Eating through chemotherapy

Isn’t it nice to have a green grocer? On Portswood we have about four of them; every morning they drag crates of fruit and veg to the store fronts, adding a sense of health and colour to the street. Five peaches for a pound, two-for-one strawberries, carnations in a bunch, and peanuts for your birds. I love visiting Galloways’s (my favourite grocer) and picking through the fruit. A full bag of vegetables (and I mean full, right to the top) normally costs less than £5.

This, to me, is an afternoon’s entertainment. That and people watching as I sort through the corn while trying to find the best looking husk. Portswood has all sorts of people, all sort of nationalities. We have one international food shop (largely Asian options, but also with Hungarian peppers), about three Polish shops (perogies – ruskie style), several Indian restaurants, one Thai place, a Canadian girl who walks around, a hot Hungarian, all the Uni students and who knows what else? Plus there are British staples like the fish and chippie, which only opens when the lady is inclined to cook, a Post Office, and a slew of charity shops.

So – is it clear that I’m in a good mood today? When writing about food, I’m either in a good mood or really hungry. Actually, I’m both. Chemotherapy leaves me hungry all the time, but forget about eating big meals because it’s impossible! Two bites in and I’ve had my fill (plus mouth sores make it difficult to chew). Instead I eat frequently in tiny bursts. At the moment cucumbers top my list for most refreshing snack; they’re easy on the mouth. (Frozen fruit is also very nice if your mouth is sore . . . so long as your teeth can handle the cold, and yogurt is always soothing).

Yesterday was a workday and I loved it. Despite feeling those waves of fatigue (and waves of heat – “Hello hot flash, shouldn’t we be meeting twenty years from now?”) it’s nice to get out of this apartment. Even the best flat in the world become terrible after being stuck there forever. How do those people on Big Brother do it? No wonder they all go crazy.

It’s a healthy change. Now Zsolt can work on his thesis without me asking him to wash the dishes, and I can simply meet with friends – do a little digitization – and enjoy an alternative, cancer-free atmosphere. Cancer-free is the goal. In my apartment there are drops, powders, shots, vitamins, pamphlets, binders, scarves, buckets, and get well cards . . . all cancer related. Every bit of it is necessary for support, but they’re also a reminder of this shit creek we’re swimming in. The library isn’t like that (apart from me in my scarf, clearly lacking hair). It’s a break from reality.

Now I’d like to try two experiments.

ONE: go bald in public.

TWO: go wig in public.

Both are options that intimidate me. Who knew it was so hard to be different? For some people (like the guy who carries a picnic basket instead of a school bag) being different is easy. Though I suspect for the majority of us it’s not natural to stand out. Visible disabilities, visible illnesses, visible visibilities – they don’t leave much choice. It’s either hold up your head, or – what? What’s the other option? Disappear? Hide yourself? Stop living? I don’t want to feel embarrassed, but I do sometimes and it’s such a shame because it’s stopping me short.

So here is the cure (I figure): Get used to it.  Everything pinches at first, right? New job, new home, new shoes . . . without a little wear they never get broken in.  And without getting used to it, no one will become accustomed to ‘bald Catherine’ or ‘wig Catherine’, not even me.

In order to shed the shame of being different, I have to get used to it. That shame shouldn’t even exist – but that doesn’t make it go away. Maybe I’ll start easy and go bald to that hippie art cafe downtown. Pretend I’m actually that cool. “Yeah, I get it. I shaved my head because I get it so bad. Organic-freerange-commune-hippie stuff rocks.”

Once done I’ll write and let you know how it goes. Until then, I’m going to eat some more food.

chemotherapy hair loss

Several months ago I walked into a Southampton hair salon and had my highlights done. And no, I had not done any research beforehand, and had not asked anyone to recommend a good colourist. So, as can be expected – as I should  have expected – it was a hair disaster. She took what was a lovely blond with too dark roots, and turn my hair into an ashy, trashy mess. The bleach white darkened my natural brown; I became a skunk.


Freaking out, I made for Boots and picked up two boxes of hair dye. Three hours later I was strawberry blond. Two weeks later that colour was washing out. Now, I was an ugly orange/blond/brown mixture. So again to Boots! This time I selected an even darker brown. Back home, back to leaning over the tub with the hose in my hand – give it twenty minutes to set – BAM, brunette again, finally. (It was my goal to get back to my original colour, or as much as possible, because blond was now out of the question). Two weeks later, that washed out. But I gave up, chopped off some hair, and decided to grow it out with time.

Except here is the thing, back then I had this thought, a terrible thought: “If I had cancer, I’d shave it all off.”

Sigh . . .

Zsolt says I need to stop fixating on my hair. He says it doesn’t look thin, and I have too early accepted the idea of a shave. Maybe he is right.

But yesterday I washed my hair, thinking ‘okay you little buggers, I’m gonna wash you – and anyone who doesn’t want to stick around can make their exit now.’ And then I blow dried my hair (from about 2.5 feet away) and I thought: ‘Right, you stupid strands. Last chance to get out!’ And FINALLY, I ran my fingers through my head and pulled out a nest of hair. It was about then I developed an understanding.

The hair isn’t stopping. It’s slowly shedding, and slowly thinning. It will be on my pillow, and in my food, and across my shoulders so long as there is hair to lose.

I regret that stupid cancer thought. It underestimated the change; the physical expression.  Of course it will grow back, that’s not really the problem. The problem is – if I shave my head, I can’t pretend to be fine.

Well anyhow. The day won’t get better if I keep on sulking. Zsolt has a booklet from the Macmillian Centre called ‘Coping with hair loss’. I guess it’s time for some reading.