A few people have asked if I’m going to stop writing now that it’s “all over.” Sure. Will somebody please let me know when it’s “all over?” Unfortunately (for me, and for those who find incessant blogging tiresome), this crap sorority demands lifetime membership. Heaven help you if you don’t like pink, or blabby, sweaty women with fake boobs. Even our quieter, more elegant members can still get dragged into the secret handshake: a hug from a bald stranger. Just last month, a “sister” stopped me at the florist. I was otherwise minding my own, hatted business when she sidled up to me and shared:
“I was diagnosed two years ago. Look at my hair! When I was bald, a woman came up to me and showed me her long hair two years after treatment. I wanted to do the same for you.”
Very quickly I went from sniffing peonies to sniffly gratitude. So as the patina of chemo remains on my visage, it’s not “over.” Unless I can stifle the need to reassure some future, hairless lady with my own chin-length proof of survival, it’s not “over.” And until some miraculous drug is invented that reduces breast cancer recurrence to zero, it’s not “over.” For the one-in-eight of us, it’s never “over.”
Truthfully, I’m a bit surprised that I still have so much to say. I’m all at once anxious, irritated, and grateful about all sorts of things that don’t include my still-too-short hair. In order to make sense of this post-treatment period, I read Hester Hill Schnipper’s “After Cancer” cover-to-cover and have been roosting in self-satisfied, snarky, you-just-don’t-get-it peace ever since. Beware Women Beyond Treatment. With our post-traumatic stress, and Joan-of-Arc hair, we’re a b*tchy bunch of tamoxifen-toting veterans who can find fault with almost anything you say (and nearly everything uttered by A-Ma). Yes I’m happy to have hair. No, I would never choose this haircut voluntarily. No, I’m not going to keep it gray (I’m 40, not 80), or THIS short. And no, I don’t care if alcohol/non-organic food/the microwave/white pasta/sugar/negative energy causes Cancer. I’m exempt. Just today I found a whole slew of blogging women who one, five, ten years after The Diagnosis are still writing travelogues about Life in Cancerland. And although right now I can relate to their frustrations and fears, I hope that a decade from now I’m less annoyed by people who don’t follow the fragile rules of etiquette in this godforsaken town.
But with my taxes-paid-up citizenship here in Pink Ribbonville, I feel qualified to share a few guidelines to prevent riling up the natives. Obviously, attempting to convince any woman without hair and breasts that “it’s over” doesn’t fly. And I’m not using “chemo-brain” as an excuse. I used to be smarter and more remember-y. Now I’m forgetful and distracted (and sad about it). Although exposure to life threatening illness has made me even less tolerant of pettiness, I’m not less willing to commiserate with you over the difficulty of finding a good plumber. Don’t spare me opportunities to be a friend (even if chemo brain will occasionally make me forget to return your call). And I want to hear any Cancer story that ends well. But maybe don’t compare me to your Auntie Mable who found her lump at age 75. Although it’s sucky bad luck for all of us, Auntie Mable got to live an extra 35 years without this hanging over her. I reserve the right to my own amount of incomparable unfairness.
All of this “is it over?” stuff recently bit me in the face like a Barry Family Dog (too soon?). April and her brood came over for our neighborhood’s Fourth of July fireworks. We let our kids run amok, stuffing themselves with all sorts of otherwise forbidden junk, while we accompanied our people watching with gossip and white wine. All of the sudden I spied Steve Tordone, arguably one of the cutest boys in high school, and someone I haven’t seen in 25 years. Wouldn’t it be fun to go say “hi?” April pushed pause on my friendly zeal, reminding me that any sort of catch up would probably necessitate an explanation for my half-inch of hair. Not that April thinks I don’t look fabulous (I do!), but because I actually, temporarily forgot about my life story, she wanted to make certain I really wanted, in that very moment, to share it. I didn’t. It was because I was having so much carefree, wigless fun that all thoughts of hairless survival had slipped my mind. I’m so glad I didn’t ignorantly walk into an unplanned re-hashing that couldn’t possibly have improved the evening for any of us. April, ever the well-prepared traveler and friend, already read all of the brochures for Cancerland, at times navigating it even better than someone who lives there year-round.
Although those of us in this alternate world of “survival” are forever changed, I don’t actually plan to blog about it for the next decade. And once I have a more reasonable amount of hair, I can go say hello any Steve Tordone in my path without conversation-stopping tales of woe. For me, this will be a bit of an “it’s over” moment for me—when strangers (or cute boys from high school) don’t wonder, and I don’t tell. In the meantime, I could take a cue from little Teddy, who wondered: “Why are you reading about breast cancer? You don’t have breast cancer anymore!”