A Surprise.

I remarked to someone back in June that if I were offered a pill that would allow me to fall asleep and wake up in 2021, I’d do it.

I stand by that decision, here in late September, and would probably still take that pill today. But maybe I shouldn’t rush to judgement. I would miss moments like yesterday.

A few weeks ago, I was given the go-ahead by my oncologist to attend appointments I’d postponed in the Spring, the usual things like the dentist or a check up that can’t be accomplished via telemedicine. I went to see one of my favorite practitioners. I only see her about once a year, but she has the way of making me feel so comfortable in her presence. Either she has a spectacular memory or takes really good appointment notes- regardless, she always seems to remember me and ask me about specific details of my life.

She walked in yesterday to my appointment, masked but still bearing the hallmarks of a smile in the crinkle in her eyes. She immediately commented on my hair and how much she loves it. When I told her the whole story- drug side effect, etc. – she leaned in closer to part my hair with her fingers, like you’d play with a friend’s hair.

“And how are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m okay.” I replied.

Furrowing her brow, she lowers her chin and looks at me more intently. “Just okay?”

I was open but brief about some of the chaos swirling in my mind, in particular, how the pandemic has exacerbated it all. How careful I’ve needed to be. How it’s been six and a half months with just being poked and prodded by doctors, no real spirit-affirming human touch. She is present the whole time. Listens, looks me in the eyes, shares her care and empathy with me. The appointment gets under way. Before I know it, she’s telling me something about her dog and her husband and we’re both belly laughing.

We wrap things up and she goes to the door to leave. I thank her, and with no warning she pulls me into a tight hug. I managed to choke out an, “oh, thank you,” and I take a deep breath. “One of my first hugs since March,” I manage. She squeezes me tighter. Her sweater is warm and soft, her tiny frame unexpectedly powerful. We smile at each other as she leaves. As soon as the door clicks behind her, I burst into tears.

The only quarantine hug I’d had prior was a surprise hug in August from my best friend’s daughter. We were eating brunch outside on her lawn, when without warning, her three year old enthusiasm could not be contained. With lightning speed, she rolled over the grass several times onto my picnic blanket, and wrapped her tiny arms around my lap. Knowing how careful I’d been, my best friend looked at me in horror. In an opposing response, I felt my body soften. This hug, so unbridled and joyful, sent waves of calm through my body as I tossed back my head and felt a laugh escape. I rubbed her back and looked into her smiling face. I assured both of them it was ok, it was a special treat. This hug from my doctor felt the same. I could sense the impulsive quality in her embrace, the insistence that this was the only right thing to do.

I am absolutely sure that I would have refused the offer of a hug yesterday, just as I would have cautioned my best friend’s beloved enthusiastic toddler. But once it was underway, I during I didn’t think of risk. I didn’t think of particles or statistics. I didn’t even hold my breath. I deeply inhaled and exhaled. Most assuredly for the only two times in about 200 days, I let myself soften.

Back in the exam room, I pulled myself together. I wiped my eyes with a tissue, readjusted my mask. As I walked down the hallway towards the exit, I heard my doctor with her next patient, laughter just dancing on out through the bottom of the door. What a remarkable thing, I think, to know where your doctor is by the sound of joy she creates in her presence.

Medicine is hard. Being a doctor is hard. Being a patient is hard. Being a human is hard.

Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, I will remember that moment when my doctor saw me not as a patient, but as a person. And it is my hope that when I can safely hug people again- with reckless abandon- I can convey the expansive compassion that was shared with me in that one moment of humanity.


Just Brave Enough.

Snip, snip.

This is the story of cutting my hair.

I agonized over this decision for weeks. Since May, Votrient had made my hair grow in with a lack of pigment, and that meant that it wouldn’t take any dye (I tried.) It felt sad and limiting to cover my hair up all the time with the same two headbands that were comfortable enough and felt fashionable. My scalp began to hurt more and more. The initial sting of my realization had settled into a dull ache, one I was reminded of each morning as I got ready for my day. Why was this sitting so heavy on me? What was the real issue here?

I sat down to journal and get to the bottom of it.

Here’s what I found: I was afraid simply because it was something I’d never done before, and I had few examples of what that would look or feel like. And beneath that, I was tired of needing to be brave all the time and constantly fighting to meet other people’s expectations.

The words that came to me (truly, that sounds like something out of the Old Testament, but it’s the only way I can describe it) were these: you don’t have to be brave enough for all of it. You just have to be brave enough to do this one thing. The rest can wait.

I knew I was brave enough for this.

I picked the night of the full moon at the beginning of August, since it traditionally represents letting go. I watched Sweeney Todd the night before for a bit of wry humor. I put a few woo-woo earthy items in the beautiful wooden bowl a friend made me: safe, aquamarine, obsidian, and cowry shells. All these were suggested in an episode of Queer Eye when a man was shaving his dreads. (And if it’s good enough for JVN, it’s good enough for me.) My friends Dominique and Dave sent me a pair of clippers from amazon, which I affectionately named Greased Lightning due to the lightning print on the side. I called my friend Alex for moral support. I sectioned my hair into ponytails. When it came time to the cutting itself, I put on Aretha Franklin and got to work. After the first few big cuts, it became easier. That night, I enjoyed the summer rain on my newly short, 7/8 of an inch hair.

Now you see it…
Now you don’t.

It’s important to acknowledge how lucky I was to make a choice. Most people with cancer don’t. It just starts falling out and then it’s time, or to save the grief later they shave it off before it gets there.

And the story continues. Since I’ve been off of Votrient for my sky-high liver enzymes, my hair has started to grow back my natural color. (Dark brown: which many of you, readers, having seen me grow up, probably already knew!) I’m starting to look like I have weird early 2000’s frosted tips. But I would make this decision again every day of the week and twice on Sunday. That day, I took back my control. I’m reminding myself daily that femininity does not depend on long hair. I’m playing with new hair accessories and enjoying a short prep time in the mornings. I’m feeling like more of a badass, if you’re looking for honesty.

And in 2020, who doesn’t need more of that energy?