Earlier this week I went to a support class offered by the American Cancer Society. It´s called Look Good, Feel Better and its purpose is to help women dealing with hair loss improve self-esteem. I hadn’t had any noticeable hair loss yet, but I wanted to be ahead of the game and know what to do once it did start falling out, especially the brows and eyelashes.
As I walk into the class room, I notice I’m the only one with a head full of hair. The age range was about 40 to 75, and the racial representation was very diverse. The instructor wasn’t there yet, everyone was just chatting.
Once I settle into a chair, one of the ladies, very tactfully, addresses the elephant in the room: “You seem to be early in the process”. I introduce myself and explain that indeed, I had my first round of chemo less than 2 weeks ago. They immediately ask how it went. “Well, since you asked, I did have a miserable couple of days with a fainting episode that landed me in the ER.” What followed was such a genuine display of compassion and teaching, that it makes me tear up just thinking about it. They all had tips on how to make food and liquids more tolerable, how to avoid dehydration, how to try to stay active.
The instructor never showed up. Someone from the clinic staff came over, apologized profusely, and called the class canceled.
We all stayed, sharing experiences, treatment plans, coping mechanisms. And I felt so at home, among such wonderful, resilient women. It may sound odd, but it was great to be in a group of people where having cancer was normal.
I get home a few hours later, strike my fingers through my hair as I’ve done hundreds of times a day, every day, for as long as I remember. And alas, there’s a bunch of hair between my fingers. And then I notice hair on my clothes. Hair on the floor. Hair on the counter-top.
When I see hair in the sink after brushing my teeth, I immediately remember what is to me one of the most powerful scenes of recent television: Walter White seeing clumps of hair fall out, and subsequently shaving his head in Breaking Bad. That was the moment he physically transforms – from Walter White, the regular guy, into Heisenberg, the super villain.
I decide I need to find a better pop culture reference, I can’t associate going bald with becoming a criminal mastermind. It takes me a while cause all the baldies that pop into my head are bad guys like Lex Luthor or Dr Evil.
Until I finally remember Charles Xavier, Professor X. And I think of my wonderful group of ladies, from whom I learned so much, in the class that never happened. The wise ones, guiding the inexperienced, helping prepare for the battle ahead.