October 19, 2008
Hannah's facebook status from ten years ago today ... "Hannah is lovin' my brand new laptop, tv, dvd player, and ipod! I have the best family in the entire world!"
The timing of all these wonderful early birthday gifts couldn't have been better, because the day we had been dreading for so long was suddenly upon us. After all the extended family headed home for the weekend, and shortly after posting the above Facebook status, Hannah reached up to take out her ponytail holder ... and nearly all of her hair came out with it.
It was time. We brought one of our kitchen table chairs into the living room, and I prepared to shave her head. She didn't want to do it in the bathroom, because she didn't want to watch in the mirror. I went through the motions of shaving with the razor, but her hair was just coming loose in my hands. I did my best to keep the tears tamped down, and I honestly don't remember how successful I was. Thinking back on it, the entire experience still feels very surreal ... as if I'm watching strangers acting it out on a stage.
The whole process didn't take long at all, and when it was complete, Hannah hopped up and said she wanted to go look at herself. My heart went to my throat ... I could not imagine what her reaction was going to be. Hannah was a humble person in most aspects, but there were two things in which she took great pride, almost to a fault, actually ... her intellect, and her thick, curly hair.
I let her go on into the bathroom ahead of me, then approached the door after she had had a couple of minutes alone to process her new look. Her words as I entered: "Well, I still look like me. I'm just bald!" With that pronouncement, she went to hunt down her wig.
The wig is another story. When the radiation oncologist shared with us the jarring news that Hannah would indeed lose all of her hair this time, he recommended that we go ahead and purchase a wig well before her hair loss. That way she would have plenty of time to carefully choose exactly what she wanted, and get used to the idea of wearing it before she actually needed it.
So on one of our trips to CARTI, we went next door to the Winthrop Rockefeller Cancer Center and rode the elevator all the way to the top floor where you can get free wigs for cancer patients. What a discouragement that was! Every wig there was "old lady" style hair -- There was nothing that an almost 17-year-old girl would wear! The lady working there was very helpful, and gave us a handful of wig catalogs to take home.
Several times I tried to get Hannah to look through these catalogs with me, but she would just flip over a few pages and declare that there was nothing in them she liked. I scoured the pages for something that looked like a teenage girl might wear, but when I tried to show her my findings she would barely glance at them. She was not disrespectful or defiant ... just totally disinterested. I think the reality was just too much for her. If she didn't choose one, maybe she wouldn't need one.
At one point, I suggested to her that we forego the whole wig idea and just get her a variety of hats. She looked at me with shock and said, "I can't wear a hat at school. It's against the rules." I assured her that since her dad was the high school principal, I was pretty sure an exception could be made for her. Nope, she didn't want any special allowances at school. Never mind the fact that she wasn't actually attending school at that time.
So where did we get her wig? At a gas station.
Let me explain. Near our home there was a gas station/convenience store and believe it or not, they had an honest-to-goodness wig section. She and I were driving by it one day, and on a whim, we pulled in. They actually had wigs that looked more like a teenage girl might wear. She quickly glanced around, pointed and said, "That one." The clerk was very helpful and kind and explained that we could choose our color for this particular style of wig. Hannah decided on a little bit darker color than the model wig, and just that quick, it was ordered. It came in about a week later, and I dropped by and picked it up. I've always been thankful that the clerk asked me no questions that day ... I could not have answered them. As relieved as I was to finally have this wig decision behind us, the reality was a little too much for me too.