Just because I'm bald

doesn't necessarily give you the right to assume I'm just like you...

I was thinking this morning that it feels like a long time since I've written anything worthwhile. Hell, I've been thinking all week that it feels like a long time since I've written anything at ALL. Is that what happens? Once one gets out of crisis management mode are things just not that interesting anymore? Eh, whatever the case. I'll take status quo for as long as I can. As long as this chemo-free existence is the status quo in question. As I type this, however, I am feeling warmth in my fingers, spreading up my arms, and through the center of my body, down through my legs and... gone. Was that a hot flash? I think it has passed. This, I can deal with. The ironic part of it all is that I was so, SO cold before, that perhaps I'm now functioning at a relatively normal temperature. Greg got in bed last night when he returned (finally!!) and as the nighttime is when I seem to get these minor spells of warmth, I found it ironic that my first comment to him was, "Oh, you feel GREAT! A cool body next to me!" Ridiculous.

In any case, I suppose this leads me to my initial thought. I remember after my hair grew back the first time, from time to time I would see bald people, most likely going through chemo. I would do a double take, and if our eyes happened to meet, I'd give a shy smile and usually quickly go about my business. I can't remember a single situation in seven years that I had approached someone without hair and either asked them if they were going through chemo, or assumed that they had to have something in common with me. Maybe the baldness was a fashion statement, maybe they lost a bet, maybe they had alopecia for other reasons, maybe it was chemo. Even if it WAS chemo, how could I ever assume that every woman with cancer had breast cancer. In any case, if it was cancer and chemo that was causing this mystery person to be bald, what business of mine was it to assume that they were experiencing the same treatments, side effects, or emotions that I did? Perhaps I passed up opportunities to share with people, but the way I saw it, this person had enough to deal with, without strangers making assumptions. Then again, maybe that's just my perspective. All bets were off, of course, if I happened to be at a cancer-related event, but even then, I never tended to be the person that approached others.

Since I've been among the hairless, this time around, there are a handful of occasions that people have approached me, for various reasons. Again, when it comes to cancer-related events or people that have seen me at the oncologist's office - all bets are off. It's safe, at that point, to make a couple of assumptions such as: a) if I'm at the oncologist's office and not dressed in a business suit carrying pharmaceutical-related swag or lunch enough to feed an army, it's safe to assume I have (or have had) cancer of some type and b) if I have no hair, it's safe to assume that said cancer and related treatments are the reason. These exceptions aside, a few occasions of people approaching me come to mind.

We were at Teakwood's watching football on a Saturday night - December 1, to be exact - we were there to watch the ASU/UA. At that time, I had started to feel a bit sub-par, although I was feeling pretty good that night, but I wasn't drinking much other than iced tea or water those days. I had a baseball cap on and it was chilly enough out that I was wearing that schmatta under the hat (you'd be amazed at how cold your head gets without hair). In any case - I remember feeling pretty good that night, and laughing. I think we may have even stayed for the full game, instead of leaving at halftime. In any case, as we were on our way out the door, this woman sitting about 3 seats down the bar from TZ stops me. She tells me, "I just wanted to tell you what a beautiful smile you have. I noticed you earlier, and I just want to let you know how pretty and strong you look. Your smile just lights up your whole face, and I wish you all the best." I didn't know what else to say aside from, "thank you." But I remember feeling flattered, flabbergasted, and thankful at the same time.

The second time was at the Arizona Room on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. There was a girl and her boyfriend that had come into the tiny bar area where we were waiting for a table for dinner on our last night there. She had a tiny pixie haircut, and I remarked to Greg that I wondered how long it would take for my hair to get that long. I'm not sure if she overheard me, of if something simply compelled her to ask since she saw another young face (she was about my age) but she asked me if I was going through chemo, as she had just finished a couple of years ago. We had a pleasant conversation, the four of us, as we waited for our tables. Some of the conversation was cancer-related (she worked for PET imaging at UC Davis) but I remember feeling like she was asking questions about what I was going through, rather than assuming from personal experience. Ironically, her personal experience was very similar to my first round. We wished one another well, and went on our separate ways when we were called for our table.

Then, there was today, which leads me back to the statement of "just because I'm bald, don't assume I'm just like you." Perhaps that sounds a bit harsh, but it is what it is. And this is why...

Greg and I were enjoying our semi-regular lunch of Friday chowder at Keegan's, and had just finished a short conversation with Buzz, joking about the hair-growing attributes of Keegan's clam chowder. The events that followed started with an innocuous enough comment, when a woman a few seats down from Greg said, "Are you going through chemo?" Never mind that I was not in the mood to have a "Why YES, YES I am!"-type conversation. In any case, I nodded and replied affirmatively. She mentioned that she had gone through it herself and made some comment about hair growing back. I'm not sure why I feel compelled to tell people this when they are trying to reassure me that I will, indeed, have hair, but my following comment is inevitably, "Oh, I know. This is my second tour of duty." Usually that's enough to head off unwanted conversation at the pass, but not this time. OH no, not this time. She said something about the fact that she had three rounds, two breast and one something else (a sure sign that I started to tune her out) and then follows that with, "I think I know you. I met you at the race when I was diagnosed the second time. Didn't you get just get married recently at that point." UGH. I was afraid at that point that my internal groan was going to be so loud you'd be able to see it in one of those bubbles above my head. I told her yes, that must have been me, and followed with, "and THANKFULLY have gotten remarried since." Once again she managed to find common ground as exclaimed, "Me, too!" Great. At this point, what's left of my chowder is starting to get cold, she's continuing to talk AND ask questions, and somewhere along the line there was some joke made between Greg and I about hot flashes, which just opened up the flood gates.

She proceeded to tell us how she, too (imagine THAT!) had the ooph and that there were ALL these side effects that nobody told her about. I let her know that so far it's been very mild, and that they told me that it would kick in almost immediately. Her response, "well, they lied. There is more, and there is more that they won't tell you about. You'll have problems. (enter hushed tone) Intimacy problems. Problems they won't tell you about. You'll get skin changes, you know, down there..." I know she must have said more, but at this point, much of what she was saying sounded like the teacher in the Peanuts cartoon. My GOD lady, just because I'm bald doesn't give you the right to assume I'm just like you. I know she said some more about this doctor that finally helped her, and that it was tough being a newlywed with these problems (followed, of course, by the all-knowing nod of understanding that we MUST be having the same challenges) and that we should be prepared. I know she said more about some test results she was waiting for, that she was feeling sick for weeks, something about wine... I don't even know anymore.

I don't know if our lunch finally came or her wine glass was finally empty or what but I know she wrote down the name of the doctor that helped her and told us to tell him that she referred us. OOOOH, wait. Maybe she's working on commission! Anyhow, before leaving she also passed us a business card and told me to call anytime if I wanted to talk about female problems. At this point I am grateful that my brain-to-mouth filter was on so I didn't blurt out, "SHUT UP ALREADY!" Thankfully, I went the nod-smile-mumble pleasantries route and at long last she left and the exchange was over.

Now, in order to avoid the TMI factor here, I can confidently say based on current and historical evidence, I'm fairly certain we will NOT have to deal with said intimacy problems.

What I wonder is if this type of interaction happens on at least one occasion to other people out there that happen to be dealing with chemo or the hair-regrowth process? What I find amazing, is that it continues to catch me off guard when strangers ask me if I'm having chemo. Granted, the majority of the time the question comes from people who have been through it themselves, but I still find myself lost in the thought process. Are these people looking to commiserate? Are they looking to share their own experiences? More likely than not, they are probably just reaching out to someone that they think might share something with them, and might appreciate the reaching out. There's also a good chance that I may be more private than most when it comes to strangers and should probably attempt to stifle the "it's NONE O' YO BIZNESS" feeling that comes over me. Ironically, I'm very open about talking about my situation if the circumstances are right. Even with strangers. Perhaps it comes down to the way I'm approached. I don't think there's any right answer - just my miscellaneous ramblings on the matter.

Whatever the case, if you don't know me or know anyone that knows me? Don't assume that just because I'm bald, we are soul-sistas. Furthermore, don't assume that I'm going through exactly what you have, whether I have or not.

Oooh, maybe this is the bitchy, mood-swing part of that menopause they told me about!
Kinda fun.

1 comments:

    That woman sounded like a NIGHTMARE...some people can be so insensitive....if there is one thing I have learned from having cancer it's that every person has his or her own story and I've never heard two the same - even if they have the same type of cancer!
    You know what they say, ASSUME just makes an ASS of U and ME!

    (P.S. email me about those "intimacy issues". I have wanted to talk to you about that too. There may be no issues now, but it they will come)