Being bald

The winds of autumn just won't stop, washing my bald head with clean air from a thousand miles away. Covered in a layer of moist from my walk back to the hospital, I am freezing cold and my thoughts frozen with me. 

I prepared for this newly bald head for months, my hair slowly falling like the autumn leaves and doctors furrowing brows to understand why.

I didn't know it would spin me 360 degrees to shave my head. Live with cancer long enough, and you grow immune to it, the constant thoughts of mortality, the wonder about what will happen if. You pray your body is growing immune along with your mind, that you just might fight it off with those magic natural killer cells your bones make. That the radiation is over and you'll finally be out from underneath the cloud always leaden with rain about to fall.

I run thankfully through the early morning mist cool and concentrated, to Monday's central nursing orientation at my new job, looking for a reprieve from these renewed thoughts racing always toward cancer, future and past, life and death. The last half of the day we are lectured by chaplains, social workers, and nurses who work with palliative care and hospice. My mind races deeper into itself with each word they speak. That isn't me, is it? One nurse in particular keeps giving me pointed stares as she talks about the hospital services for people with life-threatening or long-term chronic illness, stressing that this is available to employees as well. I duck deeper into my hat and scarf, and grit teeth against the bile while I struggle to think up something to transport me out of this suddenly claustrophobic room.

Think there's a stigma against smokers? Try being one with a bald head. Every grandma and mom in the neighborhood will take it upon herself to stop you and tell you that's why you have cancer. My mind screams a futile protest. I've only been smoking since May and I've had cancer since 2008. But why try to argue with the unwanted adviser who shakes her finger at you out a passing car window? So much for relaxation. I run back to orientation, sweat clammy on my neck, wind blowing down my overcoat.

Shaving your head is like undressing in front of every stranger you meet throughout your day. Everyone can guess your story, and you get every reaction in the book, while you wish you got none: sympathy, the averted glances, the advice, the looks askance.

I didn't know a naked head was equivalent to a naked and vulnerable story. 

And after the storm, I run and run as the rains come 
And I look up, I look up, 
on my knees and out of luck, I look up. 

Night has always pushed up day 
You must know life to see decay 
But I won't rot, I won't rot 
Not this mind and not this heart, I won't rot. 

And there will come a time, you'll see, with no more tears. 
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears. 
Get over your hill and see what you find there, 
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair. 

And now I cling to what I knew
I saw exactly what was true 
But oh no more. 
That's why I hold, That's why I hold with all I have. 
That's why I hold. 

I will die alone and be left there. 
Well I guess I'll just go home, 
Oh God knows where. 
Because death is just so full and mine so small. 
Well I'm scared of what's behind and what's before. 
~After the Storm, Mumford and Sons~