(19-01-30) Looking Back

I’ve been up since 3:07. My internal clock has shifted drastically upon my arrival to this cancer clinic. Maybe it’s the sheer volume of all the treatments just wearing out my body at the end of the day. Maybe it’s the drastic reduction (not quite elimination, but I’m working on it) of sugar from my diet, or the fact that I haven’t had any alcohol in a week and a half. Maybe it’s the lack of stress from my job. Likely, it’s a combination of all of those factors, sprinkled with a smidgen of boredom, that has led me to falling asleep each night between 9 and 10 (a solid 2-3 hours earlier than what I am used to) and waking up (refreshed!) between 3 and 4.

I watched some Luke Cage.

I responded to some texts (sorry, Kyana, I am trying to limit that as much as possible).

I checked my Ring doorbell to make sure my roommate, Jenna, has been keeping up with walking the dog (ALMOST every day, still not doing it 30 minutes a day like we agreed on – ahem, ahem).

Then, I started looking through back emails trying to find a contact email for my supplemental cancer insurance. It’s a long shot, but I wonder if they will reimburse me for ANY of this treatment. My dad – my beautiful spirit of a father who has worked multiple jobs his entire life to provide for his children both during his lifetime and when he eventually passes – has loaned me the money to get this treatment so that I didn’t have to close out all my retirement accounts, and we know a teacher’s salary isn’t going to pay back $48-64k anytime soon, so anything will help.

As I was going through old emails, it triggered some memories I had temporarily forgotten about. This led to me spending the next two hours combing through both emails and blogs from over two years ago, reconnecting me with a part of my journey that I had stopped focusing on. When I look back at Cancer Treatment Round I, I think about the surgeries, the toll chemo took on my body, the battle to keep my job, the frustration with the length of the process, and the sheer amount of time I was confined to a bed or a Lazy Boy recliner or a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. If prompted, I can resurrect positive memories from the experience – particularly when it comes to amazing doctors (Dr. Matatov first and foremost, then Dr. Mansfield, Dr. Dhillon, Dr. Curley, Dr. Walsh, and Dr. Gunia) and all the love that flowed my way from friends, coworkers, and strangers all along the way. The majority of my thinking landscape, though, shows a pretty dismal view of all the whole experience.

It really shouldn’t.

I did some AMAZING things when I was battling cancer the first time – things I would not have done otherwise.

  • I ran in Phoenix’s last Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. I even publicly spoke at that event.
  • I participated in Spark Off Rose, a story-telling event in CA, where I shared my journey of intimacy while dealing with cancer.
  • I helped an ASU honors student with her (videotaped!) thesis project on mindfulness techniques for cancer patients/survivors struggling with insomnia. https://youtu.be/04kYz1kSCaU
  • I was the guest of honor at a Boo-Bees fundraising event in West Hollywood, where – with the help of a unicorn – we raised several hundred dollars to donate to a local cancer organization.
  • I donated over a foot of very well taken care of hair to Locks of Love.
  • My story was the first of several to be featured on a special edition in a hiking/wellness blog.
  • I fought a state government institution and WON. That win resulted in state agencies all across Arizona having to update their employee leave policies, and I directly saw how those changes positively impacted employees going out on medical leave just in this past year.

I had definitely lost sight of the good work that was done during my first struggle. I’ve been focusing on the mindset that this is all a big inconvenience to me just as I was starting to get my life back together … and just typing that statement right there brought on a whole snotty crying fest over here because I KNOW there is so much more to my journey than the “inconvenience.” At my core, I know what kind of person I am. I make a difference in this world. I know I do. I did it before cancer, I did it during cancer, and I did it after cancer.

This time will be no different.

(15-12-30) Cancer Hair Care

I can honestly say i never anticipated the day when i would see a line of wigs in my closet.  Earlier this week, my amazing hair stylist, Melinda (owner of Switchblade Salon) actually spent time on her day off to meet me at United Beauty Supply Hair & Wigs and help me with the selection process.  This was not something i was looking forward to.  Less than two weeks ago, Melinda cut most of my hair off, and we donated it to Locks of Love – better to put that eggplant-purple mane to use creating a wig for a cancer kid in need, rather than watch it fall to my bathroom floor in clumps as the chemo treatments progress.  According to my readings, my hair is supposed to start falling out this week or next.  Every day, i wait for today to be the day.  I avoid washing it.  I avoid brushing it.  Today was the first day since my hair cut that i actually had the nerve to put a blow dryer and a flat iron to it, and several times i caught myself holding my breath as i was trying to style it.  (“Seven pieces you can flat iron, tarah – just seven.  After seven, leave your hair alone … that is, if you still have it.”)  This shouldn’t be a big deal, right?  It’s hair.  So what if my hair is the shortest it’s ever been?  It’s just hair … not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things … yet i cried the whole time Melinda cut it all off, and I cry when i notice it’s so greasy that i have no choice but to wash it that day, and i cried today when i finished my seventh strip of flat ironing and saw a piece i wasn’t happy with but wasn’t “allowed” to touch.

The United Beauty Supply store at 7th Street and Bethany Home Road deserve a shout-out, for they helped make an awkward, self-conscious experience a bit less miserable.  In fact, there was even a time i found myself laughing, after Yaneika pulled down this one long, wavy, blue-and-black-colored wig for me, and i realized that wig could be my ticket to a Shakira impersonation for Halloween, 2016.  (I tried on a Beyonce-looking wig, too, but let’s face it: me trying to pull off Beyonce for Halloween would be as pitiful as Avril Lavigne trying to pull off Whitney Houston’s rendition of “I Will Always Love You.”)  I tried on a total of 11 wigs, Yaneika and Melinda remained patient with me the whole time, and i walked out of that store not as an embarrassed cancer victim but as a secure cancer survivor who just found another way to plan ahead for one of my treatment’s most common side effect.  People routinely make fun of me for my ongoing need to plan, to organize, to write lists, and to color-coordinate … but there is (for me, at least) both power and comfort in doing this, and having wigs waiting for me in the closet on that day when my hair starts falling to the floor in patches will help make that day a little less traumatic.  I mean, i’m still going to cry about it – and then get mad at myself for crying – but at least i’ll be able to take comfort in knowing that i planned ahead.

(And i’m not gonna lie … the curly-haired wig i did end up purchasing is SUPER bouncy and crazy awesome in an old-school-big-hair-is-in-again kind of way, and i’m kind of excited about busting out some wild-looking hair on random days when i am feeling a little extra spunky.)