I think my eyelashes have PTSD. They mostly hung in there through the war that was chemo, but now that the official assault is over, they are ditching me, and it’s really bumming me out. Straight vanity: I always kind of thought that my eyelashes were my best feature. You know, those and my badonkadonk. jk. jk. (That thing actually landed me the clever and very humiliating nickname of “watermelon butt” in the seventh grade.) But seriously, my once beautiful mane of eyelashes… People would ask me what kind of mascara I used. If I curled them. If they were fake. And now… well now, I am desperately coating my remaining ten or so, and it’s ridiculous. DON’T THEY KNOW CHEMO IS OVER? Someone PLEASE tell them.
On that note, I really hope I don’t get pulled over right now without my beautiful eyelashes and boobs and what not. I might actually get a ticket! Unless I pull off whatever wig or hat I may be wearing and play the cancer card. Is that too far? I mean, my mom told me you gotta use what you got. How about I just try not to speed?
So my birthday was last week, and it was such a strange day. The day before (because age 32 officially hated me), Josh and I were sick. Like, real sick. We spent the night and day playing toilet bowl relay and one of us may have been exerting so hard that she peed her pants a little. Twice. But I’ll leave it to you to figure out who has the weaker pelvic floor (because I know that’s the kind of thing you come to this blog to think about).
Anyway, on my actual birthday, I was overly emotional and spent half the day at Siteman getting my Herceptin infusion. I decided to put on my party face by putting on my party hair, and it actually helped. I was in a pod (Are cancer patients aliens? Peas?) with four older men and a couple of wives, and they just LOVED the pink wig. One of them wanted to know if his hair would come back that color too, and I tell you it was hard to be in a bad mood being surrounded by all those cute, funny old men.
Here’s where the day got strange though. As I pulled out of the parking garage, I also pulled off the wig because four hours of wig is three hours too many. I pulled out of the complex and hit a red light. As I stopped, I looked over and saw a man about my age with a sign that said something like “HOMELESS. Please help. God bless.” All I had in cash was one dollar so I grabbed it and held it out to him. He walked over, grabbed it, and looked up at me.
“I can’t take this from you,” and he handed me back the dollar.
“What do you mean? Here. Take it.” And then I saw his eyes. Probably the saddest, emptiest blue eyes I have ever seen.
“No, I can’t take this from you,” and he looks at my baldish head.
“Oh, it’s okay. I want to help you. Here.”
“No, no, no.”
“It’s only a dollar,” and I hold my hand out farther.
“No. I feel sorry for you.”
What the whaaaaat? You feel sorry for me? I feel sorry for you! Excuse me again…whaaat?
“I’m okay,” I say. “Just take it. I’m going to be okay.”
“Are you sure? I can’t. I feel sorry for you.”
I nod (even though I’m not really sure I’ll be “okay”), and he takes the dollar, says thanks, and walks away as the light turns green.
I drove away totally confused. Think what you will, but since my diagnosis, I have driven back and forth to Barnes many times, and I have given countless dollars to the homeless that I see, something I didn’t used to do on the regular. I didn’t know how to process having to talk a homeless man into taking my money. It bothered me for the rest of the day, and that night I realized why it bothered me so much…and what I wish I could say to him.
This? This bald head. THIS is why I’m helping you. This is how I know what it feels like to need help. To really need help. And this is how I know what it feels like to fall. This is what taught me that we are all connected. That we need each other. This is how I know that I love you, and this let me see you. This makes me think about you and your sad blue eyes every day and wish that I could have seen them in a better time. (Much like my eyelashes were my signature, I’m sure that your blue eyes were once yours.) Please don’t mistake this bald head as a weakness; it is my strength.
It’s such a strange life right now. I’m trying to move on from cancer, but I’m finding that it isn’t possible. My eyelashes aren’t letting me forget. My bald head and discolored nails aren’t letting me forget. My Herceptin infusions aren’t letting me forget. Even homeless guys that I don’t know won’t let me forget. I suppose even if all those things didn’t remind me I would remind myself every ten minutes because it’s most of what I still think about. What I’m learning, really, is that the battle wasn’t going through treatment or “fighting” the cancer. The battle has just started. The battle is in my mind, and it’s to learn how to live with the unknown and the ambiguity and the fear. I don’t really know how to do that yet. I feel like if my eyelashes would stick around, my game face might be more convincing though.