The evidence was there. Biopsies, ultrasounds, x-rays and MRIs. They all agreed. I had cancer.
"How could this be?" the image in the mirror screamed at me. I don’t look sick. No change in my coloring, no weight loss (dang!), no symptoms at all... How could I have the Big C?
Memories flooded back to me from my teenage years when my grandfather passed away from lung cancer. He looked sick, became bedridden and often didn’t know who I was when I came to visit. Is that what lay ahead for me?
“NO,” my oncologist assured me. "You probably won’t even miss much work," he said. So, it was with this positive attitude that I began my treatment journey. The year ahead would not be easy, I knew, especially being HER2 positive. This meant my treatment would be aggressive, chemo, surgery and radiation, but it was something I had to get through. And get through it I would! No need to tell a lot of folks. Just show up for my treatments, do what I had to do and carry on. That was my plan.
Shortly after my first chemo treatment, a package arrived on my front step. A gift from my niece in New Hampshire sent with thoughtfulness and love. A note of encouragement, soothing skin lotion, lozenges to ease a queasy tummy, warm socks, and an inspirational t-shirt all nestled in the box. She had thought of everything someone in treatment could need. There at the bottom, lay a little black hat.
Unlike many ladies, my hair was never my crowning glory. My high school picture, like both my male and female classmates of the 70’s, showed my hair as long and straight. I made no major changes into adulthood, settling on a straight shoulder length style. My doctor told me that most of his patients who had long hair found it easier to cut it short before it really started to fall out. I hesitantly took his advice. After all, it was going to fall out any way. Many people complimented me on my new do -but still - my secret was safe. No one but my close circle of friends and family knew why I was sporting my new short hairstyle.
Shortly after my 2nd treatment I was working at my computer when I looked down in shock… My keyboard was covered with hair. Not a few strands… but handfuls! Reality punched me in the gut. This was real; I was losing my hair because I was a cancer patient. My chest tightened, my hands shook and I felt tears welling up in my eyes. “No,” I told myself. I would not react like this. After a few deep breaths I composed myself and decided then and there that I would be okay. As a matter of fact, I insisted upon it.
Thus began my daily donning of the hat. Suddenly, I needn’t tell my story. It was there for the world to see. No more secret to keep, for when I wore the hat, unfortunately I now looked like a cancer patient. It was then that something very unexpected began to happen. Total strangers asked if they could pray for me. Others whispered in my ear “I’m a survivor too.” People offered me their seats or wanted to share their stories. Suddenly, I was glad the world knew my story. I discovered so much hope and faith through the outpouring of love from people I never would have otherwise met. I was a part of a fellowship of a magnitude I could have never imagined.
Now, nine months into my journey, my hair has started to grow back. Not like it was before treatment, but pretty in a different way. The time has come to hang up my hat. I had once looked forward to this day and now it is bittersweet. Perhaps one day I will pass my hat along to another patient but for now, it is a reminder of where I have been, how I have grown and that I have survived. My little hat certainly has a story to tell!