Friday: Grey bucket
“How can I help?”
Those were some of the first words a new acquaintance, Hannah, uttered over the phone after our mutual friend Marci introduced us, guessing that Hannah and I could do each other some good. I haven’t figured out how I’m going to hold up my end of the bargain yet. Hannah, by contrast, has fulfilled her obligations in spades.
Just a couple of years ago, Hannah was also diagnosed in her 40’s with very early stage Her2+ breast cancer. Our situations were similar enough to warrant the same basic treatment: mastectomy and sentinel node biopsy followed by Taxol/Herceptin. I have heard that breast cancer is the sorority which no one wants to join. In that paradigm, I am a neophyte freshman pledge and Hannah is my seasoned upperclasswoman mentor.
Too soon our phone conversation was cut short, but since we both had so much more to ask and answer, we agreed to meet in person before my surgery. Just over a week ago, Hannah invited me to her tastefully renovated home about 30 minutes up the peninsula. From the moment that I arrived, she welcomed me warmly, settling me down on a cozy couch in her family room with a generous steaming mug of green tea. How could I help but notice the contrast of the wedding pictures of the sorority sister anyone would want — the classic graceful blonde beauty — against the later photos of the more recent but still lovely Hannah, hair regrowing and body recovering after breast cancer treatment, embraced by her young child.
Much better than having the upper hand on the best frat parties or the secrets of initiation rituals, Hannah gave me the scoop on nutritional supplements (ginger for nausea, Q Tonic for neuropathy), dietary adjustments (rice and spinach cooked in broth & medicinal brownies, both to help deal with chemo side effects), and cosmetic techniques (eyebrow stencils from Sephora to fill in the blanks when the Taxol kicks in). Having already run through the gauntlet of Taxol and Herceptin, she advised me on when I’ll have trouble sleeping because of the steroid used to prevent allergic reactions (day 2) and when the nausea and fatigue will likely hit (days 3 and 4).
Just before we finished, Hannah led me upstairs to show me her cache of hats, wigs, and scarves. The wig was a tad too small and quite a bit too blonde, but I chose extravagantly from the collection of hats. Hair thinning from chemo in the winter means a cold head and what better way to disguise thinning hair than a fun selection of borrowed chapeaux!
Soon I too will be a card-carrying, lifetime member of ΒΚΣ (Breast Cancer Sisterhood). It occurs to me now that rather than helping my benevolent friend Hannah, who has already graduated to remission and is beckoning to me from the other side of cancer treatment, I will have a responsibility to guide the next new someone. My solemn pledge therefore will be to help a subsequent rushee decipher what seems like Greek and survive the surgical and chemical hazing we endure on our way to survivorship.
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