I put on a new pair of underpants today.
Yesterday I went to the Bay. They were having a big sale on bedding, and I wanted new pillows. But I bought underwear instead. For months, I’ve barely shopped for anything other than food, light bulbs and pavement salt. I haven't been able to focus enough for anything else. When you can’t focus, you go shopping for pillows, end up with underwear, and it really doesn’t matter.
“Sometimes the ladies walk around with no underwear.” That’s what the radiologist, Dr D, said on Friday to prepare me for the pain to come. The pain you have when they radiate close to the opening of the vagina. And I thought I’d done brilliantly getting through menopause relatively intact. So much for that.
I’m done joking about the growth that brought all this on. The hot dog that, at some point, became an oversized Barbie Dream House sofa, outgrowing the space I hadn’t ever said was OK to use in the first place, and then pushing its way out my front door. Who the hell puts a sofa in a hall? (So maybe I haven’t quite finished joking.)
Very slow growing, they keep saying. Is that statistically or for sure-ly? If it’s so slow, and the chemo has shrunk it to nothing, or almost nothing, why radiate? Why radiate now? Why suffer the indignities and lasting side effects when a) it’s snails-pace lymphoma, and b) they can’t guarantee the radiation will even do anything?
I wish I knew how long it had been there. I wish I knew it was 20 years in the making. I wish someone knew something definitive, beyond what it is.
So here’s the piece of shit news about my head. They will radiate a large rectangle whose width will run between my eye and the middle of my cheek, and whose length will reach back to where you’d put a part, if you were making two even braids. I’ll lose all my hair within the parameters of that rectangle, and the likelihood is, it won’t grow back.
WON’T GROW BACK
Somehow the argument that this will allow me to live and flourish and raise my kids and write and buy pillows, is NOT helpful. I’m vain. How I look has always mattered too much. I have good qualities too, but vanity, I’m willing to admit, has always been front and centre.
“That hair style is so IN right now,” my friend Fog said to me. No offence to anyone who sports that half-shaved head look (which by the way, is not the same as bald, and once you’ve outgrown that moment of thinking it actually looks good, can be left to grow back in – good for you), but I’ve always hated it. And now here I am, hoping one day to be the 80 year old that's worn that hairdo since 2014.
“I can’t fucking cope with losing my hair,” I said, crying to Dr D, and the nurse, or intern, or whoever she was, who was also in the room with us - some kind-eyed stranger with thick long curls.
“Yes you can, and you will.” My friend Ingrid put her arm around my shoulder. I glanced over at her dense wavy hair, and held back the shitty things I wanted to say. Of course I’ll cope. Like there’s an alternative.
Three people have now told me what miraculous things can be done with hair extensions. I wonder if they involve Gorilla Glue, because as far as I know there has to be something to extend. Yes it’s good news they won’t be radiating the top of my head and I can do some variation of a comb over. A comb down. Fuck.
I have a trip planned for the middle of the summer. It’s already paid for. Dr D says my hooha will still be a painful mess if I start radiation in mid-June, which, it seems is the earliest start date possible. (I won't even get into the mess that will remain once the pain is gone.) The soreness, and of course the image of me walking around like John Wayne with no underpants, contemplating a dip in the beautiful (salty) Adriatic. Ya, no.
My plan, at least right now, is to take a break and save the nuking until early September. It troubles me that Dr D, looks a tiny bit pained about my possible 4 month delay. It’s hard not to read rampant recurrence in every little comment or facial expression. But that contradicts other things she has said that imply it will make no difference at all.
Have I told you I hate the nobody-knows-shit-about-how-anything-will-go-so-let’s-just-try-this-and-hope-for-the-best nature of cancer treatment?
I really really do.