Monday, June 15, 2009

Aria and Hair Loss

Hair Loss and baldness is like a name-tag that shouts, “I HAVE CANCER!” It is a visual reminder of just how sick people are when they endure this kind of treatment. It is also yet another thing one must let go and I think for many, this is very challenging. I didn’t know it at the time, but hair loss was going to be the least of my concerns. People were trying to prepare me for it but it always seemed rather dismissive and flippant. At the time, it was almost the only thing I completely understood and it was so hard to accept. Imagining Aria bald meant that I had to accept her cancer and I did but only on a superficial level. Hair loss meant that I would have to go deeper and I hated that. Hair loss meant that the world would know about Aria and that she had cancer. It meant that I would have to face their fears and learn how to reassure them as well as I was reassuring myself. It was a scary and daunting new phase that I had to face and embrace fully. I was about to become Aria’s number 1 advocate, an educator about leukemia from a mother’s perspective and a support resource for those who fear this as their own fate. I knew that the more accepting I was, the more accepting everyone else would be as well. Aria was my focus and making sure she was ok about the process she was about to endure was all I could think about.

This email liberated me from the illusion that hair loss was a bad thing. It simply is part of this process and is neither good nor bad. It is another simple example of ‘what is.’

Subject: Aria and hair loss
Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2008

As you all know Aria losing her hair has been an unfortunately difficult reality to reconcile. I have fully accepted it and I have finally found some peace. I realized just yesterday, Sunday February 17, 2008 that the thing that was missing in terms of the process of her hair falling out was ‘beauty.’ All the descriptions I had heard seemed a little harsh, despite their truth. I kept imagining vast wastelands with “clumps” of grass or “tufts” of weeds or “itchy” prickly plants and so forth. There was nothing beautiful in what I saw or in how the process was described and I was conflicted by that because Aria is so beautiful and the process we’ve been experiencing hasn’t been harsh at all. Nothing seemed to fit, until yesterday.

I’ve noticed that I can see much more of Aria’s scalp now and the texture of her hair is different. It is coarse and dry. Her hair is not patchy but there is a definite thinning going on. I have not noticed large amounts of hair on her pillowcases or on the places where she sits. I have noticed some hair on her pajamas and on her car seat but that’s it. I haven’t seen any hair flying around as we carry her or as she takes a few steps. I have noticed some hair in the comb but it is not dramatic. In fact, it seems like the downy softer hair that lies closer to the scalp is what is coming out first. I wonder if that’s the thinning process where finer hair near the scalp falls out first and then the more developed hair, falls out later. Overall, it has been an incredibly gentle process.

I was driving to Luna’s yesterday to get some more bread and I was thinking about an image. I needed an image, a metaphor, to describe what it has felt like because the wasteland imagery just was not working for me. I was driving down a road that is heavily wooded when it hit me.

Think for a moment about a live Christmas tree. Think about all the needles on the Christmas tree and imagine that tree at the end of the holiday when you are taking off the ornaments. So often, as the ornaments are removed you may notice some needles falling but it isn’t until you look at the floor that you realize just how many needles have come down. Occasionally a few needles land on your sleeves or your hands but it is always silent and gentle. It is also a glaring reminder that the tree has died and its loss of needles is simply part of that process. After all the ornaments and lights have been removed it is interesting to take a few steps back and look closely at the tree. I have always found that the tree itself is still very much intact but I can see the trunk a little more distinctly. I can also see the smaller twig-like knobby branches that are on the larger branches closer to the trunk more clearly. But the tree and its beauty and magic are still very much there.
This is Aria. Right now, she is my Christmas tree. She is full of magic, gifts, beauty, splendor, twinkle and joy. Her hair and the cells that create and hold her hair are, however, slowly dying. She remains, however, just as she’s always been; solid, grounded, continually growing and majestic. To imagine Aria, my Christmas tree, in a forest of her peers is the beauty I so desperately sought after spending so much time alone in a wasteland.

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