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.