Monday, August 24, 2009

It is August, Just Get Me Through It

I really hate August. I suppose that I shouldn't because good things and bad things have both happened in my life in August, but this year, it was the bad again. I was spending some quality time with my parents in the sunny south when the call came. "Margaret T. died this morning. I don't want to tell you what to do," My mother in law began, "But I think that you should come back for the funeral." It was Saturday, August 15th.


A day earlier my mother had just said, "Congratulations, you made it through the day." I was relieved that nothing disturbing had happened on August 14th, the two year anniversary of my diagnosis with malignant breast cancer. Just four days earlier, I had made the same comment to my mother, on the forty eighth anniversary of her mother, Margaret M's death from breast cancer. We were finally through our bad days of the year and I was just settling in to the slow pace of southern life and really starting to relax. Well, cancer just doesn't let you relax. It just keeps rearing it's ugly head. I would need to pack my children into the car sooner rather than later and turn around and head back north. I was numb and in shock.


Margaret T was the sister of one of my very close friends. She had breast cancer for thirteen years on and off. When she was diagnosed she had a bilateral mastectomy and then took Tamoxifen for five years. Six months after getting off of the Tamoxifen, she had a recurrence. Since that time, she battled quietly and bravely with her cancer and kept it pretty much a private matter. Now it was over, one day after I was celebrating being at the two year mark of being cancer free. I guess that is what cancer does, it reminds you that you have to live in the present and make the most of each day. You never know when this disease will catch you again. Margaret T thought that she had it beat the first time and she almost did, but as we know, almost doesn't count.


The funeral was packed with family and friends. I was sad and yet I felt rather disconnected. Perhaps it is because I never saw Margaret T when she was very ill. The last time I saw her she was doing well with the meds she was on and was in a clinical trial at Memorial Sloane Kettering. I just didn't want to think that it was really over for her. She fought so hard and stoically over the years that it is still hard for me to believe that the cancer got her. As I watched her two teenage children walk from the church I thought of how it should have ended. We should have been saying, "She won! She is cured!" She should have lived to see her son finish college and her daughter marry.

Unfortunately, that is not how her story ended. So as August comes to an end, I think about all of the life changing events that have happened in this month in my family. My grandmother died, my parents were married, my son was conceived, I was diagnosed with cancer and my brother was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Each year, I take time to reflect. I am thankful for my blessings and my current health, I am thankful for my children and my husband, I am thankful for the warm days and the laziness of summer. But deep down, after all the reflecting is finished, I just want to get through it and move on.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

More Obsessions about Hair.. Of a Different Sort


As I have said before, I really love my hair now, I look at it everyday and thank God for letting me have it back. I am a little bit obsessed with it but the truth is that I have worked really hard to grow it out and I look forward to seeing it in the mirror everyday. I have even let my daughter grow her hair long because I know how great it feels to swish your hair over one shoulder and experience that feeling of ultra femininity. But recently, I began to rethink my love affair with long hair.

A couple of weeks ago my daughter came home from camp complaining, "Mommy I have sand in my hair and it is itchy!" I dutifully searched her little red head for sand or whatever else might be in there and saw nothing. "Let's wash your hair really well and get that sand out." I replied. So we scrubbed and shampooed, sure that we had gotten all of the "sand" out.

A week or so went by and the "sand" would seem to reappear on occasion and I would scrub and wash her head to try to get it out. I started to worry about lice and kept checking to see if I saw any bugs. Each time I checked, I saw nothing. That is probably because I wasn't really sure what I was looking for. Needless to say, a couple of days ago I looked at her head again and I saw a tiny little black bug crawling around. "Bridget, you must have gotten fleas from Lucy." I explained. "First, let me call Aunt Suzie to check and see if she knows what these bugs are." Suzie has two teenage daughters who both have long, thick beautiful hair. She has been through the lice thing before so I knew she could help me identify these creatures. "Jeanne, I am sorry to tell you this, but those aren't fleas, they are lice." What? They were brown bugs not white. I had always heard that lice were white. "The nits, or eggs are white but not the lice themselves. The lice are brown." I just about dropped the phone. It was nine o'clock at night and my husband was out of town(of course). I had just been through a particularly trying day with my son the day before and the last thing I wanted to hear was that we had lice.

"In the car everyone!" I cried out like a drill sergeant. "We are going to the CVS NOW!" The one thing that I have to say about my children is that even though they don't listen to me ninety percent of the time, they do know when my voice has a hint of panic and urgency and they responded dutifully. They hopped in the car and we practically ran to the pharmacist to ask for a recommendation about treating "the bugs." Armed with our shampoo and combs, we went home to battle. When we got home I shampooed everyone and went through Bridget's hair with a fine tooth comb. I pulled off sheets and began washing everything. At 11:30 I put everyone to bed sure that I had this thing under control.

The next morning I woke up and began checking Bridget's hair again. "Oh my God! There are bugs everywhere!" I was completely grossed out. So I shampooed her hair with the lice shampoo again and began to comb again. This time I put her in better light so I could really see the hair. Piece by piece, I painstakingly went through her head to see what I could get out. Three hours later, I quit and decided that I had better check Luke, just in case he might have it too. Sure enough, I saw a bug. I started to itch myself, everywhere. How was I going to get rid of these things? "Come on Luke, I need to check your hair." So I repeated the process I had done with Bridget and spent another two hours searching for bugs. By four o'clock, I was exhausted. But I still had to wash all of the comforters again, vacuum everything and bag more stuffed animals. Then I began all of the alternative therapies. Olive oil in their hair at night, conditioner with baking soda and combing the next day. I went to Whole Foods seeking holistic advice and the salesperson told me to try Tea Tree Oil. I have done it all(not that I am obsessive or anything).

It is at this point that I started to rethink my relationship with my hair and my children's hair. Maybe I should just shave every one's head and be done with it. We could be a modern day version of the Saturday Night Live skit "The Coneheads." We could be "The Domeheads" with our sleek bald, lice free heads. Maybe we could all get a pixie cut like they had in the nineteen sixties, wouldn't that be cute? Or maybe we could all have buzz cuts like the marines. After this brief fantasy, I decided that we all do look a little better with our hair and went back to work "nit picking" through my son's head, hoping that tomorrow they will all be gone.