The lessons of a bald head

Published by pam on Tue, 04/10/2012 - 11:02am

Today, I scheduled a date to have my head shaved. Most likely I will have the hair made into a wig.  I would like to look as much like myself as I can throughout this process.  It is amazing, the comfort that idea brings.  I could look like myself.


In the mirror, the reflection would be familiar.


To the UPS driver, things will appear unchanged.  


To the supermarket checkout person, with whom I often chat (it's a small town), things will seem as they have always been.  Sure, I may look a little washed out.  And if she cares to look closely, she'll most likely notice the lack of eyebrows.  But she'll be busy.  Busy enough to overlook such details.


Its unlikely shell notice the wig.  From what I've seen, Anton's wigs are that good.  


Part of what drives me towards a wig is certainly vanity.  But really, I think it's more than that.  I think it has a lot to do with how the world treats me.  Right now, people don't think of  me as sick.  I don't look sick.  I don't act sick.  I'm no longer completely flat chested (which frankly did make me look a bit sick). But when the hair is gone, it will be differentl.  The world will know.  I'm worried the way people treat me will affect how I feel.  And heal.


I desperately want to avoid the look.  It want to go to out into the world and talk about things other than how I'm feeling or the progression of my disease.  Especially with near strangers.  And children.  


There is a woman I see sometimes in the oncology waiting room.  She is Muslim and fully covered.  I have no way of knowing if she is undergoing treatment.  Perhaps she's there for someone else. Perhaps she long ago lost every strand of hair.  The secret is hers to share as she sees fit.  Muslim women, it seems, have a certain advantage at a time like this.



The rest of us are not so lucky.  The world can see what we are.  They can make up stories about us.  We are, by our appearance, classified as other, as different.  We have one toe in another world.  We are testing the waters.  We are preparing ourselves for the incomprehensible.  



I hope my hair will help keep me anchored in this world.  I hope it will give me confidence and help me maintain a sense of normalcy, albeit an artificial one.  



But there is a another way to look at this.   



Giving up my hair could also be seen as a badge of courage.  Yes, I will be identified as a member of a different tribe.   But that tribe is made up of of fighters.  One by one, each member of that tribe will meet Death, face to face, and do what they can to negotiate a truce.  The negotiations will require sacrifice.  Like hair.  In exchange for life. 



Wig or no wig, I will spend the next six months of my life with my head covered.  For eleven years, we lived in the farm lands of Ellensburg.  Among our neighbors was a community of German Baptists. The school was next door.  The church was a few acres away.  Sunday socials were held across the street.  



Like the Amish, the German Baptists emigrated from Europe in the 1600s to escape religious persecution.  Like the Amish, they dress simply, eschew pride, and excessive adornment.  For the most part, the families we knew worked in the trades and lived the laws of the bible as well as they could.  It was an honest way of life and one that often seemed more meaningful and engaged than our own.



And the women covered their heads.  



Both testaments of the Bible, old and new, are clear on the subject  Women's heads are to be covered in prayer.  Always.  And since one never knows when one might feel the need to pray, many women cover their heads at all times, even when they sleep. 



Somehow, even to my jaded eye, the head coverings never seemed restrictive, rather, they seemed respectful.  I am not a religious person, but I do value respect and humility.  For me, head covering represented both.  



I have been thinking a lot prayer and humility and head coverings.  Somehow, it seems fitting as I enter this phase that my head will be covered.  I am exposed, vulnerable in a way that I never have been before.  I am at the mercy of forces I don't understand.  Humility and respect seem like appropriate responses.  Perhaps, as my head is covered, wig or no wig, I will remember the power of faith and the importance of grace and gratitude.


So often, in the faces of our German Baptist friends, I recognized a sense of peace.  And I struggled to find in my face what I saw in theirs.  For a time, I turned off the radio and the television.  I invested myself in simple tasks, the kind that contributed to the well being of my family.  I focused on the day at hand, not next week or next year.  I tried to slow down and live more as they did, embracing the blessings of each day.  



But it wasn't easy.  Life got in the way.  My ego got in the way.  My selfishness got in the way.  It was hard to focus, as they did, on what was important.



They way I see it, I am getting another chance.  Soon my head will be covered.  And I will try to remember the lessons learned during those Ellensburg years.  I will remind myself that peace comes not from pride, but from connecting with community. From accepting that the task at hand is all there is.  From doing even the smallest chore with respect and grace.


Peace can be found in all things.  But a distracted mind rarely notices it.



Hi Pam-  Thinking of you and the start of your medical journey with chemo today. I appreciate being able to tag along (as best as I can) through your blog.  I miss you and Marc, and just want you to know you are in my thoughts.  I am sending you a big warm hug and lots of good thoughts. xoxo elise

Thank you.  We miss you as well.  Dealing with a small amount of nausea  right now and trying to figure out the best solution.  Once again, it's kind f Ike having. New baby.  We're not quite sure how to make him/her stop crying.  But we have lots of tools so all should be better soon.  Thank you. For checking in.  Ryann is REALLY looking forward to shadowing you this summer!
Take care,

Dear Pam,
Thank you for letting us know how today went.  I am so glad this first treatment is behind you – one down!  I imagine it must be good finally to get to the task at hand, each treatment one step closer to ensuring you are cancer free.  You are on your way and we are with you, sending strength and love and healing thoughts every day.
Jil and family

I missed you yesterday, but it proved to be short and uneventful, until the eveningwhich was marked by low energy and mild nausea.  I have a visit with an accipunturest this afternoon who is hopefuls going to help me with both.  Hope to see you soon, pam