Girl On Top (Part 6) – Half Way There

After stepping out of the shower, slowly wiping away the steam from the bathroom mirror and removing the towel from my head, I took a long, hard look at my reflection.  My hair was all but gone and only sporadic tufts remained, limply hanging from my head.  My pale face stared back at me, my blue eyes searching and unsure.  Taking a deep breath, I grabbed the phone and called work; I would be a few hours late.  Sitting on the edge of my bed, I made another two calls, one to the wig supplier and the other to my friend.

Half an hour later, I sat in the kitchen, bracing myself.  My friend held a razor in her hand, and proceeded in first cutting, then shaving the remainder of my hair from my head.  It fell, forlornly, to the floor, in sad little piles, a final reminder of my ‘old life’.   A sense of relief suddenly filled me; it was done.  No longer would I have to wake up, wondering how much more of my hair had fallen out on my pillow overnight, and then having to try and rearrange what was left as best I could.

Within thirty minutes, the wig supplier arrived and presented me with my wig.  Half an hour later, I took another look in the mirror and saw very different reflection looking back at me from an hour previously.  My new wig was so good, that I could barely tell the difference myself.  I took a deep breath, stepped out of the door into the bracing air and began my journey to work.  It would take more than a few dubious dates and a loss of hair to get me down.

The first few days of wearing my wig were probably the most difficult.  I was acutely aware of it; the seams inside it, which lay behind the back of my ears, felt incredibly tight and I was aware of constant, dull headache.  I had purchased a couple of new pairs of glasses (to wear if my eyes became dry during my chemo and I could no longer wear my contact lenses), but the tightness of the wig pressed the arms of the glasses into the head and made them unwearable.

The other aspect of wearing my wig in the early days, was that I felt, psychologically, as if everyone was staring at me and knew that I was wearing it.  In my mind, I might as well have been walking around town with a huge, neon sign on top of my head, flashing: ‘This is a Wig!’ in capital letters.  Of course, as time wore on, I began to discover that this wasn’t the case at all, and that the only person who was truly conscious of my wig was me.

On my third day adorning the wig at work, I was talking with a customer, when she commented. “I love your hair – where do you get it styled?”

Embarrassed and without thinking, I blurted out, “At the hairdressers!”

“Which hairdressers?  What’s the name of your stylist?”  she continued, obviously wanting to get the same style as me.  I gave her the name of my old stylist, which luckily quelled her interest in my new locks and she left, oblivious of my red, burning cheeks.

People had always commented on my haircut, and I had politely thanked them, but dealing with same remarks when I was wearing a wig and knew that it wasn’t my real hair was another matter.  A few months later, when I was nearing the end of my treatment, and used to my wig, another customer proceeded in asking who my stylist was.  I tried to shake the question off and divert the conversation, but she persisted, until I felt that I had to tell her the truth.  Seeing the look of shock on her face, as I explained that it was in fact, a wig, made me feel uncomfortable for her, although I afterwards joked that I should have whipped it from my head and said ‘Here, if you like it so much – why don’t you try it!”

A few days before Valentine’s Day, someone special from overseas convinced me to take part in a date over Skype.  We would cook the same meal together, and then eat it and chat from the two opposite sides of the Atlantic.   It sounded bizarre to me, but I had agreed, as I hadn’t got any plans to go out, and I was on my own at home.

The 14th February arrived, and I returned from work, laden with the necessary ingredients, as per my dinner date dictated.  We had decided to go for something simple-  prawn linguine – which wouldn’t take too long to cook, as, although it was dinner for me, it would be an early lunch for my Skype date.  As I opened the door, a lovely surprise awaited me; an array of gorgeous flowers, along with a small, cute, stuffed panda bear, sent from across the waters.  I have always loved pandas, as their sense of fragility in the wild, coupled with a very real feeling of both physical and inner strength, fascinates me.

My cooking of the linguine went well to a point, although I was suddenly told by my ‘date’ half way that he was going to add different ingredients to the mix, which extended his cooking time by twenty minutes and therefore made my finished product slightly cold and dry!  Shriveled linguine aside, our evening on Skype went well, and we chatted and laughed, as I sipped a glass of wine, knowing that this would be my last drop of alcohol before my second cycle of chemotherapy, which awaited me a few days from then.

I had also received a message from Tinder Friend Number 3, asking if I fancied going out again, but I decided against seeing him, as, although I felt confident in my wig, I felt conscious of it at the same time.  I cancelled my Tinder account (it had been fun while it lasted!) and concentrated on spending time with those close to me.

The day before my chemo, I was requested to go to hospital to give blood and check that my immune system was strong enough to withstand a second dose of chemotherapy.  After receiving the ‘all clear’ I prepared myself for the next day and my next round.  My friend dropped me off at the hospital, and I entered the same waiting room as I had done previously, now wearing my new wig, along with jeans and a shirt.  On getting dressed earlier that day, I had considered that I could easily roll my shirt sleeve up, in order for the nurse to get to my catheter in my arm, and that this would be easier than having to remove my top altogether.  However, sitting next to a lovely, young, male, Scottish nurse, I found that I had totally misjudged how far my shirt sleeve would roll up!

I had noticed him on my first cycle of chemotherapy at the hospital, and his presence around the ward was truly amazing.  His bubbly personality and chatty way were truly inspirational and, I would go as far as saying, he could talk me under the table any day!  As my chemo progressed, we chatted about a range of things, and it was his recommendation that inspired me to watch Game of Thrones; a series that I soon fell in love with and still watch to this day.

Back in the chemo suite, as much as I tried, my sleeve just would not budge all the way up my arm and expose my catheter, as required.  Trying, and then trying once again, I looked at the nurse and shook my head.  His fair, Highland cheeks turned scarlet and he faltered slightly, as if trying to find the right words.   Gulping, he asked me to remove my shirt.  I did a double take; was this super-confident nurse actually embarrassed?  Smiling to myself, I began to unbutton my shirt …

“Umm … do you … umm … do you have anything on underneath?”  he ventured, shyly.

I looked at him innocently, shaking my head solemnly.  “No, not a thing.  Is that a problem?”

Silence.  He averted his eyes to the ground and turned even redder than he had previously.  I couldn’t contain my laughter any longer.

“Of course I have!” I giggled, removing the shirt to reveal my t-shirt vest top.

A look of relief filled his face, as he began to concentrate on my catheter, sharing the joke with a hearty laugh and a friendly gleam in his eye.

After the chemo, and back at home, I began to realise that I felt worse than I had done during my last cycle.  I felt constantly sick, had headaches, both my mouth and my eyes were sore and my nose had started to bleed.   Along with this, I had heart burn and constipation.  However, there was one positive side effect that I was going to make the most out of …  my body hair had become non-existent, which meant no shaving, waxing, plucking or preening.   Now that was one thing that I certainly wasn’t going to complain about!

Soon, going to the hospital became routine to me: catheter flush (check!), blood test (check!), oncologist appointment (check!) and then another cycle of chemotherapy again.  The first week was always the toughest one, and I usually spent this in bed, hugging my heart shaped cushion and trying to rid my body of the side-effect as best I could.   The second week saw my immune system at its weakest point, with my white blood cells being at their lowest, and, for that reason, I had to avoid people with colds and infections.  I also had to keep my distance from children, so as not to become infected by any germs and end up in hospital unnecessarily.  The third week would see me feeling stronger and returning back to work and endeavor to resume my day to day habits which, along with work, included seeing friends, going out for meals and visiting the theatre and cinema.  I was also able to celebrate my birthday with my closest friends in style, which was a great relief to me.

After my third round of chemotherapy, I realised that a physical change was beginning to take place in my body.  I was getting bloated with all the medication that was passing through me and I was also putting on weight due to this.  I dealt with my weight gain as best I could, knowing that it wouldn’t be permanent, and still continued to walk to work, in order to keep myself as fit as possible.

However, the one aspect that finally hit home for me was the loss of my eyebrows and eyelashes; a side effect that I had been warned about, but which was not any easier to deal with in reality.  I can only describe this as my eyes feeling ‘gone’.  I had not appreciated how much my brows and lashes had meant to me until I was without them.  The loss of my hair could be covered with a wig, but it far was more difficult to pencil in eyebrows and stick false lashes onto bare eyelids.  When I viewed myself in the mirror without make-up, I saw an alien image staring back at me; a surreal creature from an old horror movie, whose face I did not recognise.  With my face made-up and my wig on, people still commented on how well I looked, “stylish, not sick” but without, I was the only one privy to the truth.  I made sure that I wore a little cap or bandana around my head whilst at home, and so not even my housemates saw me ‘stripped bare’.

After a few days, trying to view my image didn’t become any easier as, no matter how much I tried to cover my naked eyes with make-up, I felt that my physical appearance was ‘broken’.

So far, the chemotherapy may have shattered my body, but it had not destroyed my spirit.  Now though, I felt as if it was finally breaking my will.  As I stared again at my reflection, tears fell down my cheeks.  Averting my glance, I tried to steady myself; it felt as if it were a stranger crying, not me.  As I wiped my eyes, I realised that my tears were flowing far more than they normally would.  My eyelashes would usually have caught them but, without these, the tears dripped unstoppably down.

The next day, I hid every mirror in my room, so that I could not glimpse the sight of my refection by accident, when I was least expecting it.   It is quite an indescribable feeling to have to psychologically prepare yourself to view your own image every morning, but this is what I had to do before I put on my make-up first thing each day. Taking a deep breath, and turning the mirror to face me, I’d brace myself, before looking the unfamiliar appearance straight in the eye.

I would carry on.  I would be strong.  I would not let cancer get me down.

This much, I knew.

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14 thoughts on “Girl On Top (Part 6) – Half Way There”

  1. In my defence, I was trying to impress my date with my linguine cooking skills! Lmao

    They say “laughter is the best medicine” – the fact that you forced yourself to maintain a normal, ‘fun’ life has been amazing to see. Stay on top of it Laura and keep on spreading the word!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Laura, your 6th chapter is not just another one, it is full of worries, fear and as usual some stories like Skype date, Highland nurse, leaves us with enormous interest , what’s next?..The most important thing in your cancer that you never lose your heart! Your attitude is a little thing that makes so big difference to you! So inspiring, elevating, educative. I know the last few weeks were slightly not according to your plans, but your spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it. Never, never, never give up. Lots of love.x

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Laura, every time I read your blog I’m struck by a number of things…
    *You always leave me speechless and not being able to discribe exactly what I want to say
    * I find that quite ironic as you’re the one not using your native tongue ( your written English is so good 😀)
    * Inspirational doesn’t even cut it!
    * Your Skype date – keep hold of!!
    * Always in my thoughts
    * Remarkable lady
    * Keep strong
    xx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Really vivid, I felt like I was there with you standing at the mirror, Laura. I first just devoured your post and then I have just re-read it slowly to savour every bit. Your account of the specific aspects of coming to terms with physical changes in your body that happened so rapidly is something that I have never ever read anywhere else before. As you talk about the emotional impact of losing your brows and lashes, it gives one a bloody good dose of perspective on what the important aspects of life are. Reading this has reminded me to be grateful about the small things in life. We are all there in the mirror standing with you cheering you on, beautiful Laura! Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Inspiring, moving, emotional and truly incredible. What a fighter, what a blog, what a woman! Keep up the amazing accounts of your journey – we’re hanging on your every word! Brilliant!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Laura you are an inspiration, keep fighting, keep writing. If good wishes can get you through there are so many coming your way and I hope you can feel them. Keep strong you are amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Atidziai skaiciau kiekviena dali ir komentarus. Pilnai sutinku su visais – TAI TURI BUTI KNYGA!!! Tai jau galima vadinti knyga 🙂 Stebiuosi, is kur pas Tave rasytojos gyslele 🙂 Itraukia nuotykiai, privercia susimastyti, suteikia drasos ir ikvepia gyventi bei nedejuoti del kiekvienos smulkmenos!!! As visada laukiu kitos dalies ir visada tikiuosi Tavo geru emociju, geru isgyvenimu ir gerejancios sveikatos! Su tokiu Tavo optimizmu kitaip ir buti negali 😉
    P.S. Visada Tave prisimenu, kai mokei mane groti pianinu, panele mokytoja 🙂 Visada prisimenu, kaip pavyzdi, kaip turi atrodyti panele, dabar jau moteris. Nesistebiu, kad turi daug draugu, nes Tu turi kazka TOKIO, net nezinau kaip ivardinti 🙂 DIDELIAUSI LINKEJIMAI, LAURUT, nuo Audrutes, Andriaus ir Dalytes ;)*

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Laura. Your amazing. I feel like im reading a book.and waiting for the next chapter. Then reality sets in and I realise I know you and its real.you are truly an inspiration. Keep strong. And keep fighting. Lots of love. Tracie Maidstone xxx

    Liked by 1 person

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