The Gift

Discovering the gifts of breast cancer

Keep your hair on!

Shopping in the local Supermarket

Shopping in our local supermarket January 2022

8 Responses

  1. Well said Marie. Very inspiring.
    your comment about feeling secure in being vulnerable brought back some memories and reminded me of the Ted talk that I listened to around those times
    ‘RSA Shorts: Dr Brene Brown, The Power of Vulnerability’

  2. Thanks for being so vulnerable, Marie. Loved the description of the 5 yr-old enjoying life & seemingly oblivious to adult scenarios!

    Love Psalm 139….back to basics! I, too, find ‘The Passion Translation’ has ABBA Father, Yeshua & Holy Spirit’s passion expressed in a refreshing way from the original Aramaic / Hebrew.

    1. Yes Barbara, I love the Passion translation too. Maybe it’s just where my head & heart are at right now, but the beautiful descriptions really resonate with me. It brings God’s word alive. And as I am especially seeking to discover God’s gifts in this situation, I see them so clearly as I read these timeless passages.

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“Hey lady”. Mr 5-year-old sped toward me from across the culdesac on his tiny scooter, red and yellow flames on the footboard no doubt making him feel very sporty and brave; “You want to see how high I can jump?” He was totally immersed in his own prowess. “Yes of course … show me how high you can jump”. I whooped and clapped as he barely left the ground but with the hugest smile of accomplishment, repeating the feat each time I affirmed him.

I was expecting him to notice that I didn’t have any hair on. Perhaps he was going to say, “Hey lady, how come you’re bald?” It could be confusing for this wee guy to see me get into my car with a bald head, rush back into the house and re-emerge minutes later with my nicely styled short grey hair. But Mr 5 year old didn’t seem to even notice that I was bald. He didn’t show any surprise or make a comment about it. His own little world and receiving my adulation was far more important to him in that moment than my feeling of vulnerability about being bald.

It’s far too hot to wear a wig or a scarf inside the house on these hot summer days. Initially I was too embarrassed to expose my bare head in public and would don my wig or head scarf before going out. But I have discovered that it feels liberating to shop at our local supermarket and pharmacy with a bald head. I may feel a little bit self-conscious but other people generally seem oblivious to my presence. It seems acceptable in our very casual society to shop in your pyjamas, slippers, gumboots … body peppered with tattoo’s and piercings, pretty much however your turn up. So it’s OK. A 65 year old woman with a bald head fits in just fine. When I meet people who recognize me but are not used to seeing me bald, I just carry on as though nothing has changed. It is very freeing and a great conversation starter!

Confident in my wig - Marie Henderson 

Confident in my wig
Interestingly though, I made sure that I was smartly-dressed and well-prepared when we discussed enduring power of attorney and wills with our lawyer last week. It’s silly isn’t it. Why would I think I need to be well-dressed and wearing my wig to meet with a lawyer but not a with a pharmacist, nurse or check-out operator, a petrol station attendant or a book-seller? I’ve been thinking about it recently. Does a woman need to have hair to appear credible or socially acceptable? Did wearing my wig somehow make me feel more feminine, empowered or legitimate in that situation with our lawyer? Why does it matter how you represent yourself to others?

Having a bald head and a slightly lopsided chest strips away a layer of protection and make me feel more self-conscious and vulnerable. But these things don’t seem to matter to most people. If anything my baldness breaks down barriers to conversation as a bald head is often associated with illness, cancer and chemotherapy. Most people are just grateful that they are not the ones dealing with it. I feel the love and acceptance of others. Paradoxically, in my vulnerability I feel more secure. I find myself being more open and authentic and I’m enjoying this transition.

Click on “The Gift” below to read about the gift that Marie has discovered through this process…

There is something about our hair that contributes to our wellbeing. When our hair looks great we feel confident and comfortable. When our hair is a mess we “have a bad hair day”. Probably about 50% of my time getting showered in the morning used to revolve around washing, shampooing, drying, combing, generally getting my hair sorted. The crazy thing is, I still reach for the shampoo and conditioner and comb now, only to remember that I haven’t got any hair. I don’t need those things. I get out of the shower or walk around the corner into the bathroom and get a fright when I look into the mirror … there is a cancer patient looking back at me; pale and bald… eyebrows falling off. I am not sure why I am still getting such a shock every time, but I am. Chemotherapy wreaks havoc with every system of your body, none more obvious than when I look at this reflection.

The inbetween look 

The inbetween look
I seem to have 4 “looks” these days. (1) Bald is easiest & coolest in this summer heat. (2) The scarf wrap …. I feel a bit like Hilda Ogden of Coronation Street fame, or Sadie the cleaning lady. I really need to learn how to manage this better. (3) My big straw hat hides and shades my unprotected scalp when outside in the sun. It also fits in with what everyone else is wearing which feels almost “normal”. I feel very relaxed and confident wearing it. (4) Most people say that my short grey wig looks very natural and I’m happy with that, but it is hot and I reserve it for occasions like going to the lawyer. In the winter it will keep my head warm … so I’ll get value from my $404:88 Ministry of Health subsidy a bit later on I hope . I visit my Oncologist bald … I guess that means I that I feel very comfortable and free to be just as I am when I am with her.
A big floppy hat is brilliant to cover my baldness January 2022 A big floppy hat is brilliant to cover my baldness January 2022

I listened to a very interesting podcast tonight. A young woman 3 years after surviving mastectomy, breast reconstruction and brutal chemotherapy shared that her one overarching lesson from her cancer journey is that allowing yourself to be vulnerable is crucial to healing. This resonates with my own paradoxical statement that in my vulnerability I feel more secure. There is something wonderful about being authentic; with no pressure to be a strong, brave, courageous, inspirational role model to others … having the freedom & excuse to be my authentic self. I might present in a nicely cut short grey wig, or a wide-brimmed summer hat, a Hilda Ogden head wrap, or just be plain bald. Whichever hair style you see me with, know that I will be enjoying a freedom that is emerging from being vulnerabile.

The gift(s)

Here is the thing … do I want to be flat-chested and bearing the big ugly scars of radical mastectomy & lymph node clearance … struggling through chemotherapy that leaves me bald, exhausted, irritable, nauseated and with a gut ravaged by this combination of medically-administered poisons? No I don’t. But I am developing a whole new appreciation for the gift(s) that this breast cancer journey is revealing.

• I am not going to have a bad hair day for the rest of this year! That means I can manage for days on end in our motorhome with basic flannel washes and can challenge Jim for the shortest showers.
• I can go bald if I want to and enjoy a nice cooling breeze.
• I don’t need to look amazing or perform in a way that meets other people’s expectations. This is not about a personal grooming failure for me; it’s about survival. This is the first time in my adult life that I have been bald and feeling so vulnerable. That has allowed others the pleasure of getting closer and demonstrating their support … love in action … a win both ways.
• I am reminded of a conversation between the great Apostle Paul and God in 2 Corinthians 12: 8-10. Paul was asking God to take away his weakness … this is from the Passion translation of the Bible.
8 (God speaking) “My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.”
9 (Paul’s response) “So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me. “
10 “So I am not defeated by my weaknesses, but delighted”.
• And when I look in the bathroom mirror & see a pale, hairless chemo patient staring back at me, I think about King David in Psalm 139: 13-17, again from the Passion translation of the Bible:
13. “You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside and my intricate outside, and you wove them all together in my mother’s womb.
14. I thank you God for making me so mysteriously complex! Everything you do is so marvelously breathtaking. It simply amazes me to think about it. How thoroughly you know me Lord!
15. You even formed every bone in my body when you created me in the secret place, carefully, skillfully you shaped me from nothing to something.
16. You saw who you created me to be before I became me. Before I’d ever seen the light of day, the number of days you planned for me were already recorded in your book.
17. Every single moment you are thinking of me. How precious and wonderful to consider that you cherish me constantly in your every thought.”

• I might not like what I see in the mirror, but I know that God doesn’t make junk! I am valuable to Him, with or without hair, and that means so much to me.