In the checkout line today the cashier told me she liked my haircut. I couldn’t leave it at thank you. Nope. Not me. I did say thank you, but as a spirited over sharer, I had to also divulge that this wasn’t a haircut. That I have cancer and my hair is growing out. “How long did you have to suffer? Or when did it start?” she asked. I told her I was diagnosed in September, that I finished chemo in January, and now I’m just waiting for my upcoming scan to see what happens next. I told her I have Stage IV Breast Cancer and there is no cure yet, so I’m just waiting until I’m cancer free and then I hope to stay cancer free for a long time. She wished me luck, told me I looked healthy and that my hair, whether it’s a cut or not, was really awesome. I thought, I look forward to long hair!
She was vibrant and direct and I thought the conversation was great because it was so honest. Some lady checking out in the next line over was listening too. I wonder what she thought about our conversation.
I think when strangers see me now, they wonder about my hair. I saw a woman the other day with hair a little bit longer than mine- in an awkward growing out phase. Maybe she wanted it to look that way, maybe she too had cancer, or maybe she shaved her head for someone else who had cancer, or just for fun. I’ll never know because I didn’t ask. People feel so strongly about what the right or wrong thing to say is, but really, we’re all just trying to be human, you know? If you stick your foot in your mouth sometimes it’s really no big deal. I wish I could be more like that cashier in this way. She was confident, non-judgemental and curious with her delivery. She was human. We had a real but brief connection.
People say, “it must be nice not to look sick anymore. No one would know you have cancer just by looking at you.” And it is nice to be incognito, to not have my hair declare my health. And I love that I feel good, I look good, and that I can rock this haircut.
I still want to talk about my cancer. I still want people to know I have it.
I don’t know why.
I haven’t written about it in weeks. I have been spending the last few weeks “getting back to normal.” Going to work. Menu planning and grocery shopping like I normally do. Working out on a regular schedule. And all of that feels refreshing and normal.
And then, when it’s quiet, which is usually when I’m driving….it’s like the computer in my brain goes to sleep and the screen saver words that float across my consciousness say:
Don’t forget you have cancer. This feeling won’t last forever.
It’s a fleeting warning, and I try to stay in the moment, but mortality looms in the corners. It’s there when I lay with my kids to put them to sleep. It whispers, “soak this in.” It’s there when I go for a run. It says, “today you are strong.” It’s there when I get a date night with my husband, it says, “hold his hand tight now, you might have to let go someday.” It’s there when I think about the future. It says, “I’ll get back to you about that.“
It might seem depressing and dismal that I allow these thoughts to escape the comfort of my brain, but I feel like I am maintaining my positivity and not allowing mortality to linger too long. And even though I try not to solidify any plans for the near and far future, I still dream of the things I might get to do. At the same time, I find myself maximizing the moments I have. I am creating monsters in my children because saying no to them seems unfair. What if we don’t get this opportunity again? I feel I must seize all of the opportunities. I am out of paid time off at work and yet, I plan for more vacations with my family because all I want is for those times to never end. So I go off payroll.
I plan for family reunions and road trips, Paris and Peru, and next summer I’m considering renting an RV and driving around the country with my family. I look forward. Don’t worry. I look forward to soaking in every moment, and continuing to build strength, and to a thousand date nights, and my future.
I look forward to having long hair and bangs again, and to losing the feeling that I want people to know I have cancer. I want them to know that people are walking around with terminal illnesses every day. You just don’t know it because they look like me. I want them to know that you can be happy and alive and beautiful and still….or maybe that’s not it. Maybe part of me wants you to know I am struggling. That I’m not well but that I’m okay. That I get up every day and make the best of what I have. Maybe I want people to be inspired by my drive and to not feel sorry for themselves for too long, because that seems like a wasteful way to live a single day. Until those days come, I’ll keep looking forward.