Lesser of Two Evils

Tonight I walked to the Lesser of Two Evils chain bookstore and went wild in a Cancer-Bitchy way. I had a $50 gift card as part of payment/thank you for two workshops I did in a high school this fall. I was also paid by check and got a clock that had a plaque with my name on it. We couldn't get the clock to work so L pried off the plaque and we put the clock out by the Dumpster. I put the plaque on one of my file cabinets. At Lesser of Two Evils I bought Pink Ribbons, Inc: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy by Samantha King (who teaches at Queen's University), Uplift: Secrets from the Sisterhood of Breast Cancer Survivors by Barbara Delinsky, and Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person: a Memoir in Comics by Miriam Engelberg. Got them all in the same section of the store. They cost me the whole card plus about $7. The one I wasn't sure about was Uplift, because it's a very lazy, randomly-arranged book. It's divided into chapters, and consists mostly of comments from women from all over the country. It's a very clever marketing ploy, because I'm sure all the contributors ordered books. I went through it in the store and thought a few of the snippets of info would be useful. Like tips on combatting chemo-induced nausea. Suggestions ranged from the very particular: "Morinda noni juice," blueberry muffins, chicken soup, Mexican food, Lorna Doones--to the obvious: crackers, hard candy, ginger ale. Someone also recommended "Chinese tea." I didn't know there was just one kind. I was also interested in reading about women's experiences with their hair falling out from chemo. I want to cut my hair now as a pre-emptive strike, but I'd really regret it if it turned out I was one of those people who *didn't* lose her hair from chemo. One woman talked about having a head-shaving party and inviting 15 women friends. That sounded like a good idea. I'm hoping to find other home-entertaining tips. It is a very corny book. Two chapter titles: Radiation: Soaking Up the Rays; Chemo and Hair: Mane Matters. If this sounds interesting to you, watch this space. I might end up giving the book away.

I've always worried about losing my hair to chemo. Just like I always thought I wouldn't get reconstruction, at least if I lost (is that the right word??) just one breast. (I'm reminded of the line from The Importance of Being Earnest: "Losing one parent is a misfortune; but losing both parents is plain carelessness.") I said even before I was afflicted by it that it seems that breast cancer is invitable, like gray hair and menopause. I swear I said this, way before I read it in Barbara Ehrenreich's essay, Welcome to Cancerland. You can find the essay on the Breast Cancer Action site.

I had a friend, a jokester, who used to open his wallet and ask if you wanted to see his pride and joy. Then he'd pull out a card with a picture of Pride floor wax and Joy dishwashing liquid. For many years my pride and joy has been right there on my head. In junior high I didn't appreciate my hair. It was "frizzy" and needed to be straightened chemically with Curl-Free, and then physically, by a process called "wrapping." The method was passed down by older female friends and relatives, like a folk custom,. You needed long bobby pins and a clean, empty orange juice can with both ends removed. After using shampoo and creme rinse (conditioner had not been invented), you would towel-dry your hair, of course, then comb out a section from the top of your head and wind it around the orange juice can, pinning it with the bobby pins. Then you would take the rest of your hair and wrap it around your head. The "theory"--yes, this process had a theory--was that the larger the roller you used, the straighter your hair would be. The juice can made for a very large roller. But the largest roller of all was your own head. We needed many bobby pins for this. Then after wrapping your head tightly you would sit under your hooded hair dryer and talk on the phone for the two hours it took your hair to dry. This is why we washed our hair only once a week.

I don't talk on the phone much to my friends now. E-mail seems to have replaced both long letters and long phone calls. I'd carpool with my friends, see them before and after school and during lunch, then at night talk to them on the phone. And then write them notes to give them the very next morning.

Somewhere in my 20s, probably when Cher's hair-do changed from curtain-straight to curly, my hair turned from high maintenance to low. Instead of complaining about my hair, I became vain about it. I was proud, though I had no right to be, that curliness and "body" were things that others strove for and that I achieved effortlessly. Strangers would ask me what I ate to get such thick hair. Women grooming themselves in bathrooms have complimented me on my waves and curls. On the other hand, when a college friend of mine brought me to her parents' for Christmas dinner, her very WASPy mother looked at me carefully and said slowly, Your hair scares me. My own mother has threatened, when I'm visiting her, to cut my hair in my sleep. My hair is what hers would look like if it were left to its own devices, which it isn't. Ever. L is always after me to cut it so he can see my face. So he will.