Month: February 2018

Thin

Wigged Out

There’s only a ‘wafer thin’ layer of hair remaining on my head. My scalp is strangely tender … the feeling that you have when you’ve had something pulling on your hair for a long time and then it is released. I believe that it’s the tell tale sign for impending baldness. So this week I decided that I need to get serious about wigs. 

I’m taking the most positive approach I can muster towards my “chemotherapy induced alopecia”. First of all, it’s the only side effect that doesn’t cause me a great deal of physical discomfort so I’m thankful for that! And while in the spirit of glass half full, I’ve decided that baldness provides an opportunity for me to explore different looks, have some fun! Freak people out! 

I have learned that in the wig world there are essentially 3 choices: synthetic wig, human hair wigs and wigs that are a combo of the two. 

Synthetic Wig 

The synthetic wig is reminiscent of Barbie hair. This is generally not a great feature in my opinion, as I found Barbie hair to be infuriating to deal with as a child. Think static, tangles, difficult to brush. However, synthetic wigs are permanently styled so you don’t have to fuss with straightening / curling etc – you just give the wig a generous shake, pop it on your head and you’re good to go. (Just remember not to stick your head near the woodstove or oven. It will melt.) The decent ones start at about $250.00

Human Hair Wig

The human hair wig is better made and looks (obviously) more natural. You can get them made to match your exact style and colour. However, human hair wigs need to be styled and washed just like human hair – regularly. Looks better, but involves WAY more maintenance. What sealed the deal for me is that they start at over $1000.00 each. Since I need to feed my children, it’s really not an option. Plus I’m lazy in the hair styling department. Let’s be honest. 

The Results of my Shopping Expedition

I headed to see Bridget at “My Left Breast” and began trying on wigs. (I had learned quite a few important guidelines to follow for putting on and taking off wigs at a seminar, so I felt prepared. Believe me, it’s more complicated than it seems… where to hold it, how to adjust it, how to take it off with minimal damage.)

It didn’t take me very long at all to narrow down the choices. Here’s one of the winners. I love the colour – matches my glasses. 

Sophia wig
Chestnut?

This second one is just so close to my (most recent) hair colour that I couldn’t resist. It won’t freak people out when they see me. They may not even know I have a wig on. (If my eyebrows last…). 

Wig like me
Pretty sweet!

As you likely know, wigs can be pretty hot and itchy – so the thought of adding a hat or scarf OVER a wig is not very appealing to wig wearers. And I LOVE hats! Well there IS a solution! There are wigs that are specially designed to be worn under hats – they don’t have anything on the top (other than straps)?? Oh yes!

This long haired wig fit the bill for me … I think it’s hilarious! I can braid it or put it in a ponytail. It’s my undercover hair. No one will know it’s me out on the paddle board…

Long hair
I’m channeling my inner Joni Mitchell.

My Homemade Wig

Finally, I made up my own “real hair wig”! I retrieved the braids that I chopped off 6 weeks ago and grabbed some supplies: pins, thread, glue gun, beanie and a 5 cm strip off of the bottom of one of Liam’s T-shirts (shhhh). I did some sewing to create a band that would fit exactly into the beanie, pinned it, revved up the hot glue, and went for it!

Here’s the process! 

My hair!! So pretty.
Process
Made a band from a T-shirt, pinned it in to the hat, stuck that hair in the right spots. Glued the sucker.
Finished product
Beanies are not flattering – but they fit nicely under hats!

I think I’m all set! 

Choices

Next up, wraps, turbans and do-rags … 

 

33.3% Done, 100% Learning

Yesterday I had my 4th treatment of 12. So ya, I’m 33.3% percent done chemo! During my obligatory insomnia after treatment, I’ve began reflecting on “what’s been my learning”. SO MUCH LEARNING! 

Chemo Patients are not Judgy

Right from the get go I started talking to other patients in the suite. Some patients have headphones in, have their head down, are napping or texting or reading. But others make eye contact, smile, give knowing glances when something happens in the suite (new patient, volunteer with cookies, joke being cracked). These patients are the sharers, the helpers, the commiserators. I like these people!! (Please don’t get me wrong, chemo sucks and it’s ok to have your head down and get through it … I don’t judge!!)

Yesterday was a long chemo for me – 3 1/2 hours – since I was also getting Herceptin (I get this every 4th treatment). So there was quite the ebb and flow of patients in my section (many have 1 hour treatments). I was in the first “bay” where there are two nurse sections. I’ll draw it for you:

drawing of chemo section
This was my first week in this area. I liked it because it’s more cozy. The other section shares the long back wall & more chairs (beige too), so it’s more spread out.

At one point there were a total of four ladies having their chemo – all in the second category of people… the eye contact people. I noticed that the lady across from me had no eyelashes and eyebrows but a full head of hair. To her right the knitter had soft fluff growing in on her head. To my left the lady’s hair was obviously thinning. So I started up an alopecia conversation. It was AWESOME to hear their stories and advice!

It’s not like being new mother where everyone weighs in on breastfeeding and circumcision and family beds and pretty much EVERYTHING where there is a choice to be had! These women were smiling and nodding and laughing. Not judgy. It was so refreshing.  

 

Make Friends with Digestive Cookies

They’re all you’ve got when you forget a snack.

I need to investigate into this choice of chemo cookie. 

digestive cookie

Seeing Friends at Chemo can be Heartbreaking

On my first day in chairs at the Cancer Centre when I was waiting to see my Onc, I heard a voice I knew. I looked over and recognized a friend and former neighbour. I babysat her kids for years. I loved her boys, her house, her husband’s twinkle in his eye and generous laugh, her huge smile and loving heart, her trust in me. I was immediately sad and happy to see her. She is now obviously a patient. Thinner. But in no way diminished. I waited for her to stop chatting with the lady who was sitting 2 seats over. When I called her name, she looked at me, paused and gave me that look. Oh! Oh. And we talked. 

Yesterday a former Teacher Candidate walked through the suite with his mom while I was chatting with my sister. He heard my voice, looked over and came to give a hug. I think I gave him the look. Oh! Oh. And we talked. 

It is far too easy to lose touch with people that you value and love. I will strive to do more reconnecting and less disconnecting. Meeting people in the cancer clinic who you love but have become disconnected from? It’s bad ju ju.  

 

Silver Linings Exist

On my 2nd treatment day I met Kari who came in with her dad and mom. Her dad was having his first chemo. He was in the chair to my left. It was stressful and hard for them all. We chatted, commiserated, I tried to support, we shared information. Now we text every once in a while and check in on each other’s lives as we live with cancer.

Sparks of light connect in strange places. And I’m grateful for it. 

 

Noticing Matters

I can’t even tell you how many notes, swearing socks, dinner contributions, emails, gift cards, brown chair texts, books, comments on the blog, chocolate, spa treatments, hugs, visits, jewelry, prayer, tea, etc etc etc x100 that I’ve received from family, friends, colleagues, students, former students … the list is overwhelming to me.

tea
At this point I appear to have all the tea in China.

One of the things that have surprised me have been the bits of support that are related to my treatment. We all know that side effects suck. So when I get tips that help me, I REALLY appreciate it! Here are some examples:

  • Adrienne told me about Secaris which is a clear gel that I stick up my nose to ease the sinus pain. (Better than the Vaseline purchased 10 years ago!)
  • Jim told me about chewable Papaya enzyme (who knew??) and Natalie sent me Digize which is an essential oil that I put it in my vaporizer or rub a diluted mixture on my chest – both ease heartburn.
  • I got stool softener advice from the lady with thinning hair! It works!! omg and that was yesterday! TMI 
  • Wig advice from Jane and Jenn (who I don’t know but a friend hooked me up with her via email).  
  • My cousin Cheri who is a prof at U of Windsor and is currently researching the benefits of exercise for breast cancer patients sends me pertinent research journals (from Current Ocology – A Canadian Cancer Research Journal). There are exercise guidelines in there that I am thinking about trying to follow. Sorry Cheri. WIP.
  • Cheri’s colleague Lisa whose research of the benefits of yoga. I’m doing better with that one. Thank god for Yoga with Adriene
  • A local doc friend got me onto reading Research Monographs for the drugs I’m taking. Fascinating and helpful. (I like data.) 

It’s ALL important. It doesn’t matter what it is … big gesture or small gesture … doesn’t matter. It’s primarily the noticing and the encouraging. The medical stuff is like icing on the cake.

Note: I apologize to all of those people in my life who I didn’t pay enough attention to when they were going through HELL. I think that I felt far away and unknowing and unhelpful and not wanting to say the wrong thing. BUT THAT WAS STUPID. STUPID!!!!! So if someone in your life is going through something – let them know that you are in also in the universe, thinking about them. That’s all. (Sorry Jayne. Sorry Jane. Sorry Sherri. Sorry Jim. Sorry Kirk. Sorry Marilyn. I love you. Please forgive me.)

And so…

Bottom line is that I’m learning. This learning journey is hard, but important, as all journeys are. Thanks for walking it with me. Thanks for teaching. Thanks for helping.