Thursday, May 21, 2015

A day in the life of a bald girl

I was running low on hummus and flat out of avocados here at Casa de Cancer Girl, so I made a Walmart run this afternoon. Don't worry about how I used no less than seven of those antibacterial wipes they provide to decontaminate the shopping cart before I went into the store. (Mostly because chemo has brought out the OCD in me in a way that was heretofore unimaginable, but also because when I tried to pull just one wipe, seven came out in a string.)

I made my way through the aisles:

Ensure (because it qualifies as a legitimate snack/meal in my current world, and the dark chocolate kind is NOT disgusting). Check.

More fake eyelashes (because now that my real lashes are gone, I am all over gluing fake ones on - every day). Check.

Toilet paper and Kleenex with lotion (because one can NEVER have too much of either of these things). Check.

White wheat flour, in case I ever want to make baked goods again. Check.

And then I moseyed on over to the produce aisle, where I swear I bought three of everything. (Except lettuce. Because, I swear to you, if I ever eat salad again, it will be too soon.)

As I was standing over the avocados, I had a clear view of the people walking into the store. So, I watched them. It has been interesting to me to gauge the reactions of people when I'm out in public without anything covering my head. Children generally stare and then smile or start giggling. (I love how honest kids' reactions are to the baldness!) Adults' reactions can usually be split into three different camps: the look away and then look back and then stare off into the distance (rinse and repeat... ad nauseum), the quick glance and then hard stare at anything that's not affixed to the top of my shoulders, and those who look straight into my eyes and smile. (I like the smilers the best, in case you were wondering.)

Watching the incoming traffic for a few moments, I clocked a few looky-loos, a handful of hardcore avoiders, and couple smilers. Grinning from ear to ear (human behavior fascinates me, and one of my favorite things about being bald has been the social experiment of seeing how people react to it), I went back to picking avocados out of the bin. As my head went down, I saw one of the smilers walk past me and into produce section to the right of me. He made it about 15 feet past me, and then, out of the corner of my eye I saw him stop walking. He stopped, turned, and came back towards me, asking, "Ma'am, can I give you a hug?"

Of course I said yes, but I'll be honest and say that I went into that hug wondering if and/or why he'd felt impressed to approach me, a perfect stranger with one hell of a space bubble, and ask for a hug in the middle of the produce section. But as soon as he touched me, I knew it wasn't about me. His arms went around me, and his face went into my neck. Both his shoulders and his voice shook as he held me close and told me about his mom.

Lung cancer. Stage four. She's been gone almost a year, and he misses her every day.

We stood like that for maybe five minutes while he talked about his mom. Then the grown man who had let himself fall apart in public put himself back together again and pulled away. He thanked me, wished me well and told me to keep fighting. I thanked him back, told him I was so sorry for his loss, and assured him that I have every intention of keeping up my end of this fight. And then he walked away.

I don't know his name. He didn't ask mine. Names didn't matter. Heartache and a shared experience of having cancer rip our lives apart bound us together in a way that introductions and small talk never could have.

As much as I miss my hair, I am grateful for the time that I have had without it. I have both seen and been seen differently as a bald girl. Today, I am grateful that I was in the right place, at the right time, with an obvious tell to the battle I am fighting. I never would have imagined that my bald head would be the impetus for making such an unusual, yet strong, connection with someone I had never met, and am unlikely to ever see again.

Cancer sucks, but people don't. And I love that both the universe and the people of the world keep reminding me that people are awesome, and that we have - and share - experiences in mortality for a reason.


Sabrina Gardner said...

Wow. This made me cry. People come into our lives at certain time for a reason. While I certainly wish you didn't have to deal with cancer, like Mark said once to me, there were so many little miracles they saw because of it. Anyway, love you! Fight on.

Becca said...

This made me tear up. What a beautiful moment. And I am beyond impressed that my hug averse cousin allowed the stranger man to hug her ;)

Annette Robinson said...

Laurie, Your cousins comment made me laugh right out loud. I too am touched by this experience. I also shed a few tears, that however is not hard for me to do. One of my gifts. :) Crazy how understsanding and experience can bind people together. I believe that is why if we let him, (much like you allowed this complete stranger hug you) the Savior can be bound to each of us, through pure empathy. He knows and understands our complete experience perfectly. He loves us and desires to comfort and bless us. We are never alone. I am sure you were this man's tender mercy on this particular day. Thank you for sharing. Love you.

Genevra said...

What a beautiful story. That made me tear up.

Jenni said...


shana said...

I am sobbing right now. Must be the combination of Memorial Day, reading your scan results post and now reading this incredibly touching story. Wow. I love when people can reach out to others and give part of themselves. I love you sweet Laurie. You are always in my thoughts and prayers!!!