Doris Cardwell received a life-changing diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer in 2007. While undergoing treatment, she co-founded a mentor program for the cancer center treating her. She also created community events to educate, encourage and empower people regarding cancer. Doris was the first Survivorship Community Outreach Liaison for her local cancer center. She is an advocate, educator and encourager on issues facing cancer survivors. Doris is a wife, mother, empty nester, survivor of life and lover of all things coffee. An avid speaker and blogger, she is available at www.justdoris.com.
Losing my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes didn't change who I was. It didn't change they people who loved me. Thanks to bright colors and make up, people told me all the time that I looked great.
When a woman hears the dreaded words, "You have cancer" one of the many next thoughts can be, "Will I lose my hair?". For some, this is more of an issue than others. For me, it was secondary, yet significant.
First, I wanted to live more than I wanted to have hair. Our youngest daughter was 10, the middle one was 12 and the oldest was 17. None of these, in my opinion, were times when a daughter didn't need her mother. I watched my husband process the reality looming ahead — the fact that I might not be part of equation as they continued to grow and mature. It was a lot to take in.
Second, I didn't want our girls to see me look sick. Not for reasons that you might first think. I wasn't being vain, I didn't want them to assume the worst. I prayed and prayed that I would keep my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. When my hair started coming out in handfuls, I accepted the inevitable. Then I directed my prayers to my eyebrows. They too, let loose and went away. Last but not least, I begged God for my eyelashes to stay. All the while, the nurses were adamant it would all go. When I realized my eyelashes were falling out, my husband was outside washing his truck. I went out, clothed in gloom and despair. I sniffled and looked him in the face and cried.
He stopped washing his truck and looked intently in my face. "Honey, where have you been? They have been coming out for weeks!" he said. His tone simple yet firm. He told me he loved me and went back to his job at hand. I stood there for a minute, pulled myself together and went back to my task at hand. I remember thinking, I guess I was just the last to know.
Losing my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes didn't change who I was. It didn't change they people who loved me. Thanks to bright colors and make up, people told me all the time that I looked great. It was bizarre, actually. I wore a wig sometimes, but most often I wore a bright pink bandana on my head. That bandana, almost 11 years later, is still in my possession. I can't bring myself to part with it. Thumbtacked to the wall in my office, I see it when I write.
A while back, I contemplated getting rid of it. I realized there are too many memories and life lessons attached to it. It reminds me that hair is not everything. It reminds me that sometimes bad circumstances can bring freedom and growth. It reminds me that people who love me, love me for who I am and how I navigate life, not how I look.
Maybe you have something special from your cancer journey? Something that reminds you of strength, grace and dignity. Maybe you are in the middle of your cancer journey, not thinking there is anything you want to hold on to. I encourage you to be open to finding small things that make you feel safe and loved. Years later, you like me, may appreciate having a symbol or sign of the journey. Regardless of if you do or don't, you are normal, you are special, and I pray you feel loved.