Saturday, September 18, 2010

Family, Fishing, and Feeling Normal

Two weeks ago was Labor Day weekend. I’m still remembering our time away fondly.  It proved to be a relaxing, and joyful ending to my overly eventful summer.  We ventured south to visit my in-laws in southern Oklahoma for a couple of days.  Joining us on this venture were my oldest son, JC, our Japanese “Friendship Family” student from the U of A, Megumi, and Cleo.  Sean stayed behind with Harry, still wearing his torture device (Harry, not Sean), due to his work schedule (Sean’s, not Harry’s).

The weather was early fall perfect and, as always, we enjoyed our time away.  I am so blessed to have a mother and father-in-law that are truly like my second parents.  And, as they tell everyone, I am their favorite daughter-in-law.  When we visit, it feels like going home.  They live in a log cabin on several acres of land just north of the Texas border.  Their home is surrounded by oak trees, cattle, and privacy, and is a great place for unwinding and forgetting the outside world.

This was always a wonderful place to bring our growing boys.  Cleo loves it too…once we’re there (she’s not a fan of the van ride down).  She enjoys long walks down country lanes and at times has joined my father-in-law on a walk through the cow pasture.  She has discovered that the local horses and cows have a strong desire to meet her…up close and personal.  Those feelings are not mutual.  The time she was surprised and then chased through the pasture by a giant bovine makes for a pretty funny tale.

The food is great, too.  Iris is much like my own mom was, in that, aside from being a great cook, she has this inbred fear that someone might go hungry, so food is plentiful.  For one thing, no one does pot roast like Iris, so the after church comfort meal and side dishes were divine.  Meals often include garden grown veggies or melons and homemade jams.

No one thinks twice if you disappear for a few moments of solitude to recover from these great meals.  So I managed to lay down for a “few minutes” on Sunday afternoon, only to wake up 2 hours later…something I had not done in a long time.  Peace, rest, and relaxation were the name of the game.

Wetting hooks in the pond.
 JC and Megumi even got to wet a few hooks in the “pond” out back.  They’ve always called this a pond, but it’s the biggest pond I’ve ever seen.  If I lived there, I would call it a lake.  The nice thing about this so called pond is that it just sits there untouched, day after day, and happens to be full of fish, therefore, it’s the perfect place for impatient fishermen like my crew.  And so, it was the perfect spot for Megumi to go fishing…for the first time in her life.  As she exclaimed, “I didn’t know catching fish was this easy!”  We didn’t tell her that it’s not.  She and JC spent a bit of time on the banks of the Brigman pond and we ended up bringing home a zip lock bag full of bass.  We’ll be having her over soon for a fish dinner.

One more for the grill...
followed by Daisy, the tire biting cow dog.
She wanted the full experience...slimy scales and all.

As usual, our stay was too brief and I left wondering why we don’t go more often.  It was lovely to feel normal again, but, unfortunately, in the back of my mind was the knowledge of how the next weekend would play out…the weekend following chemo #2.  So, I enjoyed it while I could and went into the shortened week with my usual energy and optimism, knowing everything is temporary and thanking God for the good, as well as the bad.  That bad makes the good seem all the more special.

I think it’s time to plan another trip down south.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pantene Beautiful Lengths, LPGA, and Li'l Ol' Me

Since I've been on the theme of hair lately, it's only appropriate I include the lowdown on the highlight of this whole bald chemo-head episode. As mentioned in the previous post, I was invited to participate in a bit of ponytail cutting during the Pantene Beautiful Lengths Event last Wednesday at the local Embassy Suites. This was in conjunction with the Proctor and Gamble hosted LPGA Tournament in our area that week.

As David and I arrived at the event, I was given a gold star nametag that proclaimed me a "Cutter". The ladies at the nametag table had all heard the story of our Walker event the week before and knew that there were two of us at the same school fighting cancer. I was surprised to suddenly be treated like a VIP. I was honored, but also felt pretty darn weird that it was because I happened to have cancer. Cancer has made me important. What's wrong with this picture?

I found a number of other Walker faculty, students, and parents, draped with black capes, ponytailed, and waiting to be cut. Included within this group were my principal and assistant principal, who were also there as VIP cutters, plus more faculty and family who were there as watchers and supporters. In all, hair donations from Walker alone numbered 15. The total number of heads that donated at least 8 inches of hair that night broke previous records, with over 80 people donating to this event. This means 210 ponytails were cut, which will now make up to 35 new wigs for cancer patients. Wow!

Two of her five ponytails...before the cut!
I was honored to be allowed to cut the 5 (that's right...5!) ponytails from the beautiful head of Jo Huggins. Jo is one of our 4th grade teachers and, not too many years ago, included my son, Sean, on her roster. Jo has ALWAYS had beautiful long red hair; in fact, I think she may have been born with it. (If you've been paying attention you may realize that, of the three heads of hair I cut, all were redheads...I am still wondering at the significance of that.) Jo's twin sister also joined in the fun and had her hair cut by none other than Doug Sprouse, the mayor of Springdale. Yep, I was rubbing elbows with the big dogs. Down the row from us were major LPGA golfers like Michelle Wie, Jayai Shin, and Cristie Kerr, also cutting ponytails.

We were told that it takes six ponytails to make one wig.  Jo had five!
This was an amazing and uplifting event in this often surreal episode of my life. Some events I know I will want to forget or wish never to have happened, but this is one I will always cherish, remembering the love, encouragement, and support I felt that evening.

Thanks to all who contributed hair in honor of me, Caryn, and the many others who have, are, or will be touched by this unforgiving disease. You are ALL my heroes!

This hair will make some seriously gorgeous wigs!
(And I'm thinking I need to invest in an eyepatch and a parrot.  Arggh.)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Hairy Week - Part Two

In the previous blog post, if my contention is correct concerning our desire for good hair and the continual pursuit of such a thing, then it may be considered quite a sacrifice when a person chooses to have their long locks cut off for a more noble cause than their own appearance. I witnessed and even participated in such an event this past week.

My home school, Walker Elementary, along with Pantene Beautiful Lengths, hosted an assembly on Wednesday in honor of the two teachers at our school who are battling cancer, myself and Caryn P. (Yes, there are two of us at the same school. If you are a praying person, please pray for Caryn, our wonderful music teacher.)

Pantene Beautiful Lengths hosts an event in our area each year, in conjunction with the LPGA, where women (and, I suppose, some men) can donate their hair. This hair is used to create wigs for cancer patients who’ve lost their hair due to chemotherapy. The organizer of this event, who has a daughter at Walker, asked if we might be interested in participating and even kicking off this event with an assembly at our school. The trick was finding people willing to donate at least 8 inches of their hair. Amazingly, this was not hard to do.

At Wednesday’s assembly, we had two current students, one former student, and one staff member willing to have their lovely long locks lopped in front of their peers. This was beautiful, exciting, and touching to behold.

Amy, our computer lab teacher, who has not had short hair in 25 years, was one who agreed to undergo this dramatic change. When I saw the tears in her eyes following my rather awkward chopping of her thick red hair, I was touched and a bit worried. How traumatic this must be! But she insisted, however, that they weren’t sad tears, but tears of joy. What a wonderful tribute to life and a show of solidarity for Caryn and myself and against the trauma that cancer brings. Someone somewhere will get a beautiful wavy red head of hair, thanks to Amy’s beautiful lengths.

It was wonderful to see Sidonie, a former student. She has grown into a lovely young lady, and still has the most amazing deep red hair…the kind people pay big bucks for. As I cut through her two long thick ponytails (pre-banded by the event organizers), I thought of the time it took her to grow that beautiful hair, and I thought of the young girl who used to stop in and visit in both the art room and the library. She was always one of those students who was more mature than most and who seemed to enjoy the company of adults…a precious young lady. And here she was, in my honor, letting me cut that gorgeous hair…something I would NEVER dream of doing before.

Our two youngest volunteers, Kelsee and Karla, both had marvelous dark brown hair. They had an amazing attitude and gave what they had with a smile and zero hesitation, then left with a new hairstyle and a goodie bag full of styling products, still smiling. My heroes.

I was, once again, struck by the serendipity, or perhaps irony, of it all. Considering this was also the day that I first noticed my own hair turning loose from my scalp, I can’t think of anything that could have made that knowledge any easier. Truly, this event was such a blessing to me.

This coming Wednesday there will be another Pantene Beautiful Lengths event at Embassy Suites, in partnership with the LPGA, and I am honored to be participating. I know we have several more teachers, students, and even parents who will be donating their hair, along with many others from the community.  Your sacrifice means a great deal to me and to many others in my situation.  It's not just the hair, but the show of solidarity in this fight against this horrible, unexpected, and frightening disease.  To each and every one of you, I say thank you.

If you live in Northwest Arkansas and are interested in donating, email

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Hairy Week - Part One

For most American women, our hair really is a very personal part of who we are.  Many of us spend ridiculous amounts of money to get the perfect cut, color, and more.  We notice new haircuts and are quick to compliment one another on our hair, and when life gets a bit dull, we decide it's time for a new do to add a little excitement. 

But, when you think about it, on the wants vs needs scale, our hair care is definitely a want.  We can survive without it and could easily do our jobs and accomplish what we accomplish daily, no matter what our hair looked like.  Somehow, though, our hair has grown in importance over the years, so that good and bad hair days really do affect how we feel about ourselves and, for many of us, how our performance and confidence levels are determined.  I'd much rather be out in public when my hair is doing what I want it to do.  There have been times I've hated to go home and waste a perfectly good hair day.  Good hair days at home usually mean I, at least, need to go buy milk and bread in order to share the great hair with fellow shoppers.  Doing my part for humanity.  Heaven forbid only the family gets to enjoy it.

Now, I know there are some of you who are finding this concept foreign and bizarre, but, in my estimation, you are few and far between.  American women want and are obsessed with acquiring good hair.  So, when I first learned I had breast cancer and would be receiving chemotherapy, you can guess what one of my first thoughts was. hair.  Seems sort of silly, in the grand scheme of things.  Life?  Death?  Hair?  That last one just doesn't fit.

So, I contemplated my bald future.  It took a couple of days for this to soak in, but, oddly enough, I quickly reached a peace about it.  You might even say I actually began to look forward to a warped, curiousity killed the cat, sort of way.  I started gathering wigs and headcoverings (all free, thanks to the Cancer Support Home in Fayetteville, Heavenly Hats, and France Luxe.)  And then I waited. 

I began this week feeling pretty sure that by week's end my head would be bare...but what an odd concept.  I know what it is to have short hair, but NO hair is another story.  What would I look like?  What would it feel like?  How pointy is my head, anyway? 

By Tuesday, all hair still seemed very much attached to my scalp.  It hurt to pull even one.  So, clueless optimist that I am, the thought actually occurred to me that I might possibly be the one in a million person whose hair was so dang healthy, thick, and stubborn, that maybe, just maybe, I would escape the chemo hair promise.  But, true to my bodies determination to stay in line with the textbooks, on Wednesday I noticed several strands would turn loose whenever I gave a gentle tug.  By Thursday morning (14 days out from my first round of chemo - textbook timing), I could pull individual strands and not feel a thing.  Running my hand through my hair brought multiple loose strands.  It was like my hair was just sitting there with nothing holding it on.  The glue had gone bad.  I didn't dare wash it, brush it, or walk in high wind.  My hair was really falling out.  I tiptoed through Thursday and tried not to touch my hair. 

The bald plan went into effect when my oldest son, JC, returned from class that evening.  He knew he was my designated cutter.  He used industrial strength scissors to cut it as short as possible, then several times over with the clippers, working down in size with each passing.  Considering we weren't working with high quality salon machinery and I have fairly thick hair, this took awhile. 

In the trashcan...easy come, easy go.
I've read about how sad and emotional this is for many women and wondered if or when it would hit me.  Would I break down in tears in the middle of it all?  I must be weird, because I actually had a good time.  I knew this would be (or certainly hope it is) the only time I will ever get to experience something like that, so, just like my trip to fears, just relax and enjoy such a foreign experience.  JC did a great job, while David manned the video camera.  Sean stuck his head in now and then, but mostly was stoic about the whole thing.  We tried to keep Harry from walking through the falling hair.  Cleo slept.

A little drama never hurts.

When this was done, I headed straight to the bathroom to see the new me.  Kind of shocking.  My head looks so much smaller without the hair, and no, thank goodness, it's not too pointy.  I showered off and dried off, marveling at how easy that process now will be.  I am also retiring my razor for a few months.  Jealous much?

Friday I wore a real wig for the first time in my life, feeling like such a poser and that I really should be trick-or-treating instead of teaching class. The kiddos got a kick out of it; some were shocked it was a wig and some "just knew it!".  Some were scared I would remove it and others begged me to (I didn't).  All of them, though, were encouraging and curious and free with kind of people.  Kids are so different than adults...who wouldn't want to work with them?

I met with the Nons after work and was encouraged all the more.  These gals are always a shot in the arm during major life events.  They were jealous of my great hair and thinking the whole wig idea might just be the way to go.

The hair is gone and I'm feeling great.  That's one more hurdle I've jumped as I move ahead on this cancer path.  Looking forward to attending a wedding this afternoon, then heading down south to spend the remainder of the holiday weekend with my in-laws.  The skies are bright blue, fall is in the air, and all is right with the world. 

Oh yeah...and no more bad hair days, at least for a while.  Now, where is that wig?

Okay...maybe a little pointy.
(And, as I write this, this little bit of hair is quickly jumping ship.)