Penny’s Blog

Archive for April 2009

I’ve been trying to put into words, for myself and others,  why I’m not so happy about getting my hair back. When I was bald, I felt fierce, proud. Now that there’s fuzz growing in, I feel infantilized and embarassed.

Well, once again, NYT writer and prostate cancer patient Dana Jennings has successfully expressed what I’ve been feeling:

In a time of utter vulnerability… I needed the primal ferocity that a buzz cut proclaims. I needed to look like a soccer thug or an extra from “Prison Break” to help get me through…   I still do.

The full column is here.

I’ve talked about my baldness more than any other part of my cancer experience—partly because it’s the most visible to people, but partly because I could embrace it as one aspect of the cancer experience over which I had some control.  As I’ve commented here before, I haven’t noticed any profound spiritual insights or profound personal transformations out of having cancer, but going around bald has been life-changing.

On the “spiritual insights” note, Sol and I were talking last night, and at one point I mentioned that these days I’ve come to admire people who are unapologetic about being atheists, that they help me feel more comfortable with my own atheist tendencies.  He said, “Oh, really? I would think that what you’ve been through with cancer would make you reach out for religion.” Nope, said I—though I’ve appreciated and encouraged people who wanted to pray for me (because it lets me know that people care about me, it helps people feel they’re supporting me, and hey, what can it hurt?). “But,” Sol said, “if you’re staring your mortality in the face, and there’s nothing on the other side, it could be terrifying.”  I said, “No, I won’t be terrified, because I’ll be dead.”

So there you have it: Fuzzy, godless, and unterrified.*

(*To steal a joke from Nathan Lane: “Fuzzy, Godless, and Unterrified! I have all their albums!”)

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A week and a half past my last treatment, and no longer in pain!  The sores in my mouth are healing. I’m off the painkillers and can chew solid food.  My tastebuds will take longer to heal, I guess—I still can’t taste Sweet or Salty.  Eating “treat” foods like cake or french fries is disappointing… they taste like cardboard.  (I keep trying to make them taste good, through sheer force of will, or by recalling how they’re supposed to taste, but that hasn’t worked so far.)  I can, however, taste Tangy and Spicy to some extent.

The other lingering effect of radiation is that my chin and jaw are red, dry, and peeling, as if sunburned.  Even years from now, this part of my face may continue to be hypersensitive to the sun.  A cancer survivor told me that “Radiation therapy is the gift that keeps on giving,” and I see what she means.

On the plus (?) side, I’m getting furrier.  The fine blonde fuzz continues to grow on previously-bare areas:  scalp, armpits, face…

I’m still more tired than I’d expected to be at this point.  At Sole Sisters last week I walked near the back of the pack with another slow person… I may do that again tonight, and for the remainder of the program.  I may have to modify my original goal—to run part of the race in June—and aim instead just to finish the entire course, possibly at a slow walk.

My impatient side believes, expects, that I should be hopping back up to normal energy levels by now.  My body has other ideas.  As during chemo, the body wins out, and forces me to lower my expectations.  Maybe I’ll embroider “All in good time…” on a pillow (or a punching bag).



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  • dswope: I just happened by after my I received an email from a close colegue that he was headig for IVPalooza. All I knew was that it was a form of chemo.
  • Brian: Hi Penny; When I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma I found your site. Reading about what you went through was incredibly helpful to me. Tha
  • Tricia: Still here; still caring; still rooting you on!

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