“You look adorable,” said my friend Judie, when I tried on a wig that reminded me of Mia Farrow’s haircut in Rosemary’s Baby. The woman who’d just put the wig liner and wig on my head nodded in agreement. Clearly, neither she, nor Judie, was lucid. Mia looked adorable in that haircut because she weighed 98 pounds and looked like a sexy pixie with her cute freckles and startling bone structure. Me? 145 pounds. A smattering of age spots. Woodland creature cheeks.
It was June 2006, and I knew I was going to lose my hair in mid-August after getting the first of six Adriamyacin/Cytoxan chemo-tinis, straight up. To get used to having less hair, I did what a lot of pre-chemo women do: I cut my hair in increments. When I went to the Wig Palace with Judie, I had recently cut my long hair into a smart little shoulder-length bob. It was kind of fun and swingy, but I lived in mortal fear of humidity or rain, either of which transformed my angular bob into a fuzzy pyramid.
“I don’t want to look cute,” I said to Judie and the wig lady.
I was surprised by the words. I am able to speak my mind, but I have the kind of personality that tends more toward the timid than the torrid. That changed fast after May 2006, when I found out I had breast cancer. I knew for a fact that I was going to have to take extraordinarily good care of myself if I was going to get through it.
Taking good care of myself meant making an appointment with my OB/Gyn when I felt that hard, small, immovable lump in May 2006 (even though I’d just been in her office the previous week for a UTI). Changing plastic surgeons midstream. Telling my oncologist that I didn’t think I could do Chemo #6 because it was taxing my heart. Letting my second plastic surgeon know that I was unhappy with my reconstruction (even though I think he’s a compassionate human being and a great surgeon). Recently calling Dr. B at the Dorothy Schneider Cancer Center for an ultrasound because my oncologist had found a lump.
(My oncologist thought the lump was scar tissue, but I’ve learned to err on the side of caution. Turns out it was scar tissue. And I’m grateful for Dr. B, who took my call on a Thursday and scheduled me for an ultrasound at 8:00 a.m. on Friday.)
I tell this story because, while it’s important to speak up for yourself in life, it’s absolutely critical to speak up for yourself in the medical system. No one else is going to do it as well, and with as much personal information, as you.
“Judie, let’s go get lunch,” I suggested to my friend when we were standing out on the sidewalk of the Wig Palace. The wig lady had suggested we look at the Mia wig in natural light.
A week later I found Hansen/Fontana in San Francisco. They make wigs out of human hair and style them to your specifications. It’s where I got the wig with the permanently side-swept, “That Girl” bangs. But it was a radical improvement over the Mia wig. I had to go to work, in a new job, in an office, and it was paramount that I look and feel as good as I could. And if that meant saying that I didn’t want to look cute, I was just fine with that.