Archive for Thursday, November 6, 2008

Coming baldness ‘really cool’

November 6, 2008

I don’t want people, particularly my young patients, to be afraid of the changes they see in me. I also don’t want them to be afraid of cancer. Unexpected changes and cancer can both be scary. Youngsters tend to see the world as adults do: Take it as it comes or run screaming from the room. I have, over the years, developed a “take it as it comes” philosophy about life, a stark change from my younger days of “run screaming from the room.” My training and clinical experience have taught me that.

I have a cousin who says that when we were growing up, her lasting image of me is retreating up the stairs, fast as a rocket and silent as a lamb. I could beat a retreat with the best of them. I try now, however, to face things head-on and make the best of it, lemonade out of lemons, so to speak. Alice helped me with that.

I had a conversation with Alice in the aisle of the grocery store. I was trying to decide whether to take off four months from my practice to mount a challenge against cancer or whether to continue to work. I was concerned for my patients, what they might think of me without hair, perhaps even looking gaunt.

Should I discuss this with my patients? I asked Alice. She is a former businesswoman and knows the public. She is a bright woman and I respect her opinion, though I was a bit hesitant to ask. My fear of her when I was young has evolved into tremendous respect and fondness over the years.

She looked at me, like she can, ponderous but quick in reply. “I would want to know,” she said, “because I would wonder,” and then she added, “I would want to continue coming to see you.” She didn’t know it at the time, but my socks slid into my shoes, or was it that my spirit rose quickly, breaking away from the concern that tethered me. Maybe I just stopped in my retreat.

My next conversation was with a 9-year-old who wanted to know what cancer was.

I told him to think about a mulberry; that a cell was something like that: A cancer cell was a normal cell that just started growing and taking up space, becoming a big mulberry, a tumor. He wanted to know if it could be stopped. I told him that was chemotherapy: sort of a pesticide, given through the veins. “Whoa”, he exclaimed, “awesome.”

I also explained that chemo killed good and bad cells, so my hair would fall out. “You going to be bald?” he asked. “Probably”, I said.

“Cool”, he exclaimed, laughing, “really cool.” He wants to be the first to see me bald. Laughter and lemonade in the face of cancer: awesome, truly awesome.

Thank you Alice.


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