to be part of the “pink ribbon cancer survivor” tribe, didn’t want that to define her, just wanted to be done with it and move on. That really resonated with me.
My tribe’s “uniform”, for better or worse, is outdoorsy clothing made by a variety of brands that are instantly recognizable. The simple act of putting on my Arc’teryx Sinsolo hat made me feel less like a cancer patient and more like just me. I could dig into all the things that are wrong with this, the societal and internal pressures we place on ourselves to belong to a particular tribe through our external appearance for example….but that day it just felt good to be a little less apprehensive about being in public during the summer because of a simple hat.
Recently I had an ah-ha moment when reading this on a blog that I came upon….obviously while googling “How to draw on eyebrows during chemo”. “Furthermore it is often right at the very end of chemotherapy that we lose the bulk of our eyelashes and eyebrows. So just when the treatment is all over and everyone expects us to start looking more ‘healthy’, we actually start looking more like a cancer patient than ever.” Weirdly, as the last of my eyelashes and eyebrows struggle to hang in there, the remaining fuzz on my head is growing back. The biochemist in me wants to know how that could be happening.
I’ve surrendered myself to the fact that I feel…. “less obvious” when I take the time to put on eyebrows and wear a hat in public. Many of you may not know this but as a kid I was PAINFULLY shy. Thankfully my sister who’s four years younger than me was not, so I would push her into rooms ahead of me as the point person for all the attention… I may still do that on occasion. Heaven forbid if I had to miss school if I was sick or for a dentist appointment. My Mom tells me that I wouldn’t want to go back to school the next day “because all the kids will look at me and ask where I was.” I’ve realized that this blog is perhaps my adult way to head that off – I would rather people share in my journey now so it’s less awkward when I do see you.
I’ve decided that I feel silly in the “proper” brown wig that I bought before chemo started. It feels so fake. Weirdly though, the pink wig that I’ve had forever seems more genuine and easier to wear around people who know me. To me it says “Hey look I lost all my hair so I’m covering it up with this shocking pink wig that feels fun and more like me.” Maybe it’s infused with all the laughter from friends who have worn it over the years on so many adventure (don’t worry, I washed it….)
Another thing I’ve determined recently is that I don’t see this as a “fight” against the cancer, which is why you won’t see me using the #fuckcancer or #cancersucks hashtags. A friend pointed out that she sees me as not wasting energy being angry with my situation or fighting the cancer, and instead accepting my diagnosis and dealing with it to the best of my ability in a logical way. Very much just get ‘er done. In that same vein, a woman who I’ve been working with on the emotional and spiritual side of things pointed out that perhaps the calmness that I’ve approached this whole situation with is in large part due to an acceptance of my diagnosis, including the unknown risks and outcomes, and surrendering myself to it. Maybe “It tis what it tis” (said in an Austrian accent of a friend of mine and Andy’s) should be my next tattoo. Whatever it is, it’s working for me.
Update April 21: DONE CHEMO!!! Has it seriously been 16 weeks since I started…?!?! I was surprised by how emotional the very end of this was. Seriously. I haven’t cried once since once at the very beginning when I was swimming in the sea of unknowns. At the hospital yesterday I got choked up when I saw that the bag of chemo drugs had run out. When the nurse came over to take out the IV and give me the little pin and card. When I was saying my goodbyes to the nurses who I’d worked with. When I put on the wig. The tears finally came when I walked out the doors and Andy was standing there. He said it surprised him too.
I composed myself on the short drive home, then the tears returned when I opened the door and there was this gigantic home-made card from the Mount Washington patrollers and treats from fellow patroller Hayley, who has been one of my rocks through this process. Later on that day another fellow patroller Karina “dropped by” (she lives 1.5hrs away in Campbell River) to deliver a freshly baked loaf of raisin bread, my fave loaf of a hearty Scandinavian rye bread, and a bunch of homemade macrons! I seriously have the best crew!
There’s about 10-14 days ahead of me to ride out the last of the chemo side effects, then surgery May 20 and radiation in July’ish. I’m especially looking forward to the anemia and resulting fatigue and shortness of breath going away. But today… today it’s time to be tired. (that’s a reference to my “It’s not time to be tired” tattoo in case you haven’t seen it).
Hey Janet, Things are settling with me where I can check in with your updates more-so now.
Hoping the last of the chemo side effects have subsided. I have marked your surgery date on my calendar. You have amazing strength of mind, gut and heart. You have captured me in your journey and I am rooting strong on the sidelines for you.
Sandra from ERL