Christine is an Orthodox Christian, a wife, a mother of three little children, a daughter, a friend, and a sworn enemy of cancer. In February 2013, she was diagnosed with Stage 2 triple negative breast cancer. Within a few days, she began an online journal for her friends and family, to share news, stay connected, and process what was happening to even the smallest details of her life. We are bringing this journal to The Sounding so that we can all walk along with Christine, and so that each of you has a chance to meet the special, brave, funny woman who is taking this journey. We all have something in common with her.
Written May 2, 2013
As you know, I had mixed feelings about getting a wig. I feel most comfortable bald, but my children were saddened by my bald head. As soon as I realized that, I made an appointment to visit a wig shop near my house. Strike that, before I called the wig shop, I called my friend Christine and asked her to come with me. Christine is kind, smart and fun. She’s also an actress, which means she likely has had professional experience with wigs. I felt this would make her imminently qualified to be my wig buying buddy. I was totally right.
I asked questions. Christine asked questions (ones I never would have thought of). We laughed. She took pictures. I cried. She put the camera down. She made me try on a crazy long funny wig, and we laughed some more. The shop keeper wasn’t too keen on that part, but I really appreciated Christine reminding me to have fun with the process.
Ultimately we settled on a great wig. The cut is pretty much like my natural hair. It’s a lot more highlighted than I normally wear my hair though, and the effect is a much more “done” hairdo than I am accustomed to. I could have waited two weeks for the shop to order me the same style wig in a plain brown color, but I felt my kids needed to see me in a wig right away, so I went for the highlights. The picture with this post is the wig we chose.
The big test, of course, was how my kids would react. And the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. My baby saw it first, and she laughed out loud and spent some time patting my head. Then Maryanne and Brad got home from school. I was sitting on the couch anticipating their arrival. I saw the most amazing thing happen when they walked in and spotted the wig. I watched their shoulders relax, dropping down maybe an inch for both of them. I knew immediately that I had made the right call. They smiled and ran to me, and Brad said, “Mama! You look like yourself again!”
I wore it the rest of the day. The next morning, Brad came to my room to wake me up and get me downstairs. As I was stumbling toward the door, wrapping my big fluffy robe around me, he stopped me and said, “Mama! Don’t forget your wig!” So there I was first thing in the morning, neck down all frumpy homemaker, and neck up hyper stylized real estate agent photo. It was an amazing sight.
The kids and I worked out a deal. I’d wear the wig at home whenever they want, and I would always wear the wig when in public with them–school, church, gymnastics, ballet. When not wearing the wig, Maryanne much prefers my bald head covered up with a scarf. Something I can do to make my kids burden a little lighter? Easy peasy.
So my kids were doing great with the wig, but how would the public react? I felt so conspicuous, because truly, it’s much more styled than I have ever normally worn my hair. I self consciously entered my world with wig. First stop, church.
Everyone was so kind, of course! Everyone stopped to tell me how great I looked, and it was wonderful to be so supported in this small effort. And I had to admit, it was kind of nice to look “normal” and not like the obviously cancer-stricken young mother for a few hours. And frankly, I did look pretty good. The funny thing about the wig is it kind of demands I step it up in other areas too. I can’t dress sloppy and rock the wig. It looks like the yoga pants version of the robe incident described above, but in public. So, the wig gets me to dress nicer, and then I think a little makeup wouldn’t hurt, and before you know it, I’m accessorizing with jewelry! It’s nuts I tell you!
The best thing that happened at church was I was visited by a a parishioner in her 80’s who is a longtime survivor of breast cancer. She told me a lot of amazing things, how she had to fight this disease off in the late 1970’s, how she fought it off as a mother, how I could be a survivor too. I mentioned how funny I felt about the wig, and She said “Yes, but it’s important to keep up appearances.”
Oh, how the teenager in me kicked and screamed against that line of thinking! And in fact I still do. I’ve always valued being true to myself in life, trying not to be swayed by the opinions or actions of others. And “keeping up appearances” seemed so fake. That thinking likely played into my comfort with my bald head and my desire to not hide it. Because the truth is I’m bald and covering up seemed like…a cover up. But I have never considered the idea that keeping up appearances can also be a gift, in this case a gift to my children and those that are around me and are worried for me and love me. Until that conversation at church. I will be forever grateful for it. And for now, I am “keeping up appearances.”
That would have been such a nice ending for this post, but I have a funny story. Overwhelmingly, every single person who knows me in Seattle has been positive and kind and supportive and complimentary of the wig, and I want to thank all of you, again for helping me feel good about it. The thing I was not prepared for at all were comments from strangers about the wig. And the response from strangers has been crazy nice as well. I was an absolute disaster with the first one though.
I was at ballet, and a mom, who has been sitting through ballet with me all year but I’ve never spoken to her, saw my new look and immediately exclaimed, “Your hair looks fantastic! Did you just have it done?” And I, like a certifiably crazy person responded with, “Oh my God, no! I have cancer, this is a wig!” and an awkward silence settled over the studio lobby… cue the crickets. We stammered through a few more awful minutes of small talk, and I later went back to her with a full-on apology for my graceless behavior.
Later that night, I told Aaron the story, and he gently asked me how I would handle it if something like this happened again. I started stammering and hyperventilating again in front of him, “Wm…I don’t know, uh…” and he smiled and said, how about saying “thank you”? Oh, right, manners.
This past Monday, I got my chance. One of the coaches at Brad’s gymnastics place came running over to me during class. “I’ve just got to tell you your hair looks amazing! I love it! Did you just have it done?” This time, I was ready. I looked her in the eye, smiled, and said, “Thank you. Thank you very much.”