Chapter 4: Chemo Begins, With a Bonus: Bronchitis

by Abby Margolis Newman

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To start at the beginning, read  Chapter 1: Abby's Crap News - AKA My "Journey" With Cancer

The Kindness of Strangers and Others

I cut my hair. And then I cut it again. I can't even remember the last time I wore my hair short - I don't particularly like it short, but I know it's going to fall out within weeks, so I wanted to feel some modicum of control over the process. (Or the illusion of control, anyway.)

My hairstylist, Kara, cut my hair for free, a gesture that brought me to the verge of tears, as so many things do these days. She has even offered to come to my house to do the "final deed," i.e. if I decide to cut it all off before it falls out on its own.

Part of it, too, is getting my boys used to my new look; I've taken to wearing beanies around the house so that when the hair goes, it will be less of a shock for them. My goal is to grow it long again when all of this is over; and I figure I will have earned the right to say, "Fuck the fact that I'm over 50 - if I want long hair, I get to have it."

The innumerable kindnesses of those around me never cease to amaze. My surgery was a little over a month ago. I woke in the recovery room to the face of a beautiful nurse, herself bald from recently-completed chemo, also a breast cancer survivor. This nurse, Jimette, stayed by my side the entire day - a day which was made much longer by the fact that I developed a hematoma (blood pooling in the surgical area) and had to go back into the OR for a second procedure. When I woke up the second time, Jimette was there again. Although I was loopy as hell, we did talk a lot about "our" disease and her experience with it. The next day, when I was recovering in my lovely private room with a view of Mount Tamalpais (really, you gotta love Marin County), I had a phone call on my room phone. It was Jimette, just checking in.

I sent Jimette a thank-you note care of the hospital shortly after I went home; I wanted her to know how much her being there had meant to me, and that I felt she was somehow fated to be my recovery nurse. A few days later, I received a long note in the mail from her, giving me all her phone numbers and encouraging me to call her anytime. She said: "I truly believe I was put there that day to help you and also believe you were there for me also as I still am going through my journey... People come into our lives at different times and for long periods and short periods but all for a reason."

Yet another example: My oncology nurse, Nicole, who ushered me and Chris through our "Chemo 101" class and who will be there with me for most of my chemo sessions. Her husband is a cancer survivor; in fact, she said his experience was what drew her to work in oncology. Like my surgeon, Leah Kelley, Nicole is an incredibly warm and affectionate person. When I had my inevitable breakdown in Chemo 101 - of course, it was the whole hair loss thing that set me off, as it always does - Nicole took me into her arms without a thought.

I had my first chemo session last week and - except for the fact that I had somehow contracted bronchitis a few days before, so they had to put me and Chris in an "isolation" room - everything went without incident. If you discount the coughing and hacking due to the bronchitis and a very very slight level of nausea the first couple of days after the treatment, I feel pretty good. My blood work from yesterday (one week post-chemo) was, according to the nurse on the phone, "great." In fact, she said, "You must be some kind of overachiever!" Ah, little did she know: I come from a long line of them. Apparently it really is in my blood.

Next post: Losing My Hair

Follow Abby on Twitter @newmaniacs

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