A good friend of mine has cancer. She recently asked me to take her to the hairdresser to have her hair shaved off, or what remained of it. After weeks of chemo treatment, and as the poison is hard at work in the fight, she seems to take the many side effects in stride. The pragmatist that she is – both down to earth and far from vain – the hair loss thing is the least of her troubles. “I cover my head now mostly for other people’s sake,” she said with a smiling but tired face the first time I saw her wearing a colorful knit hat, made by a friend, enveloping her balding head. She was sprawled on the couch under a cozy blanket, pellet stove going, with yet another friend visiting. She doesn’t have to say it. We all know she has bad days, followed by awful days, and then a few decent days; maybe even a good afternoon here and there.
The day of the scheduled “shearing” I know she rallies to find the energy, since she told me the night had been restless and spent partially on the loo – her body telling her the new anti-nausea drug did not go over as well as hoped. Comfortably installed in the barber’s chair, the clippers turned on to make that familiar buzzing sound (I have three boys, I know this sound but with such other associations), the hairdresser is herself a cancer survivor and handles the situation with such grace I feel I am observing an angel at work. Her hands running swiftly and gently over my friend’s head, she speaks candidly and quietly about her own ordeal from hair diva to hairless warrior. Just quietly enough for it to be a private conversation, but loud enough to include me, as I sit in a chair on the side watching the remaining thin locks gently fall from my brave friend’s now well defined round fuzzy head and down to the floor. They agree it feels better like this. Bald. Honest.
It just so happens that there is a wig store next door, five feet away. “Will you get a wig?” the hairdresser asks after telling the newly hairless warrior her new ‘do is on the house. “I wasn’t planning on it,” my friend replies, looking at her, then me, seeming perfectly open to any and all suggestions. “Your insurances covers a chunk, so why not see if you find one you like?” the pro offers, adding that she herself found it had come in handy on what might have been called “bad hair days” other times, but now were just days when it would be ok with some hair. Sure enough, after a brief visit next door and some fun modeling of every style from “your husband might like this long blonde one”(coming from me), to “absolutely not,” and “no, no, no, this one makes me look like so and so”(coming from her), the perfect fit finally found its new owner and we stepped out into the warm spring afternoon, mission completed. She even got some colorful bandana head wraps for balmy summer days, thanks to the owner of the wig-salon’s deft insurance knowledge and helpfulness; another lovely spirit so obviously sensitive to the her clientele’s situation.
Thinking all this shearing sharing and wig-sampling might have exhausted the now hairy warrior, I ask if she feels like some lunch or if she is totally pooped after our successful hit on hairdo-row. “They fill me up on drugs to counter the horrible feelings caused by the chemo, but some times even these ‘good’ drugs make me feel terrible,” she offers with a sigh. “But today, I think some soup would be good. I feel like Thai.” I pull away from the curb and gladly head toward my favorite Thai place a few blocks down, and we start to compare notes on different Thai restaurants in town, getting our shared foodie palates into an excitable mode. Smacking our lips, we decide to hold off with the pedicures until next week.
One day at a time, of counting the blessings of such simple things as being able to enjoy a hot bowl of soup, of perhaps sleeping comfortably through the night, and feeling the longed for warmth of the spring sun while sharing a laugh or two with a good friend. Of course, I too count those blessings with my friend, being privileged to have shared such a meaningful afternoon, otherwise just a regular spring day.