I never in my wildest dreams thought I would ever shave all my hair off.
Almost one year ago I did it, without hesitation and with a smile. And for good reason.
Wait. Let me backtrack a bit.
All my life I've been a semi-closet hypochondriac (= excessive worry about having a serious illness).
I imagined the worst if I got a flu or a bad cold or if my knee or ankle or some other joint or muscle was hurting or sore. My over-active imagination led me to believe I had some exotic disease or some rare condition. Something, anything, was wrong.
No, I know, it's NOT at all amusing to imagine oneself with an illness.
And I'm NOT saying I was thinking up these unreal situations for fun, I was actually scared that I perhaps had whatever ailment I'd dreamed up, read about or researched.
It's also NOT that I wanted attention from thinking this way either. (Hence the "closet" part of being a hypochondriac.)
I do have a few people in my family, near and far, close and not-as-close, that have different types of diseases and struggle with a variety of illnesses.
Of course, I pray for them ALL the time and always hope for healing for them.
And of course I am so grateful that I enjoy good health and that most of the people around and closet to me are living and breathing with good or excellent health.
Last Autumn, however, things within my close circle of friends got serious, fast.
It was a wake up call for me.
Imaginary diseases were just that...imaginary.
Real life was about to barrel down upon my circle of friends like a runaway express train!
My dear and long-time friend, Tricia, let us know that she had found a lump in her breast and was getting it checked out.
My heart hit the floor as she told me this one evening at my house on our weekly girls get together before the other girls arrived.
I stayed calm and listened and let her explain.
Yes, she'd found it herself and was going for an ultrasound soon.
My own little imaginary worries faded and I was instantly alert to the fact that this was serious.
My friend would need love and support and our friendship would be stretched in a way it had never been tested before.
Weeks went on and after an ultrasound and biopsy we received a group message from Tricia detailing how she had been called into discuss the mass the doctors had tested.
It was cancer.
That terrible, scary, uncertain word.
That terrible, scary, uncertain word.
My own mind whipped between frenzied denial and heart-wrenching sadness but also shocked amazement...we had just been on a wonderful camping trip and my lovely friend had known this news all along. And in her own strength and dignity, she hadn't wanted to spoil the trip with this serious news.
In my eyes, Tricia embodied ever essence of what it means to be strong.
In the past when other crisis have hit, I've heard words that others close to her have used to describe her, "she's a trooper" or "amazing" or "rock star".
I officially add strong to that list.
Things moved swiftly after that.
Surgery was scheduled and the night before, we gathered at her house. A few of us girl friends along with her mom, who flew in right away after hearing the news, prayed over Tricia and her family.
The surgery came and went.
The lump was removed along with a few lymph nodes to test.
We made some meals for Tricia and her household to help take off some of the worries with something as simple as food.
It was something little we could do.
A few weeks passed and Tricia was expecting to hear about upcoming possible treatment.
She was called in and explained that she would need to start chemotherapy treatment right away.
That, in itself, was a blow.
She would lose her hair, probably be tired, and sick to some degree.
She shared this information with us all and we all kept praying. Hard.
Before her first treatment she needed to have a CT scan of her internal organs in order to have a clear understanding of what was presently going on verses how her body would look during and after her stint of chemo.
After that scan her doctors called both Tricia and Justin in to go over the scan results.
The consensus was not at all good.
The cancer had already began spreading.
It had spread to her liver and bones in her chest and back as well.
This news stunned us all.
How could this be? How could my dear friend be put through this? How could this have escalated so quickly? How could they not have seen this from the first few test? How would this affect her treatment? What on earth could I say or do to help or support her?
If my own reality was rocked by this news, I'm certain it all but crumbled Tricia's world.
I was so very grateful that her mom was staying with her and that she already had friends, family and her church family praying for her.
Tricia may not think of herself as strong, but I saw it.
I saw a young Mom who kept her family going, doing the normal Mom things and cherishing her family but not letting what she went through to upset their normal routines.
I saw a wife who is best friends with her husband and always has been a "rock star" to him.
I saw a friend who wasn't too proud to accept our offering of food, goodies, babysitting and beyond. A friend who is honest but reserved. A friend who isn't too shy to let us tell her story if only it means that more and more people would be praying for her and her family.
She needs it. Her whole family needs it.
I believe that God hears our prayers.
I know He has a plan and we cannot see the entire plan, just tiny pieces once in a while.
I know God wants us to seek Him and trust that He works for good.
Tricia began chemotherapy and after her first treatment she did well, not sick, a little tired, but no major reactions.
After her second treatment I was looking after her boys when she came home.
The second drug they gave her caused a horrible reaction to her system.
I was so glad her mom was here and with her, as she was able to alert the nurses right away.
She was pumped with Benadryl and filled us in when she got home.
After the first and second treatment Tricia's hair already started to fall out. After trying to keep it as long as possible, she finally decided to have Justin take the clippers to her head that week.
Not long after she posted a photo of her new, shaved 'do (for which she received some rightly deserved rave reviews on her totally gorgeous and striking facial features!) two of us girl friends decided to made good on our promise that if her hair came off...so would ours!
We wanted to do it for the right reasons and spoke privately to Tricia first.
She thought we were crazy, and told us we didn't have to.
We knew we weren't obliged to take this drastic step but we told her if it only succeeded in making her laugh, it would have been worth it.
As it was, we quickly whipped together a fundraising campaign for our "Double-Header for Tricia". Both Crystal and I would shave our heads with a goal of raising $1000 for Cancer research AND $1000 for Tricia directly. We were blown away by the generosity of those around us! (including a few donations from friends of friends who didn't even know Tricia and even a donation from a social media friend as far away as Scotland!!)
That Friday night we gathered at Tricia's house and plugged in the clippers.
We let Tricia take the inaugural buzz from Crystal's head first and then finished off with my own.
I wasn't scared or nervous...well not too much.
It was, after all just hair. It would grow back.
And yes, if it made our dear friend laugh for a while, then why wouldn't we do it?
We snapped a few photos and video clips (here's one, and another!) of our freshly shorn heads and laughed, played some card games and talked late into the night. (I did have one moment of weakness when I suddenly asked Tricia where she had bought the nice little warm cloth hat she was wearing that night...I was a little overwhelmed for a moment, but it passed as boy did we laugh!)
A few thoughts I've had over this year of going from shaved head to hair again....
- Who knew one's head could be so dang COLD!! Winter was not our friend with no hair!
- Scarves and hats were my best friends for a few months! I even ordered some pretty scarves online on one panicky day when I felt like my head was naked.
- Having no hair or really short hair was really quite liberating! No blow-drying, no products, no fussing. Just get up and go.
- Watching our close friend have to wait longer until her hair started to grow back was difficult. I still hope she doesn't resent us for our crazy head-shave. I know that looking at us may have reminded her of what was going on, but in our hearts, we didn't want her to feel like the only one with a visible difference. We were proud to have no hair, if it meant that she didn't feel so singled out and so different.
- It's been awesome to see Tricia embrace her new CURLY hair and rock an awesome purple mohawk as it grows back in!!! Not many women could pull off such a bold look, but our Tricia certainly can!
That night was almost one year ago and since then Tricia has continued to be a solid rock.
She's undergone many treatments, a few adverse reactions, annoying rashes, painful picc lines, surgeries, good days, bad days, numerous scans and appointments.
A groups of us continue to bring her family meals once a week. Just one less thing she needs to worry about and one little thing we can still do to show her we love her and support her. (If you'd like to be added to the list, email me and let me know!)
She recently had some scans and comparatively, all the small spots on her liver were gone and the larger spots were noticeably much smaller, too! The spots on the bones in her chest had also shrunk!
She moved from having chemo twice every three weeks down to once every three weeks, and as I understand it, it's the type of chemo that "maintains". She will continue to alternate having ultra sounds and CT scans to keep seeing the progression of her shrinking spots or to see no spots at all.
And just a few weeks ago her oncologist said things are looking "really good"!
Please continue to pray for Tricia.
Pray that she stays well and continues to feel strength and love from us all and from God. We believe that God can use doctors and medicine as well as His healing touch to keep her healthy and well!
Pray for her husband, Justin, that he has peace and strength and that they always have what they need to keep their family happy and healthy.
Pray for their two young sons, that they may always know love and happiness and compassion for others.
I pray for anyone reading this blog. If you or someone you know has cancer or another illness, I pray that God would work in your lives to restore health and peace and strength.
Thank you for reading, and as always, I value your comments and will always respond back.
Take care of yourselves, be kind and courageous!!
PS - FYI - I did speak to Tricia before posting this. :)