Posts Tagged ‘hair loss’
(Guest post by Matt)
Stephanie and I have spent a few days in the hospital, and she seems to have been progressing better than she has after previous surgeries. When they rolled her out of the post-op area, she was already sipping water. In prior surgeries, she wasn’t even allowed to touch but a few ice chips for about a day afterwards. Aside from a furious bout with itchiness last night (which we think was brought on by the hospital bedsheets, soon replaced by soft sheets from home), Stephanie has been able to do everything they want her to in order to go home.
But, as we have learned on multiple occasions during this journey, life can be unpredictable. I noted in the last post that they had to check the removed ovary for microscopic traces of the cancer. Well, the pathology report came back today and MJ gave us the news: there were microscopic cancer cells in the cystic walls of Stephanie’s ovary, nothing that could be seen with the human eye. That’s the thing with this or any other type of cancer. There’s an obvious battle against tumors and what shows up on scans, but there is also the microscopic battle.
So, there will be further treatment.
Stephanie will once again have to undergo chemotherapy treatments after all. She’ll start in a couple weeks after she heals up from her hospital stay. The good news is that these cells were found in the ovary that was taken out. There wasn’t a tumor, and there wasn’t any spreading to other areas of her body. So this chemo season will be an “insurance policy” to fight the microscopic battle. MJ is confident that it’s nowhere else and if there are still cancerous cells, the chemotherapy will prove effective against them. And, tomorrow morning, Stephanie is getting a PET scan, not a CT scan. That is good news.
In hindsight, we were a little spoiled with the immediate post-surgery news that no cancer was seen. Just because it wasn’t seen doesn’t mean that it still wasn’t present (obviously). It’s so small that the doctor who sees cancer every day couldn’t even see it. But we know that God is still good. He has orchestrated this whole story. Nothing about this is a surprise to Him. He is obviously still working in this story to bring glory to Him. Yes, it’s a bummer that Stephanie will lose her hair again and have to get chemo again. But, this is what we were planning before we even got to the hospital on Monday. We were prepared for another season of treatment and we still are.
Prayer-wise, we would appreciate prayers for emotional strength and endurance for the season ahead. Imagine the amount of stress and anxiety that is endured when you spend months and months growing your hair out just to find out you’re going to lose it again. This is difficult (especially for a woman). Just like everyone else, we have been expecting to be able to plan out our lives a little bit. Some people get further along than others before God reveals HIS plan for their lives. We are experiencing this in the time when we would otherwise be thinking about buying our first house and starting a family. Having to put those things “on hold” has been difficult for both of us, so prayers for understanding God’s will for our lives and being able to handle the “holding” gracefully would be especially appreciated. Also, very short-term, I am bouncing between home and the hospital not only to care for our pups, but it is moving week. So, we also request prayers for a smooth move. Big props to the fellas who will be helping us out this weekend with this task, it means more than you know.
We are praying that the “third time’s a charm” with this treatment. We’re keeping positive attitudes and we know that how people handle what comes their way reveals their true character. Thank you for praying with us and standing beside us.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (MSG)
“It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, but if there’s no one to help, tough! Two in a bed warm each other. Alone, you shiver all night. By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.”
These past few days have been entirely orchestrated by God, of that I am sure.
Tuesday night, our church had it’s monthly women’s event, and I was asked to be a small group leader for the evening. One of my dear friends shared her testimony with all of us, and her message was enriched with His faithfulness. In fact, God’s faithfulness was the theme of the night. I am convinced that both the theme and it’s timing were orchestrated with enormous purpose.
Most of us say that He is faithful. We worship Him with that word. We pray for that characteristic to shine in our lives. But how many of us really know that it is true? God’s faithfulness is not measured by how many prayers are answered. He remains faithful even when our plans aren’t in alignment with His.
As I led my group into discussion, I was given questions to pose to the ladies. Here are a few that stood out to me, and have meaning especially now:
- “Has there been a time where God has made something beautiful out of your hurt or pain?”
- “How is our story part of God’s bigger story? Share a time when it was hard for you to see at first, but in the end you realized that God was doing something for a reason that you couldn’t see at the time.”
- “Why is it sometimes hard to surrender to God’s plan in our lives?”
Notice that not one of these questions mentions an ease to or fulfillment of our plans. Many times God sees our plans and wants something bigger for us. I’m sure He looks at our life goals, plans, and desires and thinks, “That’s it? That’s all you want? My will is far greater that that.”
My follow-up CT scan was on Monday. Our women’s event was Tuesday. And I received the scan results on Wednesday. In the moment, I wanted the results immediately. Why couldn’t I receive them within seven hours like I did last time? I didn’t understand why. But now I do. Tuesday was God’s time to speak to me. To remind me of His faithfulness, regardless of the circumstance. It was His moment to encourage and empower me, and to remind me of His steadfast love. His timing was perfect.
I received the call yesterday morning at 7:03 am. Upon answering the phone, I heard my doctor’s voice. I immediately knew. A tumor had grown near my remaining ovary on the right side of my abdomen. It’s a little smaller than two inches. The cancer has returned for a third time. After listening to the medical details and ensuing plan of action, the conversation ended. My husband slid to the ground with his face in his hands, and began to cry. Tears began to fall from my eyes, as well. Instead of asking “Why?” I uttered, “I don’t understand. What plans do You have for me Lord?” I refuse to question His intentions, but can’t help questioning His plan. The tears of disappointment quickly turned into tears of sadness that I would, yet again, lose my hair. I ran my hands through my thick curls, and continued to express grief over the future loss of my locks. I hate losing my hair. It continues to be the most difficult part of this journey.
From the moment I processed this news, a calm confidence has filled my spirit. Where fear, doubt, and worry could hide, confidence has held residence instead. Large Cell Neuroendocrine cancer is extremely aggressive and, more often than not, fatal. However, this cancer is behaving unusual in my body. Unusually good. Sounds oxymoronic considering it’s return, however, it’s seemingly losing it’s power inside of me. Typically, this disease grows out of control and spreads quickly. Because both my hormonal and nervous system (Neuroendocrine) are under attack, this cancer has no bounds to where it can travel. In fact, in many cases, it heads to the lungs and brain rapidly. Yet, for some reason, it is remaining very localized in my pelvic region. It’s attaching itself to surgically removable organs. It is nowhere else in my body, and is no longer growing out of control. The tumor this time is significantly smaller than the second softball-sized tumor that developed within three months. I have been out of treatment for nearly six months, and was nearing the one year mark for being cancer free. All of these facts are good. They give me great confidence that once we remove this last ovary, the cancer will see nowhere else to grow and will cease residency in my body. I’m not dying from cancer. God has bigger things in store.
On October 6th, Matt and I will be running our very first 5k. We have been training for nearly eight weeks, and have put a lot of sweaty effort into our goal. This race immediately flashed in front of my eyes upon hearing the news that I would need surgery and chemotherapy all over again. “I WILL run this race. We’ll postpone surgery if we have to, but we ARE running this race.” Matt was adamant that I was delusional, but agreed to speak with my doctor. Explaining that this accomplishment would mean so much, I was insistent that cancer not take it away from me. Thankfully my doctor agreed, and smiling, she told us to run the 5k. Thank you, Jesus! Postponing surgery a few more days than expected should not have an impact on my health. If at any time between now and surgery, we feel the need to move forward with the procedure earlier, we can and will. However, my hope and prayer is that my pain will remain at a minimum and that the tumor will neither grow nor spread in this time. Our race is in ten days. Surgery is scheduled in eleven days, on October the 7th.
Through all of this, God remains faithful. Our plans and His are not in alignment, yet I know that His will for my life is far greater than I can imagine. For that reason, I continue to trust in His healing power, and know that He’s got this all figured out.
Psalm 138:8 (MSG)
“When I walk into the thick of trouble, keep me alive in the angry turmoil. With one hand strike my foes, with your other hand save me. Finish what you started in me, God. Your love is eternal—don’t quit on me now.”
Alongside us on this crazy roller coaster through cancer, two of our dearest friends have been planted. They have joined us at appointments, surgeries, chemo cocktails, and numerous cry sessions. They have held our hands as we have ventured into the unknown, and have triumphed with us in the victories. We have worshiped together, prayed for one another, and celebrated several occasions. God brought this passionate, genuine, selfless couple into our lives at the very beginning of this battle, and we can’t imagine having forged our way through it without them standing firm and rallying beside us.
He is a photographer and life-journalist by hobby. He resembles Jesus not only in his physical appearance, but also in his character. Selfless, compassionate, humble, generous, loving, and prayerful. His laugh is contagious and you’d be lucky to catch it. He is a gentleman. A leader. A father. A Christ-like friend. A true blessing.
She is a dancer. Hip-hop, ballet, contemporary, and jazz. A real-life ballerina. She has a heart of pure gold. She is a friend to hold dear for a lifetime. She speaks encouragement, life, and wisdom. Her gentleness, selflessness, and caring demeanor uplifts and offers strength. She is a mother. A hospitable host. A faithful friend. A prayer warrior. A true blessing.
These two have offered shoulders to cry on, words of encouragement, and a multitude of cries to Jesus upon my behalf for healing. They have documented our journey and brought life to a sometimes dark situation. Through photographs, videos, and sound recordings, they tell our story. They have blessed us more than they could possibly know. Today, we share a taste of what they have captured since diagnosis.
Get your tissues ready. If this video doesn’t move you in some way, you might want to check your pulse. This montage captures a glimpse into this battle. It begins at diagnosis in January of 2012, and ends in August of 2012 on the last day of my first season through treatment. At that time, we thought I beat it entirely. Little did we know, we had another year in the trenches. Through hair loss, weight gain, and several firsts… enjoy.
Stephanie Madsen | Cancer Survivor from Mark Nava on Vimeo.
Proverbs 18:24 (MSG)
“Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.”
Sometimes, as a cancer patient, you want to blend in with the crowd. Blend in with those around you who have hair. Because, after all, being bald attracts attention and unwanted stares. Being bald equates sickness. And no matter how sick I feel, I don’t always want to look it. Sometimes, it’s hard to feel like a woman when the features that amplify your femininity fade away.
No makeup. Little hair. (May 2013)
After being diagnosed with cancer in January of 2012 and learning I would lose all of my hair, I was devastated. I had just reached the point where I was obsessed with my locks, so facing the reality that they would be gone in a matter of weeks was calamitous. That was 14 months ago, and since then, I have lost my hair a few more times. But, never once had I grieved my eyebrows or eyelashes. In my second season of treatment, my hair loss became more of an inconvenience rather than devastation. I had gotten pretty used to it. However, this time around, chemo decided to take a little more hair with it. This time, I lost all of my locks… as usual, the new curls on my head and the hair on my legs and arms. But, this season, even my eyebrows and eyelashes disappeared. Everything. The only hairs I hadn’t been used to saying goodbye to were my brows and lashes, and boy did I realize what an adjustment that would be. I had never understood how much I had taken those short little hairs for granted.
What a difference brows and lashes make! (May 2013)
As a woman, I like to feel beautiful. I like being confident in the way I appear to the world. I had always thought if I were to lose my lashes and brows that I would look like an alien. Or even a hairless rat. Or maybe a hairless rat-like alien. Regardless, I had thought that if my brows and lashes were to fade away, my beauty would soon then follow. After all, I had never had to draw my brows on, and only wore false lashes on few occasions. What was I to do?
I have an aversion to having all eyes on me. I don’t like all the attention. And, I don’t like being the sick girl. The cancer patient. Because of this, I’ve become somewhat of a chameleon. Not many people have been able to see me without my “mask” on. And frankly, because I appear to be healthy, it’s hard for others to see the face of sickness. When I’m made-up, cancer doesn’t shine through. And while that’s the point, it’s necessary to see what the “before” looks like.
Many women share that they don’t feel femininely beautiful after hair loss. I get that. I feel that way, too. But there is hope. And thank the Lord for makeup! Gifted with cosmetic creativity, I have been able to gather my tools and tricks and go to work on the canvas of my face. I am here to testify that as a woman diagnosed with cancer or for those suffering hair loss for other reasons, you can still be beautiful! Losing your hair does not mean you have to look vastly different from your prior furry self. It’ll take effort and creativity, but it is possible.
Makeup complete and hair on! (May 2013)
Cancer tried to take away a lot. And even though it has tried to strip me of my appearance, I will not let it. No hair, don’t care. I’m beautiful, regardless.
And so are you.
Isaiah 40:8 (ESV)
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
Man-on-pause is happening in our household. Hot flashes, night sweats, irritability. Yes, man-on-pause is definitely here. Of course, I’m referring to the dreaded menopause, but my husband renamed it for obvious reasons. Never did I imagine I would be going through menopause at 26 years old. In fact, I didn’t even give this hormonal life-change much thought. After all, I’m in my twenties, not fifties or sixties.
Trying not to sweat in the hot sun! (March 2013)
After my radical hysterectomy in February of 2012, I experienced a very small number of hot flashes. I didn’t even want to refer to them as full-on hot flashes, and just called them “hot flushes,” as only my face would get very flush. I wasn’t tearing my clothes off in desperation for cooler temperatures. I wasn’t wiping away sweat beads from my brow or upper lip. I wasn’t snapping at my husband for no apparent reason. Then again, I still had two ovaries. And they must have been producing hormones… even slightly. However, after my most recent surgery where the softball-sized monster was found gnawing on my left ovary, it had to go. Today I am left with one ovary on my right side, and it’s starting to give up. This leaves me pissed off, cursing, and sweating. Oh, the dreaded menopause.
Never did I imagine I would find myself typing in the search term “natural menopausal remedies,” nor did I dream of perusing forums filled to the brim with women in their sixties sharing about their experiences. Never did I imagine I would be asking my mother and friends’ mothers if they were tearing their jackets off in the midst of a blizzard just to cool down, like I was. I never thought I would find myself walking through the aisles of a natural grocery store, desperately hunting down magical pills that are claimed to erase most of these symptoms. Never did I think I would apply makeup only to sweat it off mid-application. I never dreamt of watching commercials geared at older menopausal women and finding that we are more alike than not. Never did I think I would open the freezer door and stick my head in. Never. But obviously, I’m not living a “typical” life of a twenty-something woman.
Menopause sucks. If you’ve been through it, you know that, and if you haven’t… well, lucky you. Try to be young as long as you can. Enjoy the days where you can sit under the sun and not turn into a maniacal sweat factory. Enjoy the moments when you can lie in bed and snuggle up to your husband without instantaneously laying in a pool of perspiration. Enjoy being intimate. Seriously. Menopause tries it’s darndest to make you cringe at the thought of sex, as your lady parts don’t work as they used to. (Sorry to the men who don’t want to read about their daughter/sister/granddaughter/friend in that way. It’s the truth. And frankly, you’ve either had a wife go through it, or you will in the future. Better to learn early!) Hot flashes, irritability, dry lady parts, night sweats. Oh, and the infamous flabby stomach. That last one could be due to having two major lower abdominal surgeries, but I’d like to put the blame on my arch-nemesis, Man-on-pause.
Filled-in brows, false lashes, menopausal, yet still Baldalicious. (March 2013)
Lately, I’m pissed, irritated, and annoyed. I feel like my femininity is waning. I’m a girly-girl. I adore makeup, clothes, nail polish, and hairspray. I freak out at the sight of spiders. I would prefer to lay on a beach with a margarita in hand, than lay in a sleeping bag under a tent on a camping trip. And I hate to sweat. It is what it is, and I like it that way. But being bald with barely there eyelashes and brows, twenty extra pounds clinging on, the gamut of menopausal symptoms, and the latest nasty nails, it’s hard to feel girly. I overcompensate with a wig, false eyelashes, nail polish, and makeup a lot of the time. Without all of that, I don’t feel feminine on the outside. I’m ready for my outward body to reflect what’s on the inside again. Girl. Woman. Pretty. ME.
I had been clinging on to one last thing that was truly, naturally, and 100% mine- my fingernails. This past week, I grieved the loss of them, as well. If you know me, I like to keep my nails looking attractive. They are almost always lacquered in color, and glitter makes a frequent appearance. This past week as I was removing the most recent polish, I noticed my nails looked odd. In fact, after they were free and clear of any color, their natural hue had taken on a completely different look. Purples, blues, whites, yellows, and even greens were peering back at me. What? Chemo had already taken my hair, dispensed weight in unwanted areas, and made me feel like crap. And now, it’s decided to take my nails, as well. Nearly all of my fingernails are almost halfway separated from the nail bed. They are bruised and ugly. And the worst part is: I can’t cover them up. Under doctors orders and the advice of many friends who have experienced a similar trial, I have to keep them clean and polish-free. Oh joy. I can’t even cover them up. So here I am, bald and pissed… and sweating.
Chemo nails. Gross. (March 2013)
It’s a good thing chemotherapy does more than tear my outward appearance up. At least it’s tearing up my insides and annihilating cancer, as well. If it weren’t, I can assure you, we would have broken up by now. Although I have a love/hate relationship with chemo cocktails, this year-long relationship has proven to be beneficial to my survival. And as much as I loathe every little side effect that I have experienced, I am grateful to be alive. I will do whatever it takes to live. At the end of the day, I’m still here, and that’s all that matters. And one more thing, the little magical pills that I mentioned earlier, are actually working… in more ways than one!
But, dammit. I still hate menopause.
Proverbs 31:30 (MSG Version)
“Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades. The woman to be admired and praised is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-God.”
Many people initially respond to trauma or heartache by asking “Why!?” Whether someone you love passes away, you didn’t get that dream job, or things just didn’t work out…more common than not, it’s “Why me?!” I challenge you to be open to hearing the answer. In some moments, God may never reveal it to us; However, if you pay close attention to what He is doing in your life and around you, you may get a sneak peek inside His purpose.
It would be easy for me to ask, “Why?”, throughout the ups and downs in my current adventure. I am human and the fact is, I hate that I have cancer. I hate that I have to endure months and months of grueling treatment. It would be easy for me to ask, “Why did you allow this to happen to me!? I’m young! I have so much going for me.” And more often than not, we are faced with that thought, “Why?” While I have only once let that word slip from my mouth, it’s hard to not have that lingering thought bury itself in my subconscious as a cancer patient.
I am learning that the less I feel, “Why me?!”, the more I learn the reasons for my story. A wise woman once said, “Don’t focus on the problem, fix your eyes on the promise.” Let that sink in. It’s powerful.
There have been several moments in my journey that God has taken me behind the scenes to see what’s really going on. It’s as if He’s saying, “Stephanie, you want to know why? Check this out. You’ll be amazed.” And it’s true. In all things God wants the glory, and I believe my story is no different. No matter what, God will be glorified. And it’s an honor to carry this torch and spread hope for Him.
Today specifically has been a day where I got to peek behind the curtain. In fact, I pulled up a [chemo] chair and watched it unfold before my eyes. This morning, Matt and I woke up bright and early to prepare for another chemotherapy day. As we were on our way to the hospital, my anxieties slowly dissolved. And once I walked into the room where all of us cool kids get treatment, I noticed one lady. Only one. This is extremely unusual, as there are at least eight chairs for patients. Any lingering discomfort fell aside, and I sat down in my usual chair which happened to be next to this beautiful woman. Soon, we discovered it was her first time receiving chemo. After introducing ourselves, we began to talk…and talk…and talk. Divine appointment? I emphatically say “YES!”
I believe that we are each given a story for bigger reasons than ourselves. We interact with others on a daily basis and encounter people who need to hear hope through every situation. I still hunger for hope, and have learned that my true hope comes from Him alone. But for those of us undergoing trials, be aware that you are a vessel. You are being used to share and help others through similar storms. Today, I was able to speak truth, life, and hope to someone very vulnerable and new in her journey. In speaking with her, I saw strength, determination, courage, and bravery in her eyes. She has a genuine spirit full of joy. We bonded immediately, and I look forward to where our journeys will take us in our friendship. As we left, I gave her a hug and shared my perspective of a cancer diagnosis and the battle to victory. “It’s going to suck. I will not lie to you. It’s going to be extremely hard and you’re going to have horrible days. But, be encouraged. Along with those bad days, there will be great ones. You can and will do this. Allow yourself to grieve, but focus on the positive and on overcoming this thing. It’s going to happen.” And she responded with tears in her eyes, “You are amazing. You have made this whole mess seem a lot less scary and much more hopeful. Thank you.” <–THAT, my friends, is the “Why.”
While leaving treatment, I was overwhelmed by the sense of joy and fulfillment in my spirit. Sometimes I yearn to know the bigger picture. I yearn to see the path that God has put forth for me. But, I am thankful that I do not know it all. I am thankful that He gives me blessings along the way. I am thankful for the unexpected surprises. I am thankful for a five-hour conversation with a stranger, who is transforming into a friend. We are going to be “chemo buddies,” we both agreed. I am thankful that she is extremely well-versed on all things baseball (Matt’s favorite sport), for she kept my husband entertained and captivated the whole time. I am thankful that God answers the “Why.” Who knew that you could discover another piece of the bigger picture whilst walking out of chemotherapy treatment!? (Proof that He shows up anywhere!)
It’s so empowering and fulfilling to know that my story is making a difference. I thank each and every one of my readers and dedicated followers for supporting my journey and rallying beside me to kick cancer’s ass. I am encouraged and deeply humbled.
The truth is, cancer sucks. There’s no way around it. If you read my blog, you know I am transparent in sharing my rough days. But those who read, also discover that I make a conscious decision to choose joy. I choose happiness. I choose life. I choose to be above my circumstance. I choose to fight. I choose to be a cancer survivor.
1 Corinthians 2:10-13 (MSG Version)
“The Spirit, not content to flit around on the surface, dives into the depths of God, and brings out what God planned all along. Who ever knows what you’re thinking and planning except you yourself? The same with God—except that He not only knows what He’s thinking, but He lets us in on it. God offers a full report on the gifts of life and salvation that He is giving us. We don’t have to rely on the world’s guesses and opinions. We didn’t learn this by reading books or going to school; we learned it from God, who taught us person-to-person through Jesus, and we’re passing it on to you in the same firsthand, personal way.”
Does the word “beautiful” define you?
Let’s talk about beauty. The hard fact is, as a woman diagnosed, it’s not uncommon to feel a sense of loss when it comes to our looks. I mean come on, when your hair starts falling out, your body is either increasing or decreasing in size, your face is expressing the enormity of stress by the monstrosity of wrinkles, and your doctor is painting on more and more scars, it’s natural to not feel attractive anymore. Not only have I struggled with not feeling beautiful through this diagnosis, but also not feeling comfortable in my own skin.
Currently, this is one of the largest topics in the world. Society is driven by physical appearance and beauty. It’s sweeping the covers of every magazine. Fashion, makeup, hair, and the perfect weight is probably on the top of every woman’s priority list. No? …Maybe it’s just me. From birth, we are trained to allow society to define our personal beauty. Our “look” must fit into the world’s ideals. Sure, some people don’t abide by the “rules”, but we all care what everyone else thinks of us.
As a woman who has valiantly fought (and beat) cancer, and has undergone a slew of cancer treatments, I can boldly say that society’s definition of what is beautiful sucks. Where are the women who are proud of who they are and what they look like, regardless of what the world tells them? Where do bald women fit in? Why must our bodies resemble that of a prepubescent twelve year old girl? With as much cancer prevalent in our world, why aren’t there more examples of what true beauty is? Why do we, as women diagnosed, feel like we must cover up our truth? Now, don’t get me wrong. Yes, I wore a wig for a lot of my baldalicious battle. Yes, I am currently working out like a crazy person trying to drop these last twenty pounds. Yes, I wore false lashes when my own grew thin. But, I am continually learning that the world should not be the one to define me.
A few months ago, while waiting for treatment one day and rockin’ my bald dome, a woman approached me and asked if I would like to speak to someone about wigs. She continued by asking if I would also like some hats to cover my head. Although I know she was well-intentioned, I couldn’t help but feel unattractive. Thoughts emerged: Why must I cover this up? Why should I hide the fact that I am fighting for my life? Why does hair matter? Am I not beautiful? Oh, and by the way lady, I already own a wig and several hats. I just chose to be me today. Is that a problem?
Along with beauty comes self-worth. If we can downgrade the world’s voice and upgrade God’s voice, our views would drastically transform. If we can see ourselves through His eyes and not theirs, our truth can be revealed. I am learning that I should embrace my differences with pride. Sure, I have a short G.I. Jane hairstyle going on right now and it brings a lot of attention, but instead of allowing those disproving eyes to seep into my spirit, I counteract them with a smile and remind myself that I am beautiful regardless of what anyone else thinks. Just because it’s uncommon to see women without (or with much less) hair doesn’t mean it’s unattractive. Can we, as women currently baldalicious or rockin’ the buzz cut, set a new standard for the definition of beautiful? In fact, as women with or without a diagnosis, can we help other females find their value within?
We are our worst critics. True. We nitpick every fault we have and oftentimes shine light on those flaws. But we’ve got to stop seeing what we see, and instead, see what God sees. When it comes down to it, we will never be good enough for ourselves. But we are good enough for him…more than enough. God sees us without flaws; After all, He was the one to create us. We are a custom design that should be esteemed, not shamed. Hair or no hair, size fourteen or size two, blue or brown eyes, black or white skin, tall or short, it doesn’t matter. Let me repeat, it does not matter. Do we have a kind heart and gentle spirit? Do we shine light or exude darkness? Are we encouraging to one another? Are we forgiving? Do we choose to find our worth in the world or in Him? Now that’s what really matters.
So I ask again, are you beautiful?
1 Peter 3:3-4 (NIV)
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
Things are changing. And surprisingly enough, I’m okay with it.
Those who know me can testify that I am an organizer. Not only did I have to search for years to find the perfect planner, but now that I have, I write absolutely everything in it. Everything. Seriously. Since I’ve started my weight loss regimen, I even include what I eat every single day. I plan weeks and sometimes even months in advance. I take my planner seriously. I carry it with me everywhere. I jot down thoughts, brainstorms, grocery lists, workouts, and of course, the vast list of tasks I need to complete. I have several friends who are free birds, who go with the flow and don’t need to write anything on their calendars. That’s simply not me. I’m afraid that if I tried that, I would most likely forget to do anything. In other words, I’m a planaholic.
I’ve learned quite a lot this past year. One of the more obvious being, planning and cancer don’t always mix. I laugh looking through the months that I was going through treatment, because the only things I ever wrote were “surgery,” “radiation,” “chemotherapy,” “blood draw,” and “doctor’s appointment.” Grocery lists, workouts, weekly meal plans, and errands no longer mattered. Fact is, my only plan was to fight and beat cancer. In fact, in the “to-do” section of each month I wrote, “fight cancer.” In the “goals” section I wrote, “cancer-free.” I laugh because I like to organize every step of my life. Prior to my diagnosis, my husband and I had the following few years set in stone. Well, at least in our minds. We had plans to move, have children, and buy a home. Exactly eight months ago everything changed.
God’s plans don’t always align with ours. While at first I was shocked that our designs for the future might come crashing down, I now understand that God has bigger and better plans for us. Our dreams remain, but the timing is no longer ours. We will definitely move. We will definitely have children. And we will definitely buy a home. I believe that God still has those in mind for us, however they just won’t happen when or how we originally thought they would. Although it’s taken me a while to come to grips with that, I am extremely thankful that we are walking the path that is paved by Him and not by us. His plan is perfect. Ours is not. And being flexible allows you to genuinely live a life for Him.
Besides the obvious changes, other facts are changing as well. I’m no longer bald… anywhere. I am currently sporting a very short buzz-cut. My hair is coming in splotchy and irregular, but it’s there nonetheless. Once my camera can capture my G.I. Jane style, I’ll post pictures. As for now, you’ll just have to imagine it. Unfortunately, the hair on my head isn’t the only thing coming back. I forgot how much I had to shave my legs. I also forgot how annoying it would be to leave the house forgetting to shave my underarms. My showers are significantly longer nowadays. Whereas before I could get away with five minutes, it’s now doubled, if not tripled. I definitely got used to the jump-in-and-out method.
I’m also going back to work. Due to the rigid schedule of treatment, and my lack of health and energy, I haven’t been able to work. However, now that I have received my first clean bill of health and have regained a lot of my strength, I have chosen to start my job again. To say I am excited is an understatement. Once we get back from our cancer-free celebration in California, I will return to the family I was nannying prior to diagnosis.
My body changed drastically over the course of treatment. Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I gained about twenty-five to thirty pounds. Thankfully, that is changing as well. In fact, since I began working out five days a week and eating super clean, I have lost a total of fifteen pounds. Fifteen in thirty-five days. I’m pretty proud of myself. To say it’s easy would be laughable. I’ve been kicking my own ass for some time now, and it doesn’t get easier. What keeps me going is seeing my body change and the numbers on the scale continue to drop. My face is starting to look like my own again, and not that of a blown up character in the Macy’s Day Parade.
I always used to think that I embraced change. After all, I did like to rearrange the furniture in our house every now and then. I used to think that I was flexible; I wouldn’t mind if plans with friends got rescheduled. But change and flexibility have taken on new meanings for me. While I was flexible with details changing in the past, I never considered the whole picture changing. I’m talking about LIFE changes… Big, scary, unknown, and unplanned modifications. Shifts to the entire picture my husband and I had painted for ourselves. Our life canvas has been completely erased, and now we are looking forward to what God wants to create for us. Our life has been directed down a different road. One that we couldn’t see with a telescope. But, you know what? I’m grateful. Now that I get a glimpse into what His plans are, our previous plans seem so minuscule and boring. We can try our hardest to plan out every area of our lives, but if it’s not what He wants, it simply won’t happen.
I can and will continue to plan my life. I will continue to jot down every last bit of information in my brain, in hopes that I won’t forget it. I’ll continue to make plans with friends. My husband and I will continue to plan our future. But now, we have a much larger perspective on embracing change and being flexible. Just as often as we make plans, God will readjust them.
If God wants to change your plans, will you be flexible?
Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)
“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”
Tonight, instead of watching the Broncos game (shame on me), I find myself obsessing over my hair. Let’s rephrase…my lack of hair. To be honest, it started coming back a few days ago. For those who are unfamiliar with hair re-growth after chemotherapy, let me use this time to inform you. When I say “it’s growing back”, in no way do I mean, “I have a full head of hair”. I’m not even sure I can legitimately call it “hair”, as it resembles peach fuzz more or less. When hair grows back after falling out from chemo, it comes in very soft and thin. Think: newborn hair. And although mine has started coming in, which I am grateful for, it’s still so very soft and fine. I really miss having a full head of thick, beautiful, long locks.
I realize I haven’t done a detailed post about hair, and haven’t shared many (if any) pictures about my hair loss process. To give you a better idea about my journey losing, regrowing, losing again, and now regrowing my mane, I’ll need to start at the beginning. For those who love pictures: buckle up, you’re in for a full-on illustrated story.
My locks in February 2012
Prior to my chemotherapy treatments, I had been growing my hair out. It was actually the longest it has ever been in my life. Ha! Kind of funny that when it was at it’s longest, it fell out. Let’s just say, I was totally diggin’ my hair seven months ago.
Volume…Glorious! February 2012
And then, two weeks to the day of starting chemotherapy treatments, my mop began to drop…literally. To the floor, and all over my pillow, and somehow my strands even found their way into my socks. True story. Hair loss from chemo doesn’t hurt. In fact, when it first happened, it was comical. I could run my hands through my hair, and chunks of it would come out. I even asked my husband to take a turn and pull some out. He was shocked that he could literally rip a fist-full of blonde right out of my head. Hilarious! (I guess you had to be there.) Washing my hair became pointless. In the midst of shampooing, the strands that fell out would mix themselves up in the suds and “left-behinds”, and turn into a knotted, gnarly mess. Check out how much hair I would lose in the shower…
No, that’s not a joke. Hair loss from ONE shower. March 2012
People who lose their locks due to chemotherapy deal with the loss differently. Some shave it off before it begins to fall out, while others wait until they only have a few strands on their head. As for me, I waited until I could no longer deal with having hair all over everything. It became so annoying. Hair on my clothes, in the sheets, on my pillow, in the car, and on my husband. I was very ready to just get rid of it. However, strange as it may sound, I saved all of it. Well, all the strands I could find. Yes, that means I went through the sheets, pillow, and clothes on a daily basis and picked all the hair off to place them into ziploc bags. That sounds so weird, but I really did it. And just to creep you out a little more… I have four bags full of my hair in one of my dresser drawers. Check out Exhibit A-
Smallest bag o’ hair. March 2012
When I had finally had enough, my husband and I had a head-shaving party. He shaved mine, I shaved his. It was one of the most intimate parties I have ever been to. Besides our dear friend (and photographer), it was just the two of us. I was scared, excited, sad, and nervous. Scared, because shaving my head forced me to have a visual reminder every day that I was fighting cancer. Excited, because I couldn’t wait to get rid of my worthless mane. Sad, because deep inside, I really didn’t want to give up my locks. And nervous, because I had never been bald before.
Sadness and grief. March 2012
Shaving my head symbolized me taking control over my situation. I was not going to let cancer continue to take pieces away from me daily. I would grab this ruthless monster by the throat and do things on my terms. When I passed the grief and tears, I became elated. I had conquered my hair loss by taking matters into my own hands, and I would conquer cancer.
Take that, cancer. March 2012
Pretty soon, I was baldalicious. And, frankly, I didn’t mind it. Having no hair meant that many minutes were knocked off my morning regimen. No hair to blow dry, flat iron, or curl. There is a bright side! Plus, I’m sure my husband appreciated that I was spending less time in front of the mirror each day.
First time seeing myself bald. March 2012
Once I completed my first three rounds of chemo and began my radiation adventure, I was put on a different type of chemotherapy. This specific type of chemo didn’t promote hair loss, so during the six-plus weeks of my radiation/chemo regimen, I actually grew hair back. Many of my family and friends were excited for me, however, I knew it wouldn’t be there to stay. As odd as it may sound, I would have preferred to have no hair throughout the entirety of treatment, as opposed to losing it, regaining it, and losing it once more. It sucked seeing my hair grow back, only to know that it would fall out again in a matter of weeks. I did enjoy being able to run my hands through my hair again, though.
Hair regrowth during radiation. July 2012
Again, after ending radiation and beginning my last three rounds of (hair loss inducing) chemotherapy, it was time to shave my head. My husband viewed himself as a head-shaving professional at this point. And I must admit, I agreed with him.
Head shaving party #2. July 2012
Since I ended my treatment last month in August, I have been extremely excited for my hair to come back. This time, I know it’s for real. This time, I know I’ll be able to keep it and not have to give it up again. Compared to how quickly my hair grew back in May, April, and June, it seems to be coming back slower this time around. Maybe I’m wrong. I could just be overly anxious to start growing my locks again. Let’s see. I’ve gotta do some math…It took thirteen weeks for my hair to get to the length it was in the above pictures. I am currently at almost five weeks since my last treatment. Damn. I guess it’s not coming in slower, I am just overly anxious. Can you blame me, though?! Although many would still view me as bald, I know my hair is growing back. Like I said, it’s not much hair right now, more so just peach fuzz, but it still counts. This gorgeous mane has to start somewhere!
The truth is, tonight I’ve been obsessing over my do, or lack thereof. I’m tired of being bald. I’ve spent the majority of my life obsessing over my hair, making sure it was just the right style and color. Now, I’m just obsessing over the fact that there is no do. I even searched “hair growth after chemo” to get some insight as to what my various “hairstyles” will look like as my mane grows out. I’ve watched time-lapse YouTube videos of hair growth. I’ve read other women’s blogs. But, the more I obsess, the more I realize I need to be patient. Not only patient, but proud. I am cancer-free, and my lack of hair is a visual reminder of the battle I have fought to rid my body of the monster. I am proud. Very proud. Just not so patient. Shoot.
It comes down to this: I’d much rather be alive and bald, than dead with a lot of hair. I’m so ready for what He has planned for me next.
Isaiah 43:18-19 (MSG version)
“’Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.’”
As of today, I have completed 10 rounds of radiation! Only 18 more to go, oh joy!
For me, radiation is very unlike chemotherapy. I honestly feel like a professional at ingesting chemo cocktails, however, I’m such a novice at receiving laser beams. I tell you what, chemo is easy compared to these radioactive beams. Because I’m sure plenty of you are wondering what radiation treatment is actually like, I’ll explain. First off, I lay on a small table-like board. No cushions, just hard surface. I’m in a huge room with 4 red laser beams aimed right at me. If I didn’t know better, I would think the world’s best snipers had it out for me. There is an extremely large machine that moves like a transformer to the several positions it’s required to. Once my radiation therapists have lined me up correctly, they walk out of the room, and within minutes I hear the machine start up. This transformer is controlled by my therapists and slowly moves around my body to certain positions. All of the lasers are aimed at my pelvic region. Treatment itself is pretty quick. I think I end up laying there for about 10 minutes, give or take a few depending on the day. My radiation sessions are super easy. I don’t feel a thing, and laying there completely still isn’t that difficult. It’s what follows treatment that I hate.
Like I’ve shared before, my body has reacted fairly well to chemotherapy. Besides the obvious of losing my hair and being more tired than usual, there hasn’t really been many side effects. I still, to this day, have not thrown up. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t had an overall queasy feeling, it just means nothing has come up. Praise God for that. Radiation has been different to my body. Because treatment is aimed at a certain area, and the lasers purpose is to annihilate a very specific and localized region, my lower stomach has been very sore. I expected this, so it wasn’t a shock, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I have never been so thankful for summer, as I am nowadays. I physically can’t wear anything with a waistband any longer, because of the pressure it puts on my stomach. It’s sore from the inside out, and feels similar to what it did immediately after my hysterectomy. Summer dresses are now my best friends. I can happily announce that my skin hasn’t gotten red or blistered. Really, the sensitivity in my stomach is what bothers me most. In addition, I’ve been more tired than I am during my 3-day chemo cycles. These laser beams are intense. Not only are they ripping my insides apart, but my body is trying hard to recover, which in turn makes me exhausted. If I could stand being still for a long period of time, I’m sure I would take more naps. Unfortunately, cancer treatment tends to make me feel lazy, and I fight it as hard as I can. In fact, call me crazy, but I just got a gym membership… My body is going to hate me.
Here’s something new: I’m growing my hair back. And I’m surprisingly not happy about it. It’s such a hassle! Plus, I know that once I’m done with this portion of treatment, I’ll head right back to the chemo drugs that promote hair loss again. So, can’t it just stay gone until I’m through?! Of course not. My hair loss has actually been completely different than what I expected throughout my journey. As you know, during this portion of my treatment, I’m receiving radiation every day (5 days a week) with a weekly dose of chemo. This specific type of chemo drug that I’m receiving now does not cause hair loss, hence why it’s all coming back. That’s something I didn’t know prior to this adventure. I thought chemo automatically equated hair loss. But, as I’m learning, that’s not the case. When I went through my first 3-day chemotherapy cycles, I did lose my head hair, but not the rest of my body hair. For example, I’ve still had to shave my legs as often as I did prior to diagnosis. What crap, huh!? A benefit of not losing all my body hair is that my eyelashes and eyebrows have hung on for most of the ride. Recently, I’ve started wearing false eyelashes because my naturals are getting quite a bit thinner. My underarm hair disappeared during my first 3 cycles, but now has returned along with the hair on my head. My arm hair has remained constant throughout. I’m proof that hair loss is not equal during cancer treatments. I’m just hoping it all gets back on the train once treatment is over. Here’s to praying and hoping for thick and fast growing hair in the fall…head hair, of course!
Can I take a quick minute to thank all my followers and supporters? Wait, I don’t need permission…this is my blog. My deepest thanks to those who continue to walk this journey with me, those who follow my story, those who support me, and those who spend hours and hours praying for my healing. Thank you for taking time out of your busy days to follow my adventure through my diagnosis. You touch my heart and impact my life tremendously, and I truly value it.
My adventure will continue for a lifetime. Cancer will only be a chapter. Although there are days where I can’t find the least bit of sunshine in the storm, I refuse to stop paddling. Cancer won’t drown me.
Psalm 5: 11-12 (ESV)
“But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield.”