Archive for May, 2011

The Bold, the Bald, and the Beautiful

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

While filling my gas tank yesterday, I got my love tank filled too, a two for one special.  A young handsome boldly gay man came up to me and told me I was beautiful.  I was in a hurry to pick up carpool so he caught me by surprise. “Thank you.” I said, blushing a bit, as I ran my fingers across my bald head answering, “I have breast cancer.”  His face softened, we chatted a bit and before I could race off to carpool he asked, “Can I give you a hug?”  “Absolutely, I agreed. 

The interesting thing about this encounter, it has become a daily occurrence in my life since I shaved my head and started chemo.  Absolute complete strangers come up to me out of the blue to share a personal story, compliment me or simply say “Hi”.  I feel a bit like a Hollywood star without the paparazzi.  I can’t walk into a room, a restaurant, or a grocery store without people staring.  Many avert their eyes quickly looking away, but just as many say “Hi”, and a few want to make conversation.  Just this week alone, I had a chat with a fireman at Starbucks, a checkout woman at Albertsons, and Casey’s friend’s famous drummer dad who sang out, “Rock’n hairdo!” as he rocked out on Casey’s drum kit. 

When picking Casey up from school the other day, a very big black bald security guard came up to me and blurted out, “Damn girl, I thought I was hot, you are smok’n.”  A man at “The Neighborhood Cup”, a local coffee house told me I should be carrying a guitar with that hairdo, little did he know.  And a woman my mother’s age at the beach cautioned me, “I sure hope you have sunscreen on.”  Some women can’t help themselves, they will always be moms.

Seems I have caused quite a stir around town, as if I am an enigma.  The thing is I am not an enigma.  One in eight women in the OC has breast cancer.  Where are they?  Where are all the bald heads?

I found the answer to my question a couple of days ago at the Newport Hair Loss Center.  Nazy, the owner, told me that most women will not leave the back room designed specifically for bald clients without their wigs on.  Apparently, I am her only client that walks into her salon with my wig in my hands instead of on my head.  I guess that is why she asked me to be a model for a video she plans to put on her website. 

I understand that losing your hair can be very traumatic.  It is not easy.  I do not mean to be insensitive but honestly, are women that vain, that insecure?

Maybe I would feel differently if I had a head shaped like a melon or looked like the tin man but I highly doubt it.

I have breast cancer.  It’s a fact of life.  I am not embarrassed in the least.  In fact, in some strange way, wearing a wig makes me feel a bit embarrassed, like I’m hiding.  Bearing my bald head makes me feel free, strong, brave and daring like I own it.  It is very empowering. 

I know I make many feel uncomfortable.  I can see them avert their eyes from me.  Some were taught not to stare, others are at a loss of words or just don’t know what to do.  Their own insecurities take over, except for the kids.  They are still free from this conditioning.  It is so refreshing to have a young child stare at me.  They usually smile and some even feel free to ask me why I don’t have any hair, until their parent grabs them by their arm and reprimands them, “Don’t stare, it’s not polite.”  Yes, this has actually happened.

Honestly, I love taking people out of their comfort zone, upsetting their status quo.  Cancer is real.  It is not going away anytime soon.  Quite the contrary, with our current lifestyle and a cure still years away, the one out of eight ratio will only rise.  Now that is upsetting.  If bearing my bald head reminds people of this reality, than I will continue to keep my wig on its stand on my dresser in my bedroom, maybe I will even continue to shave my head after chemo.  Hmmmm, now that’s an idea!

If I didn’t want attention, I could wear my wig.  I admit I am a bit of an attention whore.  Bearing my bald head opens doors for me.  It gives me a chance to talk to complete strangers.  I love talking to strangers.  It makes them not so strange any more.  Well, most of them.  I do not love chemo, however.  I don’t feel like writing down all my current side effects right now (that is another blog).  It depresses me.  But, having a complete stranger come up to me and tell me I am beautiful, they will pray for me and remind me to put sunscreen on makes this whole process a little easier to swallow.  Marry Poppins was right when she sang, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” 

Not everyone has cancer, but remember everyone you meet has a really big problem.  Be someone’s sugar today and say “Hi”, throw out a compliment or simply smile.  It makes our big scary world full of strangers feel just a little smaller and an individual just a bit taller.  And it just might make your own problems seem less important.  There is an ancient Persian saying,

I had the blues because I had no shoes until upon the street, I met a man who had no feet. 

Here I Go AGAIN!

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

I can’t sleep.  AGAIN!  I kind of expected it, which does not help.  It is 2:30 am, the night before my fourth chemo treatment.  My brain is racing, my stomach is growling and I am pumped up on steroids, Dexamethasone to be exact.  It is used in low doses as an anti-nausea drug, to help prevent an allergic reaction to chemotherapy, and to increase my appetite.  It also causes sleeplessness.  I guess that is why I am awake at this ungodly hour writing a blog, planning Maggie’s new itinerary and chowing down on a huge bowl of Toasty O’s.  Organic, of course.

Maggie’s new itinerary you might ask?  She is not fond of school.  She told me the other day, “Mom. I learn more in one hour of tutoring than I learn in an entire week at school.”  I know there is some truth behind her statement, although her math skills have improved tremendously.  She has been attending Journey for the last three months, a Waldorf school, truly the next best thing to homeschooling.  It is small, relaxed, and hands-on but simply stated, it is still school.  Unfortunately, she likes homeschooling better.  Or should I say fortunately? 

Our family went to Palm Springs on Mother’s Day to visit Aunt Rose Marie, Uncle Tom, Grandma Anita, Aunt Barbara and Uncle Pete.

It was a very pleasant day, spent around the pool, catching up and playing games. 

The boys drove home that evening, but Maggie and I stayed.  We checked into a hotel and took a trip “The Living Desert” today.  When most kids were off to school, we were off on an adventure.  Just the two of us.  We saw a great wildlife show, petted a snake, “oohed and awed” over the giraffes, rode a camel and had a magnificent time.  I was reminded of why I chose homeschooling in the first place. It was a perfect day!

You may have noticed that I use the word homeschooling instead of unschooling.  Maggie is a bit different especially from the boys at age eleven.  She likes to have a plan.  She likes structure.  She likes doing worksheets and homework and keeping busy.  Did I mention she is a bit obsessive?  Please don’t tell her I said that.  Hanging out playing video games all day does not work for her.  Doesn’t work for me either, so, I have a lot of work to do.  The question is can I do it AGAIN?  Do I want to do it AGAIN? 

I have to admit I enjoyed having all three kids in school for the first time ever in my life.  I actually had “me” time.  Although most of the “me” time has been spent fighting cancer, recuperating from surgery and going through chemo, it was really nice to have moments completely alone where I can plan my own day.  I had my own agenda, my house stayed clean (well cleaner) and I could blast my stereo and dance in the middle of the day.  I suppose I can still dance but I get really strange looks from Maggie. 

But Maggie is not completely happy at school.  And I have a difficult time being happy if she is not happy.  If grade school were more like college, where she could choose her classes, create her own schedule, decide on her own field of study and sleep in she would love it.  But unfortunately, our school system doesn’t work that way.  Maybe someday.  A girl can only dream.

I had a talk with her teacher the other day and he suggested that I not waiver and lay down the law.  He said something like, “You have to go to school Maggie, that’s the way it is.”  He also prefaced it with “I am not an expert in this field”.  I truly appreciated his opinion and in “normal” circumstances I am sure this would work.  But, these are not normal circumstances.  First of all, I never raised my kids this way.  I have always given them choices and Maggie knows it.  Boy hardy does she know it.  She chose to try school, now she is choosing not to go to school.  She gave it a valiant effort I must admit and I respect her for that.  Most kids do not have a choice.  I am sure if they did some would choose the same as Maggie.  Second, I have cancer.  This is a difficult time for her.  She wants to be with me.  I can only imagine what is going through that tiny cute adorable brain of hers during a time like this. 

So, as I am writing this blog, I have a list next to me of “Things to do with Maggie.”  I am actually excited about it.  We are currently doing a California unit study, the Gold Rush and the Westward Movement.  We have hardtack to make, museums and missions to visit, books to read and movies to watch.  I am not doing this alone.  She has a tutor and my mom just came to town tonight to stay with me and help out.  Little did she know that helping out would mean more than cooking and laundry.  Now she will be helping with homeschooling as I work hard to get through round four of chemo. 

At first, I was not looking forward to this next round of chemo especially since round three was so difficult.  Unfortunately, my last round of chemo knocked me on my butt.  Fortunately, I got through it and I know I will get through it AGAIN.   In some strange way, I felt the same way about homeschooling.  I was worried about taking on such a big responsibility AGAIN.  Been there, done that.  Can I do it AGAIN?  Of course I can.  If I can get through chemo I can do anything.  Do I want to do it AGAIN?  Absolutely!  After having some time to readjust, shift gears and spend time with her in Palm Springs, I am actually looking forward to it.  So I have decided to take the “un” out of “unfortunately” and embrace homeschooling AGAIN.  The two of us have a lot of adventures ahead of us.  I can’t wait.  So watch out world!  She is a bit of a pistol.  A lot like me!

Pole Dancing

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

“The world’s favorite season is the spring. 
All things seem possible in May.”
–  Edwin Way Teale

In honor of the Beltane Fires, when marriage vows were temporarily suspended for a night of dancing and frolicking, I decided to intentionally bypass the greens for pizza, the cleaning for the beach, and a quiet evening on the couch for a night of live music.  Riley’s new band, “Keepers of the Sun,” performed last night.  I could not miss an opportunity to see such a truly amazing and talented group of young musicians.  I admit, I am a bit biased.

Last weekend, any thought of pizza or getting out of my sweats to go out for an evening of fun made me sick and nauseous.  This weekend, any thought of staying home on the couch in my sweats made me sick and nauseous.  I am still not 100%, it will be awhile before that happens, but compared to a few days ago, I feel like 150%. 

For those of you unfamiliar with The Beltane Fires, it is a pre-Christian Druid festival originating in the British Isles, a time when villagers brought forth their gods and goddesses within, celebrating Mother Earth in ways that would make my grandmother turn over in her grave.  The end of winter and the coming of summer; the half way point between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice, was celebrated with a wild night of “anything goes.”   Young virgins danced around hill-top bonfires till dawn, ending in a different kind of dance.  It is considered “the setting of a new fire” and is a time of rebirth, fertility, growth, warmth, light and change. 

Today, I am halfway through my chemo.  Three down, three to go.  It feels so good to have come this far.  And perfect timing too, spring.  The coming of spring always brings new excitement to my life.  I feel this way every year when the weather warms up and I drive carpool in daylight.  I get out my shorts and sun dresses in preparation for long days at the beach, barbecues and corn on the cob.  Like the Beltane Fires, I feel a fire burning inside me, ready for re-birth, growth, healing and change.  This fiery flame brings forth the goddess within, yearning to dance around the Beltane fires, the Maypole or any pole for that matter.

It’s impossible for me to think of Beltane without the Maypole.  By the Middle Ages, every English village had its own Maypole.   They were made from the local trees and were of all shapes and sizes.  They would erect these poles every year on May 1st for the annual Maypole dance.  One village would vie with another to show who could construct the tallest Maypole.  Will it ever change?

Maggie’s school celebrated the coming of spring with their own Maypole this week.  Each class took turns dancing round and round, weaving colorful ribbons to folk dance and music.  They wore white mesh dresses and shirts and adorned their hair with handmade garland wreaths covered with fresh spring flowers.  Yes, it’s a hippy school.  Are you surprised?  Anyway, I cried.  Everything makes me cry these days, especially something as sweet, beautiful, and ancient as dancing around the Maypole. 

 

Life sometimes feels like winter, bleak, cold, and unending.  That is how I felt last week.  But spring brings new hope.   I can see the signs of a new season everywhere this weekend.  Endless blue skies, spring flowers, bikinis, board shorts, and surf boards on car roof tops.   

The promise of seasons is as sure as the promise of change.  Change is inevitable, perpetual.  It keeps us open to new opportunities and these opportunities provide personal growth.   If we are not growing, we are not really living.  As Bruce Barton, American author and politician says, “When you are through changing, you are through.”

Well, I am not through yet, quite the contrary. Chemo and surgery have given me a new lease on life.  There was a time that I would not have had this second chance.  Today, I am one of many that will kick cancer in the ass and go on to live a long and rewarding life.  I am truly grateful and plan to use my new lease in amazing positive life affirming ways.  Unfortunately, the Beltane Fire festival is far and few between these days.  But the good news is that everyone has the ability to create their own fire.  And that is exactly what I intend to do.  So if you see smoke billowing from my windows when you drive by, you will know what I am up to.