Haircuts and Anniversaries

I have a haircut coming up with Bledi-with-Scizzors. Bledi has been my hairstylist for at least fourteen years now, which is ridiculous. By now he owns the salon, and I’ve had three jobs since we met at Starbucks. Also by now we’re comfortable enough with each other that sometimes he will tell me what he thinks I should have done to my hair, and I will tell him I don’t care what he thinks or if it’s stylish, I just want long hair. But sometimes I get bored with the long hair (recently, I just haven’t had the patience to dry it–or the time, because we moved and my commute in the morning is 15 minutes longer). And so, when contemplating my upcoming haircut, I thought, “I think it’s time to get my occasional bob.”

Also because it’s October. If I ever get a bob haircut, it’s in October. There are two reasons for this: 1) By October it’s cold enough here I don’t feel the need to pull my hair off my neck in a ponytail; while I like to braid my hair in the summer. 2) October (appropriately, as it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month) is when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I had my hair cut in a bob to take an incremental psychological step toward readiness for shaving my head for chemo. Then I didn’t end up needing chemo, but sometimes I still get my hair lopped off in October.

2008 cancer haircut

I was thinking about this the other week, which is why I suddenly remembered that today is the tenth–tenth–anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. I don’t often talk about my cancer because honestly, most of the time I feel like a “fake” cancer survivor, since, at the end of the day, it wasn’t really that bad for me. I had surgery and radiation, but no chemo. I had to take a hormone suppressant which gave me migraines with which I still struggle. I went back and read the relevant blogposts from my Original Blog and discovered that at the time, I really was pretty freaked out and it was a tough process emotionally–but it also was a pretty quick one, relatively speaking, and I had some amazing support around me.

Meanwhile, I have a friend who’s still trying to recover after a year of harrowing treatment, and another friend who has had cancers of various types at least 11 times. (I’ve probably lost count, I’m ashamed to say. It may have been more, at this point–but I hope not.) Also another friend was diagnosed within the last year; her diagnosis sounded really similar to mine, but she does need chemo, and she has a husband and two little boys and the chemo is doing a number on her. Stories like these brave women’s make me sad, and also make me uncomfortable about publicly celebrating the fact that I have basically been cancer free since they cut it out of me, and officially so for five years now.

On the other hand–I’ve been cancer free since they cut it out of me, and that’s ten years. And while I don’t understand why the above, and other, friends of mine haven’t gotten through their diagnoses as easily as I was able to get through mine, and while it would be ungracious of me (particularly since I had nothing to do with it) to brag about it, it would also be ungrateful of me not to note and celebrate it. I don’t take my cancer-freedom for granted. I know I could get it again. But I haven’t yet, and I’m deeply thankful. And so, in honor of my diagnosis and celebration of my current freedom from it, I’ll be pampering myself next Friday–and getting a haircut.

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Second Takes

The first time I brought a group of high schoolers on a mission trip, there was one young man who had such a great time that he refused to go on another such trip ever again, because he believed it couldn’t possibly be as wonderful as that first one. I think I maybe understand how he felt. My first unit of CPE, which only ended two months ago, was such a formative and healing experience with such exceptional people during a time otherwise characterized by such upheaval, that I can’t quite conceive of how this second unit could possibly measure up.

Yet here I am, intentionally not-refusing another round of CPE, regardless of this feeling. I’m hoping that my being in my 40’s instead of in my teens will at least give me the perspective to realize there is value in all kinds of experience, that “measuring up” may be a false standard (what is the standard, anyway?), and that I still have lots to learn. I suspect what I need to learn this time around, I will only be able to learn from and with this new set of differently exceptional people. I just need not to expect to feel exactly the same at the end of this current unit as I did at the end of the last one. I certainly don’t feel the same at the beginning of it.

Although, as I discovered after trying to co-lead a tour of the hospital for my new group-mates yesterday, I still don’t know where all the hospital units are, said Hospital feels much more like “home” this time around.

Despite what you might be thinking, this is a hospital, and not a mall or train station.

Despite what you might be thinking, this is a hospital, and not a mall or train station.

I don’t feel as jumpy around new people as I did when I first walked into the building as a CPE newbie. I recognize some of the staff from other departments. I felt comfortable to come in and begin visiting patients in new units even before we were technically required to, and have already had some interesting, and maybe even noteworthy, visits. I visited my favorite unit from last time and was greeted with smiles and squeals of happy recognition and welcome by the staff. I was equally delighted to see them. I already know that the Monsigneur on staff is personable and that I don’t have to stand on ceremony with him, nor do I need my Supervisor to be my immediate go-to person for each and every question or uncertainty that may blip across my consciousness.

That said, I find that I am still quite nervous about the psychological health unit, where I asked to be assigned and consequently have been. I attended with my Supervisor a group he runs there, and sat there feeling deeply interested in everything the patients said, but also entirely at a loss at how to engage in the group—so I didn’t, sitting mute and no doubt wide-eyed. I was too nervous to go up there by myself before that meeting, so I have no idea if my discomfort was simply a form of self-consciousness because I felt that my Supervisor would be evaluating anything I might ask or offer in the group, or if it was a genuine reaction to the demographic. Or the stories. Probably some of all of that. I want to be there, because I’ve had my own struggles with depression, and mental illness and addiction are rampant in Our Fair City, and I think it’s important for me to learn how to “be” in this context. But it’s quite clear that learning it is essential, because I don’t already know how to be there, at all.

Already this unit of CPE is shaping up very differently from the last, but as a consequence, I feel excited and interested in seeing how this new chapter unfolds. I am relishing an increase of confidence from the last time, and only hope I don’t stride into this experience with such briskness that I miss noticing what’s happening in and around me in the moment.