This Holiday, I’m Grateful for Wigs and Orangutans

I’ve been watching a YouTube channel about Borneo orangutans, and realized that these animals remind me of myself after cancer.

Every morning I express gratitude to God for being healthy and joyful, among a long list of other things. I also give thanks for a different animal each day. I am especially obsessed with elephants, great apes and whales.

I have a coffee table book on animals nearing extinction. Each day, I turn the page, reflect on the new animal, and keep the book open. Lately, I’ve become addicted to YouTube Borneo Orangutan Rescue (BOS) videos. The baby orangutans, with their precious Buddha bellies and disheveled hairdos, are wheelbarrowed out to jungle school.

I see myself in these little guys.

First, let’s talk hair. After my bone marrow transplant to combat a recurrence of acute myeloid leukemia, I lost all my hair. The alopecia was to be expected. However, the meager regrowth resembled the head of an infant orangutan. Some thin random strands sprouted, growing upwards and in odd directions. I told my family to call me “Tang,” but it never caught on.

I still have very fine patchy hair that looks like it was hit by static electricity. My scalp is visible. I’m a stunner.

There is an avatar of me next to my blog introduction. Long blond hair falls past my shoulder.This is a wig.

Whenever I can, I don a baseball cap or scarf to keep my scalp out of the sun. If I am swimming in one of Florida’s beaches, I’ll go sans head covering. Wearing nothing on my head feels freeing! I would sport my see-through hairstyle all the time, but I personally feel more comfortable in public with a wig.

Since I now work in fine jewelry sales, I want to look approachable. That is, I don’t want my customers to have unnecessary concern over my health while they are admiring diamonds and gems.

I work in the fashion and beauty industry. My colleagues dress in designer clothes and apply their makeup with impeccable precision. I decided to invest in a human hair prosthesis. This is considerably more expensive than a synthetic wig. I also knew that I would be wearing this wig for years to come, further justifying the purchase. The silkiness, upkeep and styling are much better than a synthetic wig. It looks natural.

The length is too long. I’ll have it cut, but I know that once it is cut, it will not grow back, so I want to make sure I know what I want before taking this step.

Like the orphaned orangutans, I also needed to be wheelbarrowed out to jungle school. As a recovering addict and cancer survivor, I had to rely on caregivers — medical professionals and loved ones — to teach me how to thrive in mind, body and spirit. I accepted guidance from many in how to survive in a post-addict and cancer relapse world of recovery.

I would cling to my caregivers at first. They provided heaps of love. I was gifted bone marrow from a stranger. My family created a hygienic “nest” for me to sleep and recuperate. They fed me until I got the desire back to eat. Doctors gave me medicine. Treatment gave me coping skills.

I graduated from an infant to a toddler to a teen orangutan and stepped into the next level of my education. I got a wig. I got a job. I got an apartment. I found my passion for life.

My caregivers taught me how to fend for myself in the wild. I was eventually released.

I’m indebted to many people for my current happiness. The wig also helps.


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