Saturday, October 17, 2015

October, hair and other concerns

Okay, it seems that I'm past the general crappiness of infusion number four. This time I took the anti-nausea pills before the pre-infusion dose wore off, and I think that helped a lot, but I still felt really run down on Wednesday night and Thursday. Fortunately it was just general malaise and not nausea. But I am SO ready to eat something that's not bland. Even lukewarm pizza tasted really good last night. (Though let's face it: even room-temperature New Jersey pizza is awesome.)

One of the things I'm noticing lately is the weirdness of hair growth on my scalp. From the amount of "whiskers" I occasionally see in the cap I wear to bed, I know I'm still losing hair, but it's not nearly as disturbing to see as it was before I got the buzz cut. And it appears that the gray hairs have the most stubborn follicles, except for this kind of rusty patch towards the back of my head. It's getting to look a little like what one of my balding former clients once called "an extremely high forehead."

But here's the really strange part: while that rusty patch is hanging on, I can see that some of the white/gray hair is actually growing! It's not that much longer, but some strands are long enough to flop over the way hair does when it's longer than a quarter-inch buzz cut.

It amazes me how selective chemo can be in destroying cells. Some hair (like the hair you get when you go through puberty) is very sparse, while other areas (like the arms) retain the same amount as before all this started. Who knows what will happen for the next few weeks - and how it will grow back...

On the other topic: October. Yes, as you know (as ANYONE WHO'S NOT IN A COMA or in a cave in Afghanistan knows), this is breast cancer awareness month. And the sight of the ribbons and the Facebook posts kind of makes me want to throttle someone. I'm quite aware, thank you.

I've long had a free-floating frustration about all this pink ribbon stuff and how it's been co-opted by corporate America. Some of it is the fundraising angle (The pink detergent bottle costs more, with the difference going to Susan G. Komen. No thanks, I'll make my own donations to organizations I've researched.). The other is the marketing angle (Hey, NFL, getting big men to wear hot pink arm thingies for a couple of weeks isn't going to convince me you care about women's health more than the dollars you want us to spend on team gear.).

And don't get me started on the social media memes. We've all seen the Facebook posts that go along the lines of "Breast cancer is an awful thing. If you really care, you'll post this picture on your page for one day to honor the brave women who deal with this terrible affliction. #prayersforbreastcancerpatients"

Does anyone, the moment they see any of this, stop what they're doing and make an appointment for a mammogram? Or do a self-exam? I've never once seen a woman glance at a pink ribbon, immediately throw one arm behind her head and do the pat-down on her breast.

Now that I'm dealing with my own experience, I'm seeing it through a much more personal lens. All the pink in the world isn't going to make me feel any better about going through chemo, nor is it going to change my diagnosis and the fact that every mammogram from now will be tinged with anxiety, no matter how optimistic I try to be. The fact that a police department in Massachusetts is using pink handcuffs to raise awareness (because, of course, when you're being arrested, the first thing on your mind is breast health) isn't going to reduce my chances of recurrence.
Maybe the pink stuff helps some BC patients feel supported, but I can't help but feel a bit cynical about the whole thing. All of this "awareness" does nothing, especially given all of the other issues/conditions/ailments we're encouraged to recognize with ribbons and colors. Checking Wikipedia, I discovered that this month we're also supposed to be aware of dwarfism/little people, eczema, domestic violence and Down syndrome. That's enough ribbons to make a rainbow, which, of course, would support LGBT issues awareness. We're supposed to care about everything, and when everything is a priority ... nothing takes the lead.

What's important is action. Doing things yourself, not sitting back and acting concerned without having skin in the game.
  • Examine yourself (that means you guys, too). Make that mammo appointment. Yeah, I know it's uncomfortable, but trust me, it's nowhere near as sucky as chemo. Get in to see your doctor or call the American Cancer Society if you need a refresher on how to do a proper breast exam. My primary care doctor once told me to look for lumps that feel like "gum in a shag rug," if that helps.
  • Be a pain in the butt to family or friends who put off medical stuff. I'm pushing my sister to get her annual mammo, which she'd been putting off. And I gave her my diagnosis so she can better inform the technicians about her family history. While I know I can't make her do anything, maybe my situation will get her to move on it a little more quickly.
  • Show, don't tell, people your concern. Be a good friend to anyone you might know who's going through treatment. And remember that because breast cancer treatment has become very personalized, the patient's experience is unique to him or her. Thus, don't make assumptions on what s/he needs. Ask. And then follow through. It doesn't need to be a lot or all the time, and it doesn't have to be anything related to her treatment or her physical status. One of the best things my friends have done for me was for all of us and our SOs to get together for dinner one Saturday night. We spent five minutes on my status report, and the rest of the evening on anything else. The bottom line, every bit helps.
If you choose to do none of these things, that's okay. It's your prerogative. In my mind, being honest about your lack of action is a lot more authentic than saying what you think is the 'right' thing and then not acting on it.

Just don't throw a pink ribbon in my face and tell me how much you care.

No comments:

Post a Comment