I’m listless. I avoid the mirror in the bathroom where I just vomited. I don’t want to look but I force myself anyway. I turn on the faucet and wash my face. I scrub in effort to wash it away. I look up again and see myself as I had before, the same.
I see exhaustion in the dark rings beneath my eyes, weight loss in the wrinkle lines traced throughout my gaunt face and my lips are pale, dry and cracking. I pull my hair back behind my ears. A clump floats downward and softly lands and sticks in the moist sink.
Cyclophosphamide is the name of the medication, the one that’s doing this to me. The tablets dissolve under my tongue. My digestive system distributes it where it needs to go and from experience I know I have a 70/30 chance of the Zofran chaser holding it down.
The bathroom is the only place I can go where I don’t have to hide. I am alone. I don’t have to wear a smile. I don’t have to answer when someone asks if I’m okay. I’m tired of visits to the hospital, taking pills and explaining what Immature Ovarian Teratoma cancer is to everyone I know or meet. Isn’t that what Google is for?
When I’m on the inside of the bathroom door I don’t have to say, I feel good in efforts to ease the worries of others. I don’t have to hide the weakness, the nausea, the fear, the anger, the frustration, the self pity, the exhaustion.
The truth lives in the bathroom.
What is the truth? As difficult as it feels to survive this way it beats the alternative.
It’s been one month since I’ve had surgery. I’m only two months into the Cyclophosphamide regime. I still have five months to go, but to go until what? I don’t know.
There is no way of knowing. It’s a waiting game. Even if I recover from surgery and take every pill prescribed to me in the end I will find myself sitting in the Oncologist’s office waiting for test results that will tell me whether or not I’m clean.
I emerge from the bathroom and climb into bed. My husband scoots in close to me and pulls me in. His skin feels warm and I feel safe.
I wake up the next morning and begin my daily routine of getting sick and trying to feel better. I pull the drapes open from my bedroom window. It’s the beginning of June in Phoenix and I can feel the heat seer through the glass and touch me. I look up into the clearest blue sky and down into the alley where kids are playing. They’re chasing each other, squealing and laughing. I laugh too, but I also feel envious of their joy.
I call a couple of girlfriends and ask them to pick me up and take me somewhere.
I tell Crystal to go wait outside. Her voice is overpowering the sound of the buzz. This is crazy, she says. I can’t watch.
Then don’t watch. Go outside.
Amie stays. She’s leaning against the counter top in front of me blocking my view.
I pull the stamped addressed envelope and Ziploc bag I brought with me out of my pocket. Our next stop is to get my eyebrows waxed. I’ve never had them waxed before. I’m not sure what to expect and it turns out it’s not something I enjoy. I noticeably lost half my eyebrows already and they no longer looked right on my face. It needed to be done.
We stop at the Post Office on our drive home.
I walk in the house and go about my business. No one says anything to me. I’m not greeted with the normal, Where have you been? and Are you okay? It’s not that I’m invisible. They’re looking right at me. I’m not sure what I would say to me either. It’s been hard on everyone, watching my body change, worrying, waiting, hoping, praying.
I head upstairs to my bedroom and lay down. The outing with my friends drained my energy.
My daughter comes in and asks if she could take pictures of me. Let’s go outside where the lighting is better, Mama.
She posts the photos on Facebook without my knowledge with a caption that reads, My beautiful mom is my idol. The notifications start exploding on my phone. I should turn the volume off but I’m too tempted to look at myself.
My boobs look huge. I do have curves. How did I not see this before?
When your body is thin and frail so are your breasts. That’s just the way it is. You lack the body fat needed to be considered voluptuous. I may not have body fat but Wow,just wow.
I get up and shuffle through the closet. I put on a knee length wispy skirt and a mismatching fitted T with a logo. Somewhere between the time I woke up this morning and right now I went through a transformation. I no longer see myself as sick and instead I’m a bombshell. I tingle with excitement, with hope.
I admit. My face could use powder to add color to my tone but still, I look and feel sexy for the first time in months, perhaps even longer.
While standing in the bathroom doorway my husband finally asks.
Because it felt like the right thing to do. I was standing at the window watching the kids play. It doesn’t mean as much to me as it would to a child. For me it’s superficial, for a child it’s confidence. Anyway, the Cyclophosphamide would only cause more chunks to fall out. I don’t need hair. It’s really not that big of a deal.
He steps in toward me and we kiss. I quiver. I feel aroused by his touch.
I shaved off all of my hair and donated it to Locks of Love. It was an impulsive decision but it made me feel good to donate all of my hair to a child who will lose all of theirs. The human body shows signs, there are tell tales when you’re sick. Others stare. People feel sorry for you. I’d rather a child be protected from that. I can protect myself.
Nineteen months later my test results came back with benign findings, I was done with treatment and finally begun to piece together the remains. I gained twenty pounds. I went through physical therapy for three months to build my strength up. My hair had grown back. I had recovered.
As soon as my hair was long enough I shaved it all off and donated it again.
©️ 2018, Erika Sauter. All Rights Reserved.