I am lacking in formal religion, except for a pleasant but intellectual dabble in Unitarianism when I was a single mom many years ago. Since THE CANCER, I have turned to little superstitions to give me comfort. However, I do sincerely appreciate all prayers directed my way.
Although 80% of breast biopsies are benign, a cold wash of fear swept over me in December when an ultrasound tech casually informed me I’d need a biopsy. For some reason, this type of news is usually disclosed when you are sitting with a bunch of strangers in a sweaty waiting room stocked with old Chatelaine magazines.
I knew right then I had cancer, but didn’t want to upset my optimistically sunny husband who believes in science, so I kept the inkling about the malignancy to myself. He was holding out that I was in the 80%. We have a kid with Down syndrome who is 1 in 700, so as a rule, I no longer believe in statistics. If it is your time, it is your time.
I bought some soft denim gypsy pants thinking, ‘these would make comfortable hospital pants.’ When my husband gave me a beautiful blanket for Christmas, I mused, ‘this would be a cosy blanket when I’m sick.’ I crammed a bunch of interviews for a story I was writing into the week before my biopsy, knowing I full well that I wouldn’t be in good shape to work with the bad news that would come afterwards. I started nesting, like when I was pregnant and stocking up on groceries. I had been carrying around the lump in my breast for many weeks now and I knew it wasn’t fooling around.
Just before my biopsy, I am sitting in my hair stylist’s chair. ‘Add some pink, just for fun!’ I say, but it isn’t just for fun at all. The pink is my rabbit’s foot for my upcoming procedure. During the biopsy, I know the pink – the universal colour of breast cancer awareness – is there and it makes me feel better in a small way, like a little shield against the carcinoma.
I knew this is silly, so I tell no one. Afterwards, I admit my pink hair’s failure. The mass is malignant, thanks for nothing pink hair, so I adjust my hair colour strategy accordingly.
A week after my lumpectomy surgery I’m sore but I drag myself back into my hair salon. My stylist is a much cooler version of me, with vivid tattoos on her arms (a contrast to my meek little bird tattoos on my shoulder), unapologetic short hair and a cheeky attitude to match. She knows exactly when I want quiet and when I want to talk and when I’m not resting we chat about books, politics and being a mom. She also gives me extra long scalp massages when she’s washing my hair. I consider her my secret friend.
I confess my pink hair’s failed attempt to ward off the cancer. ‘I want blue and purple this time,’ I say, ‘but just underneath.’ I’m too chicken to go all out. ‘Okay!’ she says. If she thinks I’m slowly going mad, she’s probably right, but she doesn’t let on.
Afterwards, I can’t see the blue and purple. I consult a dear friend, who has a rainbow of colours streaking through her hair. ‘Go bold!’ she advises me, and we create our own hair dying pact, recognizing that we are two moms tinkering with hair colour because it is one thing we can control in our chaotic messy lives.
So I’m back in the chair again – truthfully, those two hours in peace with someone who doesn’t judge me is more like therapy than a hair appointment. ‘Hair is a sign of a woman’s power,’ my stylist informs me. Now my hair is all blue and purple, sort of like the bruises on my chest. My left breast looks like it got into a terrible knife fight in a dark alley and lost badly.
I will find out soon if I need chemotherapy. Since my tumour is bigger than expected and because of my age, I might need both radiation and chemo. (Conversation with my surgeon: You might need chemo because of your age. Me: Am I too young or too old? Her: Too young! I’m oddly flattered – at age 49 I’m considered too young for the first time in a long time). But I don’t want chemo. Please pray for no chemo.
I don’t know why this bold hair comforts me, but it does. Maybe I’m practicing having people stare at me, as I understand this happens a lot when you’ve lost your hair.
Yesterday, a hip store clerk exclaimed, ‘Hey I love your hair!’ ‘Thanks!’ I replied unapologetically and openly pleased. When I took my purchase and turned away, a small smile – the first in a long time – appeared on my sad face. I figure if I’m going to lose my hair anyhow, what the hell, I might as well go out with an uncharacteristic bang instead of my regular whimper.