Monthly Archives: February 2017

Collateral Damage

I grew up with a storybook mother, not perfect, but close to it.

• Day long birthday celebrations started with mom delivering a breakfast muffin with a lit candle while singing happy birthday.
• Expressions of love including hugs and kisses were given in abundance.
• Sunday dinner was at the dining room table with china, crystal, linen tablecloth and napkins, and gentle etiquette lessons.
• Curiosity was encouraged and rewarded with both praise and tokens.
• When I was sick, she was the world’s most attentive nurse.

All my life, my friends expressed their desire to have her for a mother, a request she usually accommodated. She was my cheerleader, my confident, and my problem sounding board.

Now she is 94, residing in an assisted living facility, has Alzheimers, and I have cancer.

Visiting her means figuring out strategies to hide both my baldness and my diagnosis. Explaining what’s actually happening would require a complete explanation each visit – a task beyond my emotional strength. Answering her questions about my new affinity for wearing hats as a part of my wardrobe is taxing even my fiction spinning ability. Deflecting her attention on me runs counter to my lifetime basking in being the center of her attention. The entire family has, by necessity, become partners in this minor conspiracy of deception.

I just want my mommy!

Flushing My Hair Down the Toilet

There is a difference between intellectual knowledge and emotional reaction!

I knew from the beginning of my chemotherapy treatment that hair loss was probably inevitable. Oh sure, the medical professionals said many people only experience thinning of their hair not actual complete loss but that comment struck me as part of the this-isn’t-so-bad, wishful thinking school of a prepping the patient drill. All of the patient descriptions covered the hair loss phenomenon in detail. Engaging the best of my intellect, I listened to the people who had actually experienced chemo and prepared appropriately.

(Interestingly the medical professionals spoke consistently about the nausea effects I should expect; assuring me that they’d give me anti-nausea medications by IV before the chemo and provide pills to use at home. Either the pre-chemo meds are TERRIFIC or my stomach is lined with stern stuff. I didn’t even experience a moment of queasiness.)

Back to hair. In anticipation, I had my longish, curly hair cut short to accustom myself, and others to seeing me with less on top. Given my amazing hair stylist Steven’s skill, my new punky hairstyle got rave reviews. Those who knew about the cancer figured out my strategy; those who didn’t, thought I was simply making a change. Either way, I felt like I was doing a great job getting prepared for the next step. First my scalp started to itch and hurt. Scratching the itch, even gently, ended in fingers covered in hair. Here we go I thought. I got in the habit of bending over the toilet and scubbing my head to remove loose hair there rather than sprinkling it behind me as I walked though the house. Not too bad, I thought. Two days later my over the toilet riffing became bowl filling and with a great deal of trepidation, I grabbed a bunch of hair and pulled gently and realized that my hair was coming out by the handful. There was a moment of fascination followed almost immediately with overwhelming feelings of grief. The last opportunity for denial—this cancer thing can’t be real or it isn’t going to hit me like other people was GONE!

Steven had vowed to re-visit my haircut with his clippers when I was ready. A call elicited his promise to come over to our house with his partner, Rob, Friday night to finish my shearing with the promise of pizza to end the event. Sheet on the kitchen floor. Stool in the center. Steven’s gentle hands on my shoulder. The unfamiliar buzz of the clippers. Clumps of my remaining hair falling softly to the floor. The end of the hair chapter.
As I viewed my new self in the bathroom mirror, the clippers started up again. Back in the kitchen, Frank had taken my place. Bald in solidarity, he explained; my dear husband finding a way to join me on this strange journey.

He’ll need a haircut in a month. I won’t.

A New Journey Begins

I’m writing this as a story so I can pretend we’re sitting together over a good cup of coffee or a great glass of wine and laughing and crying together. It would have been my preference to share this news with you that way because I know the conversation would be filled with hugs and encouragement.
Early in my speaking career I heard the maxim, “We teach what we most need to learn.” I speak on Change.

On Tuesday, January 10th I went in for my annual mammogram thinking I’d be in the clinic for an hour or so, Four hours later, after a second mammogram, an ultrasound, a biopsy, and a consultation with a radiologist, I headed home driving in a snowstorm (In fiction that would be called foreshadowing.) In typical speaker style, my phone rang while I was checking into a hotel before a speech that Friday night. It was the Radiologist with the biopsy report. “It’s cancer, Chris,” she said as gently as possible. “We’ve got you scheduled with our top oncologist as well as my favorite surgeon next week.” I guess this is what they call off and running.

More tests, lessons in nuclear medicine, forms and insurance approval led to the following Monday’s diagnosis of Stage 4 Triple Negative Breast Cancer with lymph node involvement throughout my body. Good news is my brain, lungs, and liver are clear. We have an aggressive plan of Chemotherapy that started this Tuesday.

As you can imagine Frank and I and the kids are working to figure this new chapter in our lives together. It’s pretty raw and comes with a steep learning curve. (Gary Rifkin would explain that my input strength is working in overdrive!)

At this point I’m adjusting to my body’s reaction to the chemo and figuring out what my new normal is going to be so I’m not really up for phone calls. I would be eternally grateful for notes (P.O. Box 37, Wausau, WI 54402-0037) and emails (Chris@Change101.com). Since I don’t have a clear picture of how the treatments are going to play out, flexibility is our current action plan.
That speech on Change Friday night after I got the news—well, I nailed it. The audience and I laughed and learned together and my client was thrilled. When I got up to my room, I filled the oversized bathtub with a hot bubble bath, got in and cried because of a change I didn’t choose or want. Then I dried off and reviewed the slides I had just used and the messages I had shared with my audience and applied them to myself.

I close all of my programs with my favorite Seneca quote. “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” This one is difficult and with your help, I’m going to dare.

Chris who feels blessed with your friendship