A Good Hair Day
My image in the mirror seems to taunt me.
“Waste of time. Waste of money.”
I am at the salon, having my hair highlighted and trimmed.
I swivel slowly and try to imagine myself without any hair.
For 15 days I have been waiting for test results that will help my doctors and me decide if I need chemotherapy. There’s a reason why it’s called cancer patient. I must be patient as I wait for the phone call that will determine my course of treatment for the days, weeks, months and years ahead.
Moments ago there were hugs in the back room of the salon. “I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” I tell my stylist.
I struggle to suppress the tears. “If I lose my hair, you might be losing a client for awhile.”
It has been two weeks since my surgery. The pathologist has sent a sample of my cancerous tissue to a lab in Northern California. I have opted for the Oncotype DX test. Since the test became available seven years ago, more than 175,000 women and their doctors have relied on the test to decide if they would benefit from chemotherapy. Most people who have early stage breast cancer that has not spread and is fueled by estrogen, are considered low risk for recurrence. I fit the criteria!
In a lab, a scientist has been studying the activity of my tumor to determine the likelihood that my cancer will return in the next 10 years. A low score means the patient probably would not be helped by chemotherapy. Radiation followed by hormone therapy then is considered the best course of treatment. With radiation, doctors treat only the tumor site. With chemotherapy, they treat the entire body. There can be troublesome side affects and often an impact on the quality of life. Sometimes there is weight loss, nausea, weakness and yes, hair loss. Of course I want to avoid chemotherapy. But I also know that I will do whatever I have to do to recover. If need be, I will rock my baldness!
Naomi peeks under the foils that make me look like there is Jiffy Pop on my head. At that moment, my cellphone rings and I recognize the number of my surgeon.
I can’t swallow, but I manage to get out the words “Hi Doctor.”
“Are you ready for this?” She has said only five words. I interpret so much. I imagine her smiling, a cellphone balanced on her shoulder.
“You are SUCH an over-achiever!” Now I too am smiling.
“Your Oncotype is a 9.” On a scale that extends to 100, I am a 9: extremely low risk of recurrence. Chemotherapy would be no benefit to me.
I text the news to my husband. His reply fills the entire screen of my cellphone. WAHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
I am grateful for the recent medical advances in breast cancer diagnosis, testing and treatment. Science means I did not have to struggle with a decision for treatment.
Southern California is showing off as I step into a perfect September evening. A harvest moon hanging low in a sky the color of blue Gatorade.
As the salon door eases closed behind me, I hear someone inside yell out “Your new cut looks great!”
I smile as I say “Thanks…I think I’ll keep it !”