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Drugs, Hugs and Losing My Jugs: A Breast Cancer Journal - June 14, 2015 - I'm OK

This is the twenty-third entry in a 31-day Breast Cancer Awareness Month exclusive series featuring the real journal entries of breast cancer survivor, Jessica Sliwerski. Read the previous entry here.

I am bald.

I awake in the morning and I do not recognize myself.

I see my father when I look in the mirror because my bald head reminds me so much of his bald head when he was battling cancer. This upsets me because I am not battling cancer. My cancer is gone. I am just doing cleanup. But the bald head doesn’t differentiate.

My eyebrows are thinning. My lashes are still hanging on. “Thank you,” I whisper as I scrutinize them. I have always loved my lashes. My long, beautiful lashes. They, too, will be gone soon. But now that I’m bald, I feel less scared about losing my eyebrows and eyelashes.

“It just doesn’t really matter,” I think. “I don’t care anymore.” And thinking this makes me feel better — powerful even.

I get in the shower and as I’m massaging my sore, tingling head I have a flashback to Friday at the hospital when I was in the chair getting my infusion. So much after chemo is a blur. My short term memory is just – poof! – gone.

But out of nowhere this morning, I remembered the doctor coming to see me. She wanted to feel the lymph nodes in my neck. As she palpated, I began to cry. “I can’t stop thinking about the cancer coming back,” I whispered.

“These are just lymph nodes,” she said. “This is not cancer. We got the cancer. The chemo is killing everything else. This is not a recurrence.”

I pulled my beanie back so she could see my hair. “My hair is going,” I confided, as if I needed to prove the chemo was working, the chemo was killing everything.

She ran her hand gently through my patchy hair. “Did you know many breast cancer patients have PTSD?”

I have PTSD,” I told her. “I am so scared it’s going to come back. I can’t stop worrying.”

She leaned down and hugged me hard. “You are going to live to see your daughter do many things.” I sobbed into her shoulder, wanting nothing more than to believe her, but finding it so hard because after this experience, how can I ever trust that my life will be good and normal again?

Yesterday my sister sent me this text:

You have reached a point of no longer fighting your own body. You have no idea how much this acceptance will work to your advantage. It took me over a year (and lots and lots of therapy) to get to where you are in accepting what was happening to my body and realizing I am stronger and more capable than I ever thought. Keep on breathing and appreciating your warrior strength.

My sister is right. Something happened Friday night when all the hair on my head was finally gone. For the first time since the day I was diagnosed, I finally felt free. All of the worry, all of my fear, all of my angst, all of my sadness floated away.

Gone was the woman who was so worried about what she may look like bald and in her place was one fierce bitch who stood there before the mirror and said, “You did it. And you’re OK. You are OK.”

I thanked my mother-in-law June for shaving me. I thanked my father-in-law Mark for lovingly vacuuming the bathroom floor so I wouldn’t have to ever see those stupid hairs again.

I walked into my bedroom and I put on my Lululemon sweats I wore before and after Penelope was born, a soft tank top and a beautiful teal chemo cap from my friend Jessie. The cotton was soft and cool on my bare, bald skin.

I took a picture. Then I took off the cap and took another picture. I texted the pictures to a few close friends. I posted the bald picture on my iPhone photo stream where I once posted pictures of Penelope for family and friends so they would know she was doing OK, but now post more pictures of me so they know I’m doing OK.

To reinforce my state of OK-ness, I included the caption: “Bald (don’t worry, I am OK)!”

Then I took the flannel pillowcase my mom made me that was covered with hairs off of my pillow and placed it in the laundry. I took out a white silk pillowcase, a gift from friends, and placed it on my pillow. I crawled into bed and I fell asleep without meds or a sleeping aid because for the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel anxious.

I simply felt relieved.

This weekend was Kyle’s birthday. Having learned my lesson last time about the importance of rest, I planned to have his best friends from out of town surprise him and then distract him for the weekend here in Brooklyn. After everything Kyle’s been through lately, it felt immensely important he have a weekend surrounded by his tribe.

Friday night they all went out to dinner at a restaurant in the neighborhood Kyle’s been eager to try. From dinner Kyle texted me.

Kyle: “Thank you. I love you so much.”

Me: “I know you do. I love you, too.”

I felt guilty shaving off the remainder of my hair without him, but it felt necessary that he be able to be with his friends having a good time while I take care of this one last piece of business on my own terms.

The next morning, I put together a breakfast for him and his friends so everyone could meet at our place before going out. I had my blue beanie on because my head was cold. Once everyone was over, I removed the hat and showed them my bald head.

Like, no big deal. Just a bald head. And it really wasn’t a big deal.

At one point, while I was feeding Penelope, Kyle came by and lovingly rubbed my head before kissing it.

Later that evening we were all on the rooftop and it was warm — too warm of a spring night to wear a knit beanie — so I wore my fedora. I looked a lot more obviously bald with a fedora. But I was OK.

I had my sweet baby girl in my arms and sunshine on my back and I was OK.

When I was first diagnosed, and in the weeks leading up to my mastectomy and in the weeks after my mastectomy, as I awaited my appointment with my oncologist and clarity regarding my treatment plan, the last thing I wanted to hear from anyone was, “You’re going to be OK.” I didn’t want to hear it because I myself didn’t believe it.

Jessica Sliwerski and Poppy in stroller
Picture of Penelope and Me: This fedora is officially one of my favorite I’m-sorry-you-have-cancer gifts I’ve received. I look pretty damn good despite my baldness.

But as I sat on the rooftop this weekend, surrounded by good friends and my husband whom I love so much, and my precious daughter who I would do anything for, I was finally able to tell myself and actually believe that I will be OK.

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All photos courtesy of Jessica Sliwerski