- Created: Sunday, 28 July 2013 09:54
I saw her from across the crowded restaurant, smiling and laughing with her friends. The sounds of live music and picturesque bay filled with sailboats and yachts faded away and I could only see her. I felt a magnetic pull to her but resisted the urge to leave my family and my half eaten dinner to approach her. It didn’t seem fair to bring up the one subject that I knew would be painful for her, yet bonded us in a way that only a fellow breast cancer warrior would understand. I was drawn to her and yet would never ask about what was so obviously uniting us...her post-chemo hair.
I would recognize that hair anywhere. I was surrounded by various stages of it during my nine months in the breast cancer center. I was so desperate for encouragement during my bald days of chemo that I looked up pictures of fellow survivors who were brave enough to post pictures of their journey through hair growth. I texted my old classmate/fellow survivor nearly every day when her hair started growing out...she was ahead of me in treatment so she had become the expert. I bothered her enough that when she was groggy from anesthesia after her bilateral mastectomy, she told me to lift her paper surgical cap to examine her hair...I complied and hoped her husband didn’t think I was completely insane as I was admiring his anesthesia-induced wife’s head. I see my own short hair now when I look in the mirror every day and try to decide how to style it.
I was thrilled when my hair started coming back after chemo. But only while spending the month on Sanibel Island have I shed my wig and hats. I put on a brave face and went out with my super short, wavy, spiked in front hair for the first time. The funny thing is, no one really seems to notice. I put on an incredibly brave face and imagine that I am sporting Halle Berry’s pixie cut...embracing the idea of "fake it ‘til you make it".
Withing a week of sporting my new locks, I had a gentleman approach me and tell me that he loved my hair. He quickly followed up with the fact that his mom had the same hair and had just finished chemo. I felt incredibly supported by this acknowledgement but also very self conscious. Which brings me back to the woman at Doc Ford’s in Fort Myers, Florida....the one that was now on the dance floor with her friends. She was older than me, early sixties and her hair was a beautiful shade of gray. She seemed to be happy and was living in the moment with her friends.
I had to fight back tears when my young son leaned across the table to tell me that there was another woman in the room who also had breast cancer..."Look mom, she’s right there on the dance floor". It made me wonder what other people think when they see me with my short hair. Do they assume that I am super trendy with a bad pixie cut or do they see a woman who is doing the best she can to recover from a rough nine months of treatment? Are they surprised that I’m laughing, dancing and enjoying life? How many fellow breast cancer survivors have watched me from across the room and were torn about whether they should approach me?
Ultimately, I decided to leave the woman alone, much to my husband’s relief. I didn’t want to interrupt her fun night out with friends to bond over what has been a challenging part of both of our lives. Instead, I said a prayer of gratitude while I looked at my boys, my husband, the pink hue filling the sky as the sun set over the bay as the band played on. I grabbed my husband’s hand and dragged him to the dance floor, smiling at the boys who were teetering between laughing at us and being embarrassed. Life is too short to do anything but enjoy the moment which is exactly how I finished my evening.
Thanks for reading!
Beverly McKee, MSW, LCSW
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