Saturday, July 25, 2009

It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye...or their hair.

They say time takes its toll on a body,
makes a young girl's brown hair turn gray.
But honey, I don't care
I ain't in love with your hair
And if it all fell out
Well, I'd love you anyway.
Randy Travis (Forever and Ever)

OK, the "Hair Retrospective" was funny while it lasted. But not funny enough to get through this.

There was no way to help prepare Karen for losing her hair to chemotherapy. Seriously, what does a man understand about the relationship between a woman and her hair? Despite the many hair transformations she's cried over throughout the years, this would be different. Or so I thought.

Signaled a few days in advance by a head-tingling sensation, she started shedding her hair last weekend. It was just as predicted: 10 days into her treatment. First, it was more than the usual strands of hair around the bathroom sink. But by yesterday, a day after her second chemo treatment, strands of hair became fistfuls of hair. And this morning, it just got worse. Karen was literally pulling her hair out. A small wastebasket quickly filled with hair. It was gut-wrenching to witness.

It takes a brave woman to surrender her hair to a set of clippers. Resigned to the reality that the shedding would only get worse, Karen agreed to let me cut her hair short and use the clippers to shave off the rest. Let's just say that I probably don't have any hope for a career in hairstyling (not that I planned one), but using tender care, I clipped her hair down to a 1/4 inch buzzcut. She sat there with quiet and calm acceptance as I pushed the clippers over her head creating a wide swath of brown hair that tumbled to a pile at my feet. The chemo will give up even the little bit of hair that's left and it too will find its way to the wastebasket in the days ahead.

The anticipation and dread of this moment has gnawed at Karen -- and me -- for days, perhaps weeks. But today, I was moved by how Karen handled it with such inspiring courage, calmness and grace. There were a few tears at first, but she ended it with her great big smile -- truly, a smile against which no hairstyle can compete. Karen is beautiful, not because of her hair, but simply because she is beautiful. I continue to be in awe of how Karen has fought this fight, and today was no exception.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Eleven Days

Today marks Karen's 11th day of her 133 day chemotherapy regimen. There's nothing magical about 11 days. But when you're fighting cancer, you find reason to celebrate just about anything. And right now, I suppose we could celebrate that Karen is 8% of the way through her chemotherapy. Eleven days closer to the end of chemo. I'm a glass-is-half-empty kind of guy, so the fact that I can see the positive in 11 days when 122 more lie ahead is quite impressive.

The first 11 days have been relatively good ones for Karen. She's had some side effects and a few more reveal themselves every day. And so far she's been able to continue to work a full schedule. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a "kinder, gentler" chemo protocol. It will get harder. She hasn't lost any hair yet, but we've just entered the "10-14 day" period when hair loss is most likely to occur. Maybe the laughs she got from the "Hair Retrospective" will carry her through those difficult several days. Or not.

Eleven days down and 122 more to go. With cancer, you take every good day you can get and enjoy it. And for now, that's exactly what we'll do.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Karen's Hair: A Retrospective

Let me be clear: Karen hates her hair. Or at least that's what it seems when she curses it most mornings in front of the mirror. (Let's also be clear: she doesn't hate it enough to lose it all...and she hasn't lost it yet).

Wielding a blow dryer in one hand and juggling four different brushes in the other, she twirls it, twists it and bends it into shape. No fewer than five styling products stand at the ready for spritzing, pouffing, glossing, shining, straightening and spraying.

The 30 minute ritual is repeated every morning and it's a good idea to steer clear of her during this time -- especially when she's got a hot curling iron in her hand.

For Karen, the road to perfect hair is littered with stylists who have cut her bangs too short, left color on too long (resulting in an interesting magenta hue), didn't cut enough or, God help them, cut too much. From high-end salons in Washington, DC to a "stylist's" salon in his converted kitchen, Karen has gone from the pixie to the page boy and many bobs (hair, not men) in between.

Chae, Ito, Daniel, Roe, Joseph, Ginger, David, Harold, Martine and Joe (to name a few): All but one has been handed their scissors and sent packing like a beauty school drop-out.

One of chemo's most cruel punishments is the loss of hair. For women, it is a devastating blow, feared more than almost any side effect inflicted by the cancer treatment. Karen will be no exception. But so far -- her hair still firmly rooted as she waits for the chemo to ravage her normal healthy cells -- she has managed to keep on her game face. And thankfully, she still has a sense of humor. That's why Karen allowed me to "produce" this "Hair Retrospective" of her many, many hairstyles over the years. As she nears the day that she will bid farewell to her tresses for a while, you are invited to join us in paying tribute to her hairstory.

To view still images only, go to:

To view the video on YouTube, go to:

Thursday, July 9, 2009


What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Karen's first chemo treatment was, well, uneventful. It's been hard to know what to expect, despite the doctors' and nurses' careful review of everything that would happen today. We spent most of our time in pre-treatment consultations with the nurses and waiting for an available treatment room. But the "infusions" finally got underway around 3 pm today and were expected to take about 2.5 hrs.

Adriamycin, a Hawaiian Punch colored drug kicked things off, followed by a drug with a name that screams toxic (Cytoxan). With all you hear about the power of these drugs, you half expect the patient to turn green, double-over from nausea and start losing their hair as soon as the drug reaches the blood stream. But that's not the case, of course. Karen's been loaded up with anti-nausea drugs to combat the nausea and we're hopeful that they work their magic (at least until we make the 2 hr. trip back to Harrisburg). In fact, Karen might have several "good" days until her blood counts hit rock bottom and things get more difficult. Or the side effects could come on more quickly. We'll know soon enough how she reacts.

With the clinical trial Karen is participating in, there's no way to know for sure whether she is getting the clinical trial drug, Avastin, but there's certainly enough toxcicity in the other two chemo drugs to do more than enough damage to her cells -- unfortunately the good cells and the bad ones.

Big Strong Girl

Here we on! Today is Karen's first chemo treatment.

It's three months and one day from the day Karen first discovered a lump in her breast. I'd like to say that the past three months have gone quickly, but when you're waiting in anticipation of a big event -- like the start of chemotherapy -- time seems to move at a slower pace. Three months on this journey and "we've only just begun to fight." Now, more than ever, Karen will need to muster the strength, determination and courage to beat the cancer and endure the onslaught of 20 weeks of toxic chemotherapy. And you know what? Karen is up for the fight.

Just look at her photo above taken this morning before we left for her first treatment. That's a look that says "don't mess with me" (Trust me, I've seen that look before and she means business).

Karen is strong. A bit tired going into this next phase -- but strong and ready to get on with the treatment, kick cancer's ass and get back to normal.

A friend recently sent Karen a set of CDs she created with music she selected to bring her comfort and inspiration. One, called Big Strong Girl, seemed particularly appropriate:
It's not now or never
It's not black & it's not white
anything worth anything
takes more than a few days
and a long, long night

don't push so hard against the world
you can't do it all alone
and if you could, would you really want to?
even though you're a big strong girl,
come on, come on, lay it down
the best made plans are your open hands

rest your head
you've got two pillows to choose from
and a queen size bed
hold out for the the moon
don't expect connection anytime soon
feel the light caress your fingertips
you have just begun
the word has only left your lips
maybe in time, you will find
your arms are wrapped around the sun