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Facing myself in the mirror

5:48pm. April 15th 2014. I just woke up from a nap. 

How I’m Feeling: I’m a little tired but overall, I’m doing OK. I’m recovering from my 2nd chemo treatment and gaining back my energy. I’m excited to take advantage of my energy over the next week and a bit. I have lots of fun things planned before I get punched in the face with another chemo session on the 28th. 

On Saturday April 12th, I did something brave. I took a shower with my contact lenses on and took a good, long, hard look at myself.

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For those of you who don’t know, I have terrible eyes and am pretty much blind when I’m not wearing my contact lenses or glasses. Ever since I was released from the hospital, I haven’t been taking showers with my contact lenses in – and normally I do. I’ve been showering with blurred vision over the past 18 days because there have been a few things I’ve been having a difficult time facing and have been dreading.

Just within the past couple of weeks, I had been noticing the more physical and visibly noticeable side effects from chemotherapy. And, there are a heck of a lot ’em. If you’ve seen me lately and I’ve looked “healthy”, it is because I’ve learned how much work goes in to making myself looking (and therefore feeling) more normal. Just some of the common side effects include:

– Hair loss
– Mouth sores
– Loss of appetite
– Nausea and vomiting
– Itchy, dry and/or irritated skin
– Sunken in eyes
– Dry mouth
– Change in tastebuds
– Increased chance of infections (from low white blood cell counts)
– Easy bruising or bleeding (from low blood platelet counts)
– Fatigue (from low red blood cell counts)
– Weakened immune system

The visibly noticeable side effects are difficult because they are unavoidable “in your face” reminders to myself that I have cancer. Just when I’ve had a second to forget that I’m living with this thing in me and that my life has taken a massive turn, I look down at my hands, catch a reflection of myself in the mirror or get really itchy – and BAM!

“S$#!, that’s right. I have cancer”

One of the biggies has been the hair loss. It took me so long to take a shower with my lenses on because I was scared to see how much of my  hair would be left on my head and in the shower after I was done. I was scared to look in the mirror every single time I went to the washroom, it would pain me to see the hair on the floor after I left each room and taking a shower – well, that’s when I have to really touch my hair. And that’s terrifying. Everyday, I’ve been collecting mounds of hair from my bed sheets, feeling clumps of it fall down my shoulder with a slight movement of my head and avoiding touching my head. And to the ladies out there: No you cannot relate because your hair “sheds like crazy” It is no where near the same. Trust me. I don’t expect you to be able to relate. It’s ok.

Over the past few days, I have had massive headaches, have been having a difficult time sleeping because of it and my scalp has been very sore and tender. This was as a result of my hair falling out, catching on to hairs that may still be attached to my head – and well, gravity pulls it downwards. It pretty much felt like someone was constantly pulling my hair. Now, I get why some cancer warriors cut their hair really short before it starts to fall out.

On that Saturday, I knew that that was the last shower I would have had before most of my hair would go – at least the little bit that I had left on my head at that point. I knew that once I was done showering and after my hair dried – I would be almost all gone. In fact, I had this huge dreadlock-like tangle on the back of my head that I knew was pretty much all detached from my head other than the few strands it was hanging on to for dear life. It was so painful. After sitting on the bathroom counter for about 20 minutes, examining my bald spots in the mirror, cherishing every sad little hair I had left on my head, texting a few friends a photo of my head and sharing with them how much difficultly I was having – I finally made my way in to the shower.

I was able to see clearly in the shower for the first time in 18 days. I looked up and saw the shower head, I knew which shampoo bottle I was reaching for on the first try and I witnessed each clump that would fall and block the shower drain. I had to remove a big clump out of the shower drain to prevent flooding from happening three times throughout that one shower session.

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It was one of the most difficult showers I’ve had.

Once I got out of the shower, I knew what was next. I had to see myself in the mirror as I brush my teeth.

And well, that was one of the most difficult teeth brushing episodes I’ve had. My hair was almost all gone. I wasn’t as bald as I thought I’d be – but considering how little hair I had left and what had happened after each shower throughout the week, I knew that once my hair dried it would fall out. That big knotty clump of hair that pretty much consisted of what I had left would just fall right out.

After I brushed my teeth, I forced myself to look at my reflection for a few minutes. I tried to prepare myself for being bald – but I just couldn’t. Instead, I just tried to be ok with it. I also focused on the fact that I was proud that my eyebrows and eyelashes were still hanging on. And then I started thinking about how grateful I was to be able to have taken a shower without assistance from someone else. I thought about how difficult it was to be hooked to my IV tube, have a plastic bag wrapped around it, not be able to move much because I was in so much pain and having to have someone help me take on and take off my clothes and bathe. I took those few minutes to practice gratitude.

Once my hair dried, the pain on my scalp and my headache got worse. I guess more hair had fallen out and was now resting on the already heavy dreadlock clump. I asked my mom if she could cut some of it off. She had to use hardcore kitchen scissors (As in those infomercial ones that can cut through pennies) as regular grooming scissors were no where close to strong enough. As she snipped through the clump, I screamed. Also, the sound of scissors blades trying to make it through my hair so close to my ear was freaking me out. This is what she cut off. The pen is in there for scale. The pile was about 3/4 of the height of the pen if it were standing up:

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I was so sad. And I could tell my mother was having a difficult time with it as well.

The very next day, I had a big day planned with a few friends. We were going to shave what remained on my head off. I was very nervous – but I knew it had to be done. I was in so much pain and I needed to claim some control. It was getting too traumatizing and depressing to deal with these clumps of hair falling out. Maybe one day if/when I’m ready, I will share what happened on Sunday, April 13th with you. Until then, this:

The above scene is from Sex And The City Season 6 when Samantha gets diagnosed with breast cancer.

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