My Survivors: How Chemo Changed My Family

I had long, thick hair before this all started. As expected, I lost the majority of it, in massive clumps, about two weeks after starting chemo treatments. I haven’t shaved my armpits or legs for months at this point, and I no longer complain about unwanted facial hair — although I have had to learn how to draw on my eyebrows. I like to think that, compared to some of the other chemo side effects and complications, I’ve generally taken the whole no-hair-thing in stride.

Chemo changed my family

Chemo involved the installation of a port-a-cath in my chest, 6 rounds of 4-day, in-patient infusions over a 4-month period, 30 days and nights in the hospital, multiple emergency room visits, significant hearing loss, a blood clot followed by 3-months of self-administered blood thinning shots, a blood transfusion, more scans and labs than I can count, my 45th birthday – and, ultimately – one only-somewhat-shrunken-tumor that we still need to do something about. For now, rest and recovery is advised, but soon, additional treatment will be needed.

I am currently undergoing chemo

If there’s been one sort of weirdly welcome surprise about chemo, it’s related to my hair loss. Because under my various hats and scarves that I use to cover my mostly bald head, I actually have some unexpected, remaining hairs. My husband and I call them my ‘survivors’ – and I’m intensely fond of them.

There aren’t too many – maybe a few dozen short strands. But they’ve been with me this whole time, despite dire warnings of ‘total’ hair loss. And although I’d shaved my whole head of hair to about ¼-inch when it started to fall out, my survivors are definitely longer than that now — closer to an inch. Not only did they manage to survive, they managed to grow these past months. My survivors now stick straight up, as if standing to attention, ready for battle, which makes sense to me. Although they seemed soft and delicate at first, they are now quite coarse – different, but also stronger, and unbelievably resilient.

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My teens have changed during this time also

My two teenage boys have changed too, these past months. They are taller, wiser, and, most noticeably, more responsible and self-sufficient. They now manage their schedules and overall lives fairly independently. They help out more, and complain less. One started driving; the other started shaving. They all but stopped bickering with each other. They’ve maintained good grades, and remained involved with after-school activities and sports. They have fought this battle, in their own way, fiercely. There is nothing soft, or delicate, remaining.

I do realize that one reason they’ve grown so rapidly is because of my illness, and that’s a lot to process. I haven’t been around hovering, nagging, organizing – and, in many ways, they have strengthened and shone as a result. Mostly, I am proud, and relieved, that they’ve soldiered forward. But it’s also a bittersweet feeling, because I can’t get over how much I’ve missed. In my heart, they are still my little boys and I want, more than anything, to protect them from all of this – particularly the unknown parts that come next.

Many have told me that my new hair, when it grows back, may be different than my old hair. They say it might look like just about anything – the texture, the color, the luster. I’m not particularly concerned about any of that; perhaps, in part, because I know I have some of the old ones along to provide guidance to the new growth.

What I do care about, and what I hope my survivors continue to demonstrate, is the ability to live through trauma. I would like them to maintain the strength to shine during tough times. More than anything, I hope that they remain standing tall, ready for battle, to face whatever comes next, whatever that may look like — whether I am able to protect them from it, or not.

They are remarkable, my survivors. Each and every one of them.

More Read:

Watching My Son Was Painful, But Now I Understand “Grit”

18 Years: Our One Shot at Parenting 

About Lisa Pawlak

Lisa Pawlak is a regular contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, San Diego Family, Carlsbad and Hawaii Parent magazines. Her work can also be found in Scary Mommy-Club Mid, Coping with Cancer Magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, Mothers Always Write, Sweatpants & Coffee, The Imperfect Parent, Working Mother Magazine and The Huffington Post.

Read more posts by Lisa

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