There is nothing like the pain of watching someone you love suffer. It hits you straight in the chest leaving you breathless lying on the floor, curled up in a blanket, sobbing into your pillow with the lights off and your door closed, praying that your roommate can’t hear your cries, but simultaneously hoping she does so that someone can bear witness to the heartbreak you are experiencing.
I can say that I have never cried so hard, that I have never been so afraid, that I have never been so disconnected with my surroundings as I have been this week. Last Friday I got the hysterical call from my mom. The one saying that the doctors thought she had breast cancer. The call that knocked the wind out of me, leaving me heaving on a stranger’s couch breathless and numb. That was only a week ago. Since then I have survived the agonizing days of waiting, of more waiting, and more waiting. I have survived three days of staring at my phone praying for it to ring with the results to the biopsies, but not wanting to pick it up because I was too afraid to hear my mom’s voice, to hear bad news, to hear the sounds of pain.
On Wednesday the call with the results came. It was quick.
“It is all bad news,” my mom told me, “Cancer. Cancer. Cancer. All three tumors.”
And that was the end of it. I hung up the phone, numb and unsure of what was to come next. I made the 20-minute walk home incredibly dizzy, praying the entire time that I wouldn’t faint on the sidewalk. It was the strangest sensation. Everything around me was moving so fast, yet I felt that I couldn’t even pick up my legs. I felt like I wasn’t moving at all. Frozen in the moment that my mom spoke the word, “cancer”. Such a common word that I had heard a thousand times before. It was a word that had touched numerous people in my life. It was a word that had taken numerous people from my life. And yet, to hear the word come from my mom, it suddenly felt so foreign and unreal like it wasn’t even a part of the English language.
My mom comes with so much. My mom is entangled in me. My mom is a part of me in so more ways than I can explain. Then to have a part of oneself be threatened is terrifying. I can’t loose my mom. The thought is unbearable. So I have put it away from my mind. She is going to be okay. She is going to get through this. What I also can’t do is watch her suffer. Yet, in spending today with her it became apparent to me that that inescapable. I will have to endure her pain as well as mine. It must be part of the process.
Today we went wig shopping. But it was no ordinary wig shop. It is called Chrysalis Custom Hair and it is specifically for women with cancer. The woman who runs the place only meets with one client at a time to ensure their privacy and comfort. The appointment takes anywhere from 2-3 hours. For us, we veered on the three-hour side.
Our appointment was at 3:30. I missed my work shift to go with my mom. I felt that this was more important. After arriving, we sat down to hear a bit about what was about to happen. My mom’s hair color was going to be matched. Then several wigs would be tried on. My mom would assess them for comfort. After picking a match for color and comfort, the wig would be cut to match my mom’s current hairstyle. While the wig was being cut on a mannequin head, my mom would pick out caps, mainly for sleeping and hanging out around the house. You don’t think much about it, but without hair your head would get really cold.
This was the part that it all started to sink in. Because it was here when my mom started beating herself up for how strange and lumpy her head looked with all her hair pinned back. When my mom started saying things like “I have never looked worse” or “people are going to think I am an alien”. This was when my heart started to feel like a thousand pounds inside my chest. And, I started to feel dizzying like I did on Wednesday. And, I suddenly felt incredibly inept to deal with the magnitude of what was going to be happening to my mom.
My mom isn’t going to have hair for two or more years. She is going to loose something near and dear to any woman’s heart. She is going to be cold and self-conscious. She is going to have to wash and dry and maintain hair that isn’t even hers, but instead a wig. She is going to have to wear caps to bed. She is going to be sick. Very sick for a very long time. And even with all the chemo and surgery there is still the possibility….
…I can’t even let my mind go there…
There is nothing like the pain of watching someone you love suffer.