Last week was Benny’s first day as a fourth grader. In anticipation of the big day, I took him to Bangkok 54, home of his favorite fried bacon concoction, to celebrate. As we sat down at the table, I noticed a woman next to me. Bald. Me about four months prior. A ginormous lump appeared in my throat. You’ll get through it, I wanted to say. I understand. I decided not to interrupt her, intense conversations with friends over Pad Thai, but when we later met eyes, I knew she knew. It’s a weird sort of radar you get, an unspoken understanding you can’t explain to outsiders.
I don’t know why it took me so aback; I hear on a regular basis of someone else I know who has joined this unfortunate, uniting sisterhood. Just a month ago, I learned my high school friend, Elise was diagnosed. Mother of five, the youngest barely 8 months, at the ripe old age of 35. She posted just yesterday about preparing to shave her head. And like at the restaurant, in a moment, I am taken back.
I walked into the kitchen last night after reading her post, tears in my eyes, looking at Tim. Grateful. When he asked me, concerned, what was wrong, I told him again for the hundredth time, how much I appreciated him being there for me in that moment. Sitting in bubbles as he shaved my head. No tears falling; only me, more and more in love with this incredible man. It’s so nice to be on this side of things.
This side of things, by the way, is red. Actually purpley-red, Claire Danes in My-So-Called-Life type of red. The box stated I’d be a redhead but apparently my hair had other ideas. It’s fun just the same. I passed the boxed color aisle on my way to picking up toothpaste last week at the grocery and thought, what the hell. A. I can’t mess up 1 inch of hair that bad. And B. Considering I was recently bald, even green hair would seem like an improvement. And so here I am. I regularly get compliments from people about how much they love my “bold” haircut, it’s so fitting for my face, on and on. They may be blowing smoke up my arse, but I’ll take it. I’ve even added a faux leather jacket (Walmart, $40, medical bills temper one’s fashion sense) and a pair of wanna-be Doc Martens to compliment my look. All I need to do is break out a little Wonderall or maybe the Candlebox single that I’m sure is in my closet still somewhere and my 1995 revolution will be full circle.
Life is good. Work has been insanely busy and I’ve worked two weekends in a row presenting at meetings but it’s a really good feeling to get back into my groove. We’re taking a quick two-night trip to Philly for a little getaway before my next surgery on September 23rd. I’m a little anxious about that one (a prophylactic mastectomy —cancer speak for “you don’t have to but you can if you want to”—on the right breast) but as I’ve been through it before and come out on the other side, I’m sure it’ll be fine. Mom is coming down and then I’ll spend the second week of recovery in South Carolina high on morphine, eating cantaloupe and drinking coconut milk coffee, and trying to sneak into the hot tub. 😉
It’s funny how resilient people are. How resilient I am. I think if I could tell that girl at the restaurant (and Elise, or anyone else that’s just starting this journey) one thing, that would be it. You are resilient. You are so much stronger than you ever imagined you would be.
I use to have a tendency to cringe at the word. Working at the Red Cross, I hear it oh-so-very-much and no one is quite sure what to make of it. What it means. But if you’ve battled the bitch known as cancer, you know what exactly what it involves. You freaking embody it. And after you finish being the toughest, bad-assedest mofo you’ve ever encountered, you go back to life. To being distracted by thoughts that THIS time, your hair is going to match the color on the box. Or that you need to finally finish that bedroom renovation, or to call your great aunt, or to stop at the farmer’s market because you’re all out of tomatoes. You forget about blogging every week because now you’re not Bitsey with Cancer, you’re just Bitsey. Or Clark, as my dear sweet Benny calls me. And that’s okay. That’s perfect.
But every once in a while, you spot a fellow sister while you’re out eating Thai food, and you remember being on their side of things and you know that deep down, underneath your new Pearl Jam fan clubber hairstyle, you will never be exactly who you were before. And you don’t want to be either.