This I Believe

Kay - Chicago, Illinois
Entered on June 21, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe the cancer is gone from my body. I have no choice, for there are no pills I can take, and follow-up scans are not infallible. I must be watchful without becoming a hypochondriac.

The lump I found under my arm last year was malignant. The surgeon got as much as he could. It took several months to determine the exact type of cancer it was—months of tests, fear, frustration, and worst of all, waiting.

I began chemotherapy in December, relieved that I was finally doing SOMETHING. Beforehand, I imagined that I would have stories to tell about the experience. What I didn’t know was that the intravenous aperitif of antihistamines and anti-nausea drugs would give me some of the best highs I’d had since the ‘60s. Afterward, I didn’t CARE what was happening. I tried to summon energy to visualize the chemo killing the bad cells, but I couldn’t focus. I slept most of the time.

Family and friends offered help and encouragement. I received so many phone calls, notes, and emails that I set up mailing lists to update everybody. Once the doctors controlled the post-chemo pain, it wasn’t too terrible. I spent a lot of time and energy reassuring everyone, including myself, that it wasn’t so bad.

I lost my hair at Christmas—“The Big Shed” I called it. It started falling out in clumps at a party, so we shaved my head while everyone enveloped me in a cocoon of support and love. To my relief, I looked better without hair than I ever expected. I got an attractive, comfortable wig that I rarely wore during treatment. The woman in the public service announcement who whipped off her wig and boldly proclaimed that “bald is beautiful!” somehow validated MY lack of hair.

A Cancer Society program called “Look Good, Feel Better” showed me how to use makeup to compensate for lost eyebrows and eyelashes. The few times I dressed up and looked in a mirror, I could forget that I was a cancer patient. I looked normal.

As time passed, the wig became my symbol of life after chemo, a life where I could pass on the support and kindness that I’d received.

The weekend following my last treatment, a neighbor whom I’d never met, a Survivor herself, left an African Violet at my door with a card that read “Joy!” She didn’t know that I had just finished chemo, and she could not have known that my late mother’s passion was African Violets. Her gift seemed to be a message from my no-nonsense Mom telling me to put on that wig and get on with life.

In the spring, my hair started growing and life began returning to normal.

Then … my first post-chemo scan:

I believed that the cancer was gone from my body. I was wrong. Now I must learn to believe again.