Thursday, December 10, 2009

Shopping & the Elephant

It's really something in my world when I get excited about going grocery shopping. Normally, I avoid the grocery store as much as possible. But I looked forward to going this afternoon--all by myself. My biggest dilemma was how to keep my head warm going out in the cold. Winter weather arrived in New Hampshire with a vengeance yesterday and dropped 10 inches of snow where we live. Wind chills registered around 24 degrees this afternoon. I honestly don't know how men who shave their heads handle the cold. I contemplated wearing my wig for warmth, but the wind really messes it up and you can't just run your fingers through it and smooth it out. I opted for a head covering that ties in back with a furry, bell-shaped black hat over it. It actually looks pretty stylish, even if I do say so myself.

As I pushed the grocery cart around the store, I felt self-conscious. Like people who looked at me instantly knew I am a cancer patient. It's not necessarily a bad thing, I guess. Before I got cancer and saw people in the midst of chemotherapy, I didn't know what to say to them either and pretty much tried to ignore the obvious. I don't think I'll do that from now on. I'll probably ask them how they are doing and what they are being treated for. Like the woman in the waiting room when I took my Mom to the doctor a few weeks ago. I had a cancer hat on and she came right out and said, "How far along are you in your treatment?" We had a long conversation and it turned out she was a breast cancer survivor.

I had to take my broken Treo phone to the Verizon store last Friday. Again, I didn't have my wig on, just a cancer hat. A crackerjack salesman waited on me and talked me into replacing my outdated Treo with the brand new Droid, Motorala's answer to the iPhone. (I absolutely love it, by the way!) Right away I noticed a large scar on his scalp. He told me the whole story about falling down a flight of stairs when a door knob let go as he yanked the door shut. At one point, I told him I had been getting chemotherapy and he said, "Oh wow! I hope things are going well for you." I could tell he was a little uncomfortable with me, yet very sympathetic. It's gotta be hard for people who deal with the public and come face-to-face with people obviously dealing with heavy things. Like, what do you say? I'm leaning toward acknowledging the proverbial elephant in the room rather than ignoring the obvious.

Tuesday I took my niece, Mary, out for a couple of errands. She has survived a stem cell transplant for leukemia, is battling graft-vs.-host disease, and recently barely survived a bout with H1N1--3 weeks in the hospital, half of which was in ICU. She went home a little early (she simply had to have Thanksgiving with her husband and 3 teenagers) and is gaining her strength back, but requires a walker and wheelchair. I can't even imagine what the people in the post office and the town clerk's office thought when they saw us waltz in, me in my chemo hat pushing Mary in the wheel chair with her blue sterile gloves and "duck bill" face mask! Everyone was very nice, sympathetic and respectful. Strangers held doors open and offered a helping hand when I couldn't maneuver the wheel chair over thresholds.

I wouldn't have been offended if someone was curious about my obvious battle with cancer. Not at all. I am learning that I don't have to hold back and ignore what's in front of me when I encounter someone like me. I wonder if I speak for others in my situation? I wonder if someone with no legs in a wheelchair would be offended if I asked them how they ended up there? I'm not sure. But you MAY ask me if you see me out there somewhere.


  1. I know what you mean about being self-conscious without hair. I don't care HOW comfortable you are talking about what you've been through, but I think it is very hard going out without a wig or scarf. I've only been out once without hair and I felt so awful I just couldn't handle it! And I am not a very vain person, I am just not that bold!

    On a side note, I do find the wigs very warm in the cold weather! And, since I got synthetic hair and not human hair, I don't ever think about bad hair days!!!

    I hope you are feeling well!

  2. I stood next to a woman at the library recently who obviously wore a chemo-scarf. (I can always tell, now, because the effort made is to cover the entire bald head, not just a part of it.) I went over to her and said, "I was wearing a scarf like that seven years ago." She was grateful to me for approaching her and said that no one had ever done that before. I told her that I did because "I'm not afraid of you." I always used to be afraid of talking to people who had a life-threatening illness or people who had lost an intimate family member. I think cancer opens you up a lot. When you go through one of life's toughest challenges, you ARE less fearful than before. The woman, Miriam, told me that she hated losing her hair but was able to keep it in perspective because she had two young daughters at home and all she wanted was to live to finish bringing them up. After we told each other our names, I said, "I will be praying for you," and she said she would do the same for me. Being a cancer survivor puts us in an exclusive fellowship, and we learn there are blessings in the midst of all the pain and trauma. I hope you are doing well, Donna, and may God bless you.