Breast Cancer Diaries: A Shaved Head and Other Fun

This is the fifth in a series of journal entries from contributing editor Adrienne Lawler, chronicling her breast cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy. October is breast cancer awareness month in the U.S.

14th July

Hard to believe it’s been so long since I last wrote in this diary but as it’s just another reminder of cancer and so, it keeps slipping down the list of jobs to do. But on the basis that one day I might look back and laugh at all this, I am going to persist.

It amazes me how little you really notice until something directly affects you even though subliminally, it all sinks in. I can trace the realisation of this back to being diagnosed with MS although I didn’t consciously register the MS advertising campaign when it was running. Once I was diagnosed with it, I remember being terrified by the information stored in the back of my memory of silhouetted people having their spines ripped out (mobility) or their eyes carelessly removed by the Optic Neuralgia, which is one of its ‘gifts’ or their speech and cognitive abilities slashed randomly and mercilessly. Gifts like that we could all do without!

Right now all I can see in my overcrowded head is all the adverts about how dramatically and randomly cancer strikes, from mouths that are grieving for their health, stunned by their luck and totally confused by what the future holds. I realise I am one of them now even though it’s not a club I ever wanted to join. But nobody asked me, just gave me a free membership that can never be cancelled.

So where are we now on this roller coaster? Well, I have had the second treatment without the erratic toilet after-effects (too much information?) I have shaved my head due to chemo hair loss and found a fabulous wig that draws admiring glances from everyone who sees it and thinks I’ve just had a change of style/mammoth hair extensions/return to an older look before a demon hairdresser swathed it all off. Perfick! Innate self-preservation means I somehow manage to brush my teeth, do my make-up and generally look myself in the mirror without actually seeing my bald head from chemo hair loss looking back at me. I know it’s there but I just don’t stare at it. Onwards and upwards.

But who did the snip? That was going to be tricky as I have friends with a salon who offered to do it after closing time, but I was afraid it would be too emotional and asked my lovely son to do it for me instead in the privacy of our bathroom. Because we didn’t have clippers, this wonderful young man had to shear my head with scissors, slowly and carefully. It is to his credit that we laughed a lot while it was going on, and it was him who swept up all the hair from the floor before disposing of it far away from home.

Having given up on Jacklyn Smith’s lovely locks wigs, sorting out a wig after the chemo hair loss then became a priority, so off we went to the nearby town of Banbury to choose my new hair and make some key decisions: real hair or acrylic. Who even has an opinion on these, let alone knowledge of them before you really need to know? I would have thought real would be best, but there are some surprising differences: acrylics retain their shape after washing without styling whereas real hair is….like real hair! And we’ve all had bad hair days. The woman fitting the wig was brilliant, efficient, compassionate and business like. Exactly what I needed.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve picked a style that looks like one I had for years before I had a mad moment about 8 years ago and had it all cut off. Never again! It attracted lots of comment and compliments so I feel full of confidence again. Watch out world!

The incident that so upset me was with my lovely son and has long since been resolved. It was, as any normal person would have realised, a delayed reaction to the shocking news that his mother not only has MS but now cancer too, and the enormous support I’m getting from both my children humbles and encourages me on a daily basis. Once again, I can’t help thinking about the people at clinic who arrive, endure and leave on their own. I wish I could help them more, so I just try to smile with them and share a joke.

Adrienne Before
Adrienne After

20th July 2017

Sleep is not my friend at the moment. In all honesty, we’re not usually on great terms anyway but right now, it’s even more elusive than usual. However, last night I went out for a fabulous meal with a friend I haven’t properly seen or talked to since Donald came to town and it was brilliant. Not only fabulous food at Wild Thyme but conversation that had us laughing out loud and wiping tears from our eyes, even when it was about cancer.

My friend likes to stroke a woman’s hair. Not in any kind of sexual way (well he might but I most definitely don’t know him that well) so it seemed only fair to make sure he knew I was actually wearing a wig so that he didn’t give himself a heart attack by finding himself unexpectedly holding a full scalp in his hands!  The image this conjured up had us in hysterics. Small things eh?

As the PICC line and bandage on my arm are very much on display in the hot weather, I’ve decided it’s generally easier to tell people I’ve had a tattoo removed and watch the range of expressions cross their faces as they calibrate the person they thought they knew against the one now in front of them. The challenge is deciding what to claim it was or represented. I’ve decided a big bulging sailor with massive…..muscles who I lost at sea.

West Oxfordshire Country Council have rejected my pleas for a cessation of Council Tax on the basis that I should have enough money to pay them, even though work is somewhat hampered by the never ending list of appointments with consultants, oncologists and my old favourite, the ECG people. They are being so dogmatic because they say I have more than enough equity in the house to pay for it. Excellent I reply, how exactly shall I get hold of that? Can’t increase the mortgage because I’m not earning and err, suffering with Cancer. Can’t sell the house to release the equity because unlike Scotland, our system allows halfwits to behave like halfwits when purchasing a house so that a sale never happens and they can walk off into the sunset and do the same thing to someone else. Silence comes the stern reply.

The unemployment and other benefit (whatever that is) covers the monthly maintenance bills here at Bliss Mill. Not the food you understand or mortgage or other utilities, just the statutory basics. I’m not sure what counts as basics if it excludes the above but thank heavens for the generosity of strangers I say.


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