The Show & The Shave: how it all started

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Susan's reflections on a year with breast cancer

If this does not: a) touch your heart,  b) uplift you with gratitude for your friends, your health, and every wonderful thing in your life, and c) make you run for your tissues even as you laugh... well, as my daddy used to say, "You just don't have no poetry in your soul." 

Susan, thank you, my friend, for sharing your path with us. It has been life-changing for so many of us.  - Liz

"A mammogram saved my life"
I am now a few short weeks away from finishing my treatment for breast cancer and the most surreal year of my life. I still think it cannot have happened to me. No chance, no way. I do not think I’m so special that I could not get cancer, and I do realize why not me, but I still cannot believe it at times. I often remember the moment that the young resident had to tell me that my cancer was aggressive, that I had to have chemo and radiation, that yes I would lose my hair, but that he truly believed I would survive. Tears leaked out and I will never forget his absolute kindness. He appeared to be suffering right along with me. 

My husband was with me at this appointment and that morning there were a couple of strange moments that clearly indicated that both my mother and father were with me in spirit. I have lots of faith that I’ve questioned over the years, but in that moment my faith held me up and I knew with 100% certainty that I was not and would not be alone in this battle.

After this meeting with the doctor, my husband and I staggered out to the car. He had been through this all before with his first wife who had terminal ovarian cancer. He was visibly upset but his amazing support started right in that moment. I was hysterical in the car. He said we could do whatever I wanted, and I could have whatever I wanted. Through my hysteria (comical months later) I said, “All I can think of that I want is a Subaru Impreza!” We told this to the Subaru dealer where we bought the car last week, and she suggested I should be doing Impreza commercials! Get handed a potential death sentence, RUN don’t walk to your nearest Subaru dealer!

As my chemo was being planned at the first of the year, we chose a regime that we were convinced would give me the best chance of survival. It was 10 infusions more than the chemo on the other side of town, but was also described as easier with the last 12 infusions. The university hospital had survival numbers to back up their chemo. I was sure back in March of this year that September would never EVER come. It was just not going to happen in 2013. A 6-month period has never looked longer to me other than maybe when I was 4 years old and waiting for my birthday. It was a very tough March-May but an absolutely easy June-August. The first day of walking into chemo was one of the hardest days of my life. The last day of chemo was the one and only day I was ever in tears up in the oncology department, though at the start I was sure I would sob through every infusion. I was so sad to be leaving these people who became my family.

My nurses were kind and comforting when this is what was called for, and were absolutely “lustig,” wild, funny, and encouraging of all laughter and levity being generated by the Fabulous Freitag Frauen, those of us meeting up every Friday for the same infusions. The drug did not make any of us sick so we sat there laughing and carrying on like maniacs while hooked up to chemo. Fridays became so much fun that even my husband could hardly wait to get there. I was THRILLED when it was over but also so sad to see the end of Fabulous Freitag Frauens. One has remained my friend thankfully. We had lunch last week and she commented that we had exactly the same hair style! Short, aftermath of chemo style!

I’m two days away from the mid-point in radiation. Compared to chemo, radiation is downright pleasant….quick, painless, no problem. The end of radiation will be the end of my active treatment, but my year with BC will not be over in my head until my port is removed and my stitches out a week later. My GP will remove the stitches and having been an integral part of this year in my life, it will be a moment I’ll be honored to share with him. He’s awesome and is a guy who will “get it.” He played a big part in steering me to the right hospital and has patched me up all year with a compromised immune system and all with a huge, encouraging smile on his face.

Hair loss. If ANY of you happen to have a way to get “Mondays at Racine” to me I will be happy to pay for the DVD, shipping, your trouble, anything! This documentary which inspired Liz to buzz seems to not be available anywhere, tho I see signs of an HBO something.

I was beyond upset to be losing my hair. I grieved and moped for a good month over hair loss, but so actively grieved (I’m not one to hold back) that when it started coming loose and I buzzed it off it was really not that bad. As much as I had suffered over my hair, the number 1 thing that I most liked about chemo was having no hair and it still surprises me today. I looked like hell; pale, no eyebrows, no eyelashes and bald. No hair is not a good look on me. I thought makeup looked kind of weird with no eyebrows especially, and there was just no way to hide the “cancer girl” look. I just stopped spending time looking in the mirror.

With no hair and no makeup, you only really need to deal with brushing your teeth! I loved being able to shower, wipe my head and be done with the whole process in no time. I loved being able to shower right before bed, towel dry my head, throw on a cap and hit the sack. I loved not having to mess with makeup except on the rare occasion. The extra free space in the cabinet under my sink has been astonishing. I have been way faster than my husband this year in starting from the shower and being ready to head out the door. It was an exercise in letting go of all vanity.

Why indeed is it so hard to lose your hair when your life is at stake? I still do not have an all-encompassing answer to this other than to say that it is not a normal thing for a girl to have no hair. People stare (and in my world would die before they would comment) and know you are sick. It is no fun to feel unattractive for months on end.  For me, bald has now become beautiful. I saw a woman at Oktoberfest this year who had on a gorgeous dirndl, was beautifully made up, and was as bald and shiny as a cue ball. It has become the sign of a warrior to me and will always be so for the rest of my life. The pain and grief passes and is just a small part of the journey. I hope and pray to never have to go through this all again, but if this is my path in life, hair loss will not be the big concern. Finding the fun people to sit with during chemo will be my bigger worry.

I have so much to be grateful for in this month of Thanksgiving. My life, the support of family and friends, the fact that through this process I’ve made a handful of friends who I hope will be with me always, and my new Subaru!! just to touch the surface. A husband who stepped up more than I would ever have imagined possible. My friend who came from the other side of the world to stay with me for 3 weeks while my husband took care of business in the next country over. Two friends who took off their hair in solidarity. (I wish Liz and Lee for a moment could experience the look of shock and confusion on the German face when I have explained this to people here!)

Liz, I wish for you now that your purple/red/blue hair will start to bend soon! Thank you for all you have done, the prayers, the packages, the blog, the video, the keeping in touch.

Thank you everyone from the bottom of my heart.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Free at last, free at last, praise God Almighty...

This is the news we have been hoping and praying for since Susan was diagnosed with breast cancer in January and through her chemo treatments of the last several months. The biopsy is in, and Susan is cancer free!

In Susan's very own words:

The all clear on the boob was September 18th. The PHEW heard round the world. For the biopsy results to have been cancer would have been catastrophic and would have meant a big fail on the chemo....unthinkable.


She started growing her hair out and encouraged me to do the same. I'd really planned to do The Bald for a full year, but... sure, I'm in! We were bald together, now we can grow it out together.

Susan is now going through radiation treatments:

I've had 5 radiations and so far so good, just a daily hassle. Going to get an appointment in a couple of weeks to get the port out in December. Once those stitches are removed from after this operation it will be the end of a year with BC. It'll be a happy day.

And to chronical more of her comments, this time about hair:

How's your hair? Mine does not seem to be speeding up and is not the same length all over. Hmmm. Any is better than none. Hoping for some semblance of normal by Christmas...well new normal I guess. Anything odd about the new growth? My hair has always fallen right to left but very clearly is headed left to right now. Wonder if this changes?

My hair is sticking out in some spots, and flipping up in some spots. It looks dorky but I am not too worried. I also have a spot where nothing much seems to be happening, just in the back past the crown. I was right by my hairdresser today so I walked in and announced that I have hair! He wanted to clip the curls off by my ears but I said not yet. If it gets too weird there is always gel.

A lady from chemo is a couple months ahead of me hair wise and she has had no cuts. It was a little shaggy over her ears but looked cute, so I'm going to hold out and see what it is like in December. Maybe a little shaping around Christmas tho this might be wishful thinking.

As for mine, it's now in the "puffball" stage--think of a dandelion in spring when it has the white fluff sticking out all over. Except I've been experimenting with different colors, so I'm more of a serial rainbow puffball. I'll post more about that later (with pictures), plus news of my layoff notice and our trip to Ireland. (Scott and I are in the Atlanta airport as I type this, waiting for our ride to Dublin!)

In the meantime, a special prayer of gratitude for Susan's recovery. Amen!

Now: Let the good times roll and the short hair grow.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Being Bald for God's Funeral

My mother died on August 12. It wasn't unexpected. She was 97, and she'd been diagnosed with metastatic cancer in May. For most of my lifetime, our relationship had been cordial, but troubled. When I was a child, she was physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive. When she finally shed that skin, or became afraid of discovery, she improved by being merely dishonest, controlling, and manipulative. To anyone who wasn't her progeny, she was a sweet, Christian lady.

It was perhaps in the last year that I came to think of "Mother" as twofold: the Office of Motherhood, a position that is sacred, similar to President of the United States or the Dalai Lama—and the person who inhabits that office, who may or may not live up to the the holiness of the appointment. That helped me understand why some things were precious to me because they were gifts from my Mother, even as that person was someone for whom I had little respect.

There's also the twist that in the psychology of child mind, our parents are God—or so I've read—because they have been present throughout our personal eternity. I'm certain that mine is not the most complex set of feelings anyone has had to deal with upon the death of a parent; but I was nevertheless grateful that in traveling to my mother's funeral, I had my dog Emma and two thousand miles of driving for therapy.

I hadn't visited my hometown, Guymon America, since The Shave. I felt a bit awkward with my very un-Guymonish appearance, but not to the extent I had expected. When my sister Jo and I were at the Sonic drive-in, a lady rolled down her window to tell me I looked beautiful.

Mother's funeral was well suited to her. It highlighted good and interesting parts of her and her life without suggesting sainthood. As my sisters and I stood in front of the congregation, singing Amazing Grace, I briefly wondered about looking weird as the "bald daughter". My next thought was, "Who cares? This is so not about me and hair." 

The best part of the service was the police escort from the church to the cemetery. With one squad car in the lead and one in the rear, both with lights flashing and a couple of policemen along the road directing traffic, our procession was carefully ushered the three miles to the burial site. Without exception, every car along the way pulled off to the side of the road, and some people even got out of their cars, took off hats, bowed their headsnot necessarily because they knew my mother, but because they have respect. I know that would have been Mother's favorite part of a send-off that was good throughout.

So now... the grieving. I was doing a writing exercise a couple evenings ago, and this was the result.

Sweet Spot

This is akin to admitting I still like someone I had a crush on in high school who had bad teeth, acne, misogyny in his heart, and no good on his mind. Except it's not about some bad boy from my past. It's about my mother.

There was a time—a relatively brief time—I really enjoyed her company. She was so proud of her job as an Avon lady and having her own money. My classes finished for the day, we would regularly go to the Pancake House and eat pie and drink coffee and visit. I liked her then—the mother who had abused me as a child and who would become such a disappointment in my adulthood. I treasure that sweet spot in our history. I liked her. And I miss her.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Things I No Longer Carry

In Tim O'Brien's short story collection, The Things They Carried, the title story brings to life the hearts and minds of Alpha Company through vivid descriptions of the items they had with them while marching, fighting, and sometimes dying in the Vietnam War. 

Recently I was reminded of this favorite story by the Wandering Sasquatch blog post "The Things I Carry: My RTW Packing List", in which Brian describes what he packed for a year of traveling the world with his wife, Kim. I'm guessing that Brian and Kim are having a much better time in far-flung corners of the globe than O'Brien's Alpha Company, but the point is that our "stuff" defines and shapes us. It has impact on who we are and what we do.

In a reverse mode, a small part of who I amand am notis now shaped by what I don't carry. It has not been just the contours of my head changed by The Shave, but the landscape of a number of shelves and drawers in my bathroom as well. I never thought of myself as being particularly profligate in the use of hair products; but after clearing out hair-related items rendered redundant by my hairless state, I was amazed at how much "stuff"accoutrement, if you willhair demands and attracts.

Shampoo remains in my shower just because I like it. However, any concern for split ends, volume, and maximum shine has evaporatedand with it the need for combs, brushes, conditioner, mousse, gel, hair spray, hair color, scrunchies, all manner of clips, flat irons, barrettes, hair pieces, and hot rollers. I'm neither a better nor worse person for having had them, not having them now, or possibly re-acquiring them at some future date. But for now it is a liberation of sorts. 

Leaving hair products and paraphernalia behind has given me more space, more time, and more cash. But I have to admit... sometimes I kinda miss 'em.
Even the cat is in awe

Monday, June 24, 2013

Just beat it!'s promise of perfect June weather sealed the deal for my first bike-to-work day this year. My only intentions for the 27-mile round-trip pedal-fest were to enjoy the beauty of the day, save some gas, and get some exercise. As I assembled attire for the ride—pulling bike clothes out of the storage bin where they'd wintered—a saucy Pink Power! jersey informed me that this would be a theme ride.

When my friend Kay Luma graphic designer and avid cyclist—learned that her sister had been diagnosed with breast cancer, she designed this amazing piece of wearable art-with-a-message in memory of her mother who died of the disease at age 58 and in honor of the sister fighting it. (Read the full story, and BUY ONE of these beauties while you're at it!) Kay's express intent with her "Rosie the Biker" design is  to raise awareness and donate all proceeds to cancer research.

Considering that the fight against the Big C turned personal for me in January when Susan was diagnosed, this shirt now has even greater meaning than when I purchased it over a year ago; and IMHO, my bald head is the perfect complement. (Although, I'm usually biking when I wear it, which means my hairless pate is hidden under a helmet.) I love the upbeat messages emblazoned on the pink background, reflecting Kay's philosophy: "Positive words that focus on life and living to its fullest were important for me to include." With all due respect to this wonderful lady and all her goodness, I wore it on my ride with an additional message muttered under my breath:  "Fuck you, cancer!" And more positively: "Go, Susan! You will beat it!"
What a gorgeous day for a ride! Golden sun. Lapis lazuli sky. Sixty-five perfect degrees. The recurring refrain of my spinning feet, rhythmic breathing, and beating heart became its own moving meditationEvery mile felt like an old friend as I was reminded of the 42 times I'd ridden this route in my Sweating for Shelter  project almost two years before. Good times.

Being on a bike and wearing the Pink Power jersey are a double guarantee of adventure. It is also a sure thing that I will meet someone on the bike path or at Machinery Row bike shop who says, "You must know Kay Lum" or "I have a shirt like that" (which translates to "I know Kay Lum"). This day was no different.

After finishing work, pedaling home, and racking my bike, three indelible messages were the residual gifts of the day.

1) Thank you, Kay Lum!
2) Fuck you, cancer!
3) I love you, Susan. You're winning this battle, Warrior Goddess. Beat it!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Life as a peeled onion, slightly skewed

From the moment my shearer... er... hair stylist flipped off the razor, my world had shifted a degree or two on its axis. Looking into the mirror at my newly bald head was like going back in time and hearing the voices of my two older sisters:  "You look like a peeled onion."

That was their assessment every time our mother pulled my hair away from my round face into yet another unflattering 'do that was never in style in any era.

Flash forward a half century to the mirror at Aniu Salon. Yup. They have a point. Oh, and guess what? So do I!

When The Shave was complete, friend and videographer Dennis Thayer commented, "You have a nice head for baldness. Good thing you weren't one of those forceps babies." Then I noticed The Ridge. A slight rise runs down the center of my head, suggesting fertile ground for a Mohawk or that a distant relation was a Rhodesian Ridgeback. 

The days following The Shear had certain similarities to an amputee's Phantom Limb Syndrome. When pulling clothes over my head, I exercised care not to catch my hair on zippers or buttons, then began to flip non-existent strands away from my collar. Coming home from work, I wanted nothing so much as to pull my tresses back, away from my face and off my neck. Reaching for a chopstick to fasten my "after-work knot", I would realize my head was well free from encumbrance.

Despite recalling childhood slings and arrows, discovering a continental divide on top of my head, and overcoming habits of the haired, the "peeled onion" has offered some lovely gifts. When I rub my head, my fingertips are tickled with velvety bristles—making me, I suppose, my own Chia Petand my scalp has so much sensation as to make scratching it feel almost illicit.

The maintenance is great. No drying. No styling. Taking advantage of this, I joined a masters swim class. Easy in/easy out, with only that tedious 75-minute swim workout in between.

Sometimes I forget about The Bald and am momentarily puzzled when in public someone turns a curious look in my direction. I love those brave souls who charge forward and just ask, "Are you battling cancer, or is this your extreme response to summer?"

Then there's the sense of identity so closely associated with appearance. Sometimes I feel exotic. Sometimes I feel odd. But I mostly like being out of my comfort zone and feeling slightly off balance—tilting at a new world that, in carpenter lingo, is a bubble off center.

What are you doing to challenge your balance and make your world teeter a little? I'd love to read your comments.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Lee (Bald Chick #2) Takes the Stand

Susan and I have both described Lee Stolmack with such vivid terms as "fiery", "feisty", and "funny". (Lotta f-words there, hon.)  Did I mention "delightful"? Here is your opportunity to experience her for yourself. Thank you, Lee, for taking the time to write this guest post.

I remember getting the news about Susan’s cancer like a kick in the gut. I had to sit down and work the news through all my abilities to deny the truth, which are less now that I am older, and what’s up with that? None of my techniques worked, and I was forced to face both the idea that Susan was life-threateningly ill and the collateral notion that I couldn’t do a damn thing about it. Buzzed everyone who knows her to get the details, no go—I couldn’t even offer her worthless advice because her treatment program was already set.

I went to work in the kitchen on comfort food. Brilliant! I whipped up homemade marshmallows in three flavors, purchased Mexican hot chocolate rounds, packed a whisk into the box, and shoved my husband Alan out the door with orders to ship the package to Susan, with whomever and for whatever cost.  

While he was gone, I belatedly perused German mail restrictions on the web, thought it was doubtful that either homemade food or food from a country other than that from which it was shipped would be allowed delivery in The Fatherland. My imagination kicked in, and I saw agriculturally-trained beagles, speaking German, alerting their handlers to the illicit goods. 

The box was delivered without incident. I just hate wasting a good fantasy, don’t you? (Susan said next time send weed.)

I emailed Susan with the directions for whipping up frothy Mexican hot chocolate, and hoped she’d like the marshmallows.  Somewhere in the correspondence she mentioned hiding the ‘mallows from Bernd so he wouldn’t just eat them out of hand. I didn’t care, I had done a good deed that showed my caring sidewhich doesn’t pop out all that often.

A week later the glooms came back. Susan was Facebooking about the expected results of her chemo, including hair and nail and eyelash loss. I perked upI had an opinion about this! Susan vacillated about letting her hair fall out naturally (ugh) all over the place in big clumps or simply shaving her head. Can you tell what I opined? She dithered and waivered, and I said I was going to shave mine. She told me no, please don’t!  I offered some brilliant argument like, you’re not my mother and I can do what I want.

I told her she could witness in full color photos that this wasn’t such a big deal, and feel OK about doing it herself. She said no again. I told her to sit on it and spin, or something in that vein, and made an appointment with my hairdresser for a shave. My husband, in his thoughtful and eloquent phraseology said, “Go for it!"

I took Alan with me as the official project photographer and then made a second mistakeI scheduled the appointment for first thing in the morning.  Before my wrinkles had a chance to disappear in the softening light.  Alan snapped three dozen photos with full flash while I ignored him and concentrated on the process. Now, to be truthful, I have very short hair to begin with, and was not sacrificing long, golden locks like Liz, but I was always pretty pleased with my perky 'do. I figured it would all grow back in five or six weeks, so what the hell. The clippers ran over my hair quickly, sending showers of red-blonde hair all over the salon.  I laughed the entire time and thought this was all a hoot.  My hairdresser refused to charge me and said it was her pleasure to help Susan.

Bald becomes me, but I slapped a baseball hat on my head so as not to frightened the horses in the street, and ran all over town doing errands. Nobody noticed. I was disappointed.

I posted the least unflattering of the shaving pictures on Facebook. My computer didn’t smoke. I noticed a pale ring of skin around my face and had the panicked notion that my hairline was receding. But nope, it’s just skin that was covered up with hair and didn’t tan. Had a nice dry martini to help me calm down.

Two days later it dawned on me that I wasn’t a red head anymore. Very strange, as I had red-gold ringlets as a child and kept on having red hair well past the time grey should have taken over.  Now I had skin-colored hair, and nobody cared. Alan thought I was cute, my daughter was ‘proud’ of me; everyone congratulated this newly bald person for being so thoughtful, while I wasn’t sure that she was me. OK, so that became boring in two more days and I figured out I better send out some progress pictures to prove that I don’t have deep furrows on my face (lighting is everything as Marlene Dietrich knew well), screw the hair and hair color. Managed some that didn’t look too horrible and posted them on Facebook. Responses all indicated relief that I wasn’t actually 95 years old, and in fact the kudos were sort of embarrassing. I decided to go underground and ignore the whole fracas.

But a week later a new issue surfaced. I have a ¾ inch scar on my head about two inches from my front hairline. What the hell is this? I had a rough childhood and still have scars, but I could remember how I got them and had assigned responsibility for each to a source.  This one was unaccounted for and drove me crazy. My immediate family is all gone now, so there was no one to ask.  The more I thought about it, and imagined lurid scenarios of its origin, the less I could come up with even a clue. So I stewed and was nasty to everyone.  Then, miracle of miracles, my hair started to grow out. The scar disappeared under the fuzz, and I decided to give up obsessing about it. Just that simple. I’m telling you – the mind is a brilliant thing when it’s under control.

I had been noticing that some people stared at memen look away quickly but women, most of them around my age, take a good look. I actually didn’t mind, better they register the possibility of cancer than pretend it doesn’t happen.  But then I did the unforgivable. Most times with people who know me, I let them know right away that I’m not sick but look like this in solidarity with a friend who is far away who has cancer. I get reams of undeserved praise. But I went into a store I frequent in a little town in the Sierras, and scared the shit out of the woman who owns the place who has been an acquaintance for over 12 years. Her eyes widened hugely and she blurted out, “I see that you have had big changes in your life” before she could even think. I demurred and told her the circumstances of my bald pate. She got her breath back and told me she was glad I wasn’t sick. I felt like a big shit. Still do when I think about this.

My hair is growing back slowly. My grandchildren like to run their hands over my dome to assess the changes, but in all truth, our new puppy is more interesting to them. Susan shaved her head, Liz shaved her head. We have traded observationsno, I didn’t need a night cap but yes, slather on lots of sunscreen. I would do this again for a dear friend, and hope I never have to. I didn’t get wiser from doing this, but I choose to think I must have been pretty wise before I got bald. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Susan (Bald Chick Numero Uno) Speaks

Many thanks to Susan for doing this guest post. I would be grateful under any circumstances; but for her to write it only days after a round of chemo is heroic. And slightly nuts. Regardless, I am grateful. Thanks also for your kind words, Suzers—even if it's chemo brain talkin'.... 


I met Lee Stolmack one very, VERY hot summer day maybe 16 or 17 years ago when I flew from Los Angeles to Sacramento to interview for a training position with the Child Welfare Services/Case Management System (CWS/CMS), a job I had heard about from a friend who worked there. This was a joint State of California and IBM project that automated the world of child protective services in California.  I have no idea how I managed to even get this interview (help from the friend, no doubt), but Lee was a boss or The Boss on the State side of this operation. (My memory is hmm... horrible, but I also have the chemo brain excuse at the moment.)

Lee was friendly in the interview, which always makes for a more pleasant experience. Once I went to work for this fabby project, I first remember Liz in a lovely blue business suit. I remember thinking she was the prettiest girl in the room, and I remember learning that really her name was Liz Lasagna. Easy to remember.

I was on contract with the state, and Liz was on contract with IBM; so we ran in different work circles to some extent. But when we changed offices we sat not that far from each other. I do not recall how our friendship developedespecially because she always had a boyfriend and I did not, so she was way busier than me!

We had some big laughs when we traveled together to Ventura County for work and saw William Schallert, the actor/dad from The Patty Duke Show, in the Sacramento airport. We both knew the theme song, and Liz being the bolder of the two of us told him that she admired his work and that we could sing the theme song for him! He begged us not to!

While working in Ventura I remember learning that Liz is one of the all-time great extemporaneous speakers in the world. She gave a speech that was completely unplanned, was funny and articulate, and she does not seem to possess the words ugh, or um in her vocabulary. Amazing. I knew she was smart but what a talent the girl has for speaking welland clearly, for writing. Did we do some other traveling together, Liz? I just remember always having fun with you!

Suzers:  BB (Before Bald)
I changed jobs eventually within the project once everyone in California was trained on the new computer system, and went to work for Lee. Lee is a fiery redhead who I look back on as a fiercely protective boss who liked revisions in our work! She was good to work for, funny, and always threw a great party. We lost touch for a while when I moved awayemail address issuesbut reconnected last summer when I went to California for a couple months to stay with my friend Neola and to travel around a bit visiting friends and family. Good move in light of what would happen with my killer boob 3 months later.

Interesting that we all met on an IT project because I feel sure without computers we would not have been writing letters back and forth all these years. I’m in Germany, Lee is in Sacramento, and Liz is in Madison. Thank you, Al Gore.

I had surgery in January to remove two tumors, and at my subsequent “tumor conference”, the doctor recommended chemo and radiation. For some reason hair loss came up immediately in the discussionmy question and his answer that yes, I would lose my hair. I have not yet seen Mondays at Racine except for the trailer, but I concur with the trailer that it’s an odd thing to be grieving the loss of your hair when your life is at stake. I had to grieve it, and for a few weeks I did it in a very large way. Cried a lot. A whole lot.

During this time both Liz and Lee said they were taking off their hair in solidarity. My instant reaction was NO NO NO don’t do it. It was actually a hard thing for me to begin to grasp while grappling with my awful new reality that mine was going to fall out no matter what. I would not have volunteered for total hair loss in a million years. I would take off my hair to save someone’s live and that’s about all I would have to offer in the department of shaving off my hair. I would be the casserole maker for a friend with cancer.  

It seemed like WAY too much to ask. Our identities are way involved in our hair and appearance, and I know I had their unconditional support without them buzzing off their hair. Both are crazy and stubborn and loyal friends and well, you’ve seen the results. Even though I did not want to see them do this, what an incredibly moving expression of friendship this was. I sobbed and I mean SOBBED through Liz’s video.

Just FYI in case someone out there ever needs to know, for me the period of sobbing and boo-hooing and feeling sorry for myself over the impending hair loss worked like a charm. When the day came to take it off I proudly shed not one tear. It just had to be done as part of the journey back to health. The end.

Thanks, you two. I love you both.


And don't you know, we love you back! 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Three Bald Chicks (three blind mice—no relation—will be addressed in another post)

"Three bald chicks?" you ask. Yup, you read it right. Three.

In previous posts, you were introduced to The Fabulous Susan, whose cancer diagnosis and chemo were what novelists would refer to as "the inciting incident"for any number of entirely unwelcome changes in her life, as well as this blog.

And, hello, I'm Liz, your effervescent blog host. Or ten miles of bad road, however you choose to see it.

Most would bet that the Year of Living Baldly cast of characters couldn't possibly get richer, but the wealth increases as we introduce another of our partners in baldness. (Please click arrow below to create proper sound effects.)


The Fierce, The Funny, The Fiery Redhead, Lee-eeee Stol-mackkkk.

Okay, she was a fiery redhead.  The "inciting incident" inspired her to have her head shaved, too; so for the moment she is no longer a redhead but still indisputably fiery. (Beating Susan and me to The Shear, Lee was sporting her baldness a week before we did. Over-achiever.)

Lee, Susan, and I met in 1996 on an IBM/State of California computer project in Sacramento, California, and worked together for four years before Susan moved to Germany and I made my way to Cheesehead Land. Lee continues to reside in California. I have asked Susan and Lee to do guest posts, so you can anticipate the pleasure of reading their words of wit-dom in the not-distant future. 

Join me in observing this special moment with a brief silence. When I get to the Pearly Gates and St. Peter asks what I've done to merit entry, I will mention that I introduced you to these two remarkable women. He will ask no further questions and simply open the gate.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

About that question

"I get it that you're shaving your head to support your friend going through chemo. But why for a year? Are you just running an experiment to get people's reactions so you can blog about it?" So go the questions.

Bernd, Susan, & Uben: Loved ones who matter a lot
Susan's chemo alone made The Shear a done deal, but doing it for a year clearly takes it into extra innings. When asked for reasons, I know in my heart and soul the many layers of motivation that make this something I simply must do. Unfortunately, I can't easily articulate them. It's about setting aside some small part of vanity, stripping away the non-essential, and in the process discovering just what "essential" entails. But even that doesn't quite cover it. This morning Susan herself inadvertently gave me more insight.

She periodically posts updates on, which touts itself as "connecting friends and family during a health event". This morning her post was about some of the ups and downs she has experienced since her third chemo treatment last Friday. She ended with:

"We read a couple of other Caring Bridge journals last night, and both reminded me to be GRATEFUL for my very hopeful prognosis in spite of the fact that I feel like warmed over death right now. I cannot begin to imagine the devastation of a parent losing an 8-year old to leukemia or a young father riddled with cancer and doing all kinds of clinical trials to try to stay alive for his young children.  I really do not have it so bad."

Susan, I don't think these situations discount the challenges you're going through, but they do quickly and dramatically bring perspective into sharp focus.

I now have an unequivocal response to anyone still wondering why I'm doing this. A Year of Living Baldly is about asking, "What really matters?" My bald head is a constant reminder to me—and I hope to others as well—to unceasingly pose that question. What really matters? And to pay close attention to the answers.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Filmmaker is Born... and Shaved

In my last post, I detailed the tribulations of making the video that was supposed to introduce this blog. At last.... 

[Press the Play > button in the small box immediately below for appropriate sound effects. If you want that special Hollywood ambience, shine a flashlight or two on the screen.]


After a month in the making, it's here! Enjoy!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"Video Killed the Radio Star" and now it's killing me

My plan has been to post about The Shear/The Shave/The Act of Going Bald, accompanied by a nice little video of the event. How hard could it be? The answer to that seems to have an age variable, parallel to learning a foreign language. For the 12-year olds uploading thousands of hours of video to YouTube on a daily basis, it is as easy and natural as breathing and texting. It is, unfortunately, an exponentially greater challenge to the over-60 virgin videographer.

This has become my “Thomas Edison Project”. Just as TE found 1000 things that didn’t work for the incandescent light bulb before finding success with tungsten, I am discovering 1000 ways not to make a simple video.

Two weeks before The Shear, I got a Sony camcorder at Costco, hoisted it onto a tripod, and video’d myself relating how A Year of Living Baldly came about. How hard can it be to sit in front of a camera and talk? (Notice this “How hard can it be?” theme. It has the reek of the passengers on the Titanic, giddily sailing off, confident in their beliefs that “God Himself cannot sink this ship.”) So yeah, how hard can it be for a natural-born talker to sit in front of a camera and talk? It is excruciating. Gazing into the camcorder's single eye, I look and speak like some wooden object with a stick up my wooden butt. It took about a bazillion attempts to capture something even marginally acceptable.

On the day of The Shear, photographer, friend, and colleague Dennis Thayer video'd the event from the first buzz of the clippers to the rosy glow of my denuded skull. All of the raw footage I wanted for my video was now “in the can”. (Are terms like "footage" and "in the can" used when it's digital?)

In preparation for combining and editing these segments for my filmmaking debut, I updated my iMac to the latest iMovie editing software, a deal at $14. But wait...Apple wouldn't let me update iMovie ’11 until first updating my iMac's operating system. More US$ sacrificed on the Altar of Apple. Done. Once again I was ready to download everything from my camcorder to the Mac. But alas, I was impeded by yet another learning experience on the road to tungsten. It seems that Sony and its resulting videos are partial to Windows/PCs. I won't go into every gnat's ass detail describing hours of enlightening dead ends, but I learned that I could have used a setting on the camcorder that would have given the video a taste for Apple. But I didn't, and too late now—that hair isn't coming back for a repeat performance. My only alternative for the Mac was to spend some more bucks on converter software to make Apple deem my precious video footage acceptable. Good to know, damn you Steve Jobs, but first I’ll pay a visit to The Land of Bill Gates.

I downloaded everything to an old PC with Windows XP (success), and fired up Windows' bundled (i.e., free) video editing software, Movie Maker. The learning experience—still devoid of tungsten—continued. XP does not like HD (high definition), which is, of course, exactly what my video files are. This was where I learned about more formats, codecs, and converters. Downloaded some of the free ones, then spent hours uninstalling them and getting rid of the malware that had come with them.

And then came—not tungsten, not quite yet—but still, some kind of magic. I downloaded the videos to my Windows 7 laptop. A la Sally Field: “Windows 7 likes me [and my video files]. It really likes me.” Unfortunately, I found that I didn't like the Movie Maker software. It was as intuitive as my wooden butt. So I downloaded the free trial of Sony Movie Studio. Bless Sony. Their "free trial" is all one could want in a test drive. The software is fully-enabled (not like some software companies that disable every useful element for free trials, rendering it useless) and it's good for 30 days. No advertising crap or viruses come along with the download. And it is really, really good. I have thanked them by purchasing it.

Beloved though Sony Movie Studio might be, it is nevertheless winding along the learning experience maze and taking longer than I expected to master the basic functions. But Thomas Edison is getting closer to tungsten. And if Thomas Edison had a Skinner rat, it would be smelling the cheese about now.

This whole video pursuit has been frustrating, if not downright painful. Despite the pain and unlike the radio star, this video gig isn't killing me but making me stronger. Even eager and excited. I'm grateful to be exploring such a spectrum of mysteries of the technical universe and to be learning a new skill that's fun and creative with potential for so many applications. I count this laborious and time-consuming pilgrimage to find my tungsten and eat my cheese altogether worthwhile. 

In the meantime, it is slowing down my blog posts. Please stay tuned. The Shear, and its recounting via video will eventually be posted. Really. How hard can it be?

Friday, April 5, 2013

It wasn't exactly the lesson I'd expected...

I knew that shaving my head would bring life lessons, as well as the possibility that a few people would stare, make comments, or react to my appearance with some level of rejection. I was okay with that. "Teach me," I told the Universe. "I'm here to learn." 

The Universe chortled. "You got it, babe."

What I didn't know was that the lessons would start before The Shear. And so close to home. The lights had barely come up in the theater after Mondays at Racine, the documentary short that spurred this decision, when I turned to Scott and shared my plan. Rather than the enthusiasm I'd anticipated, he displayed the look of someone asked to sniff milk two weeks beyond its expiration date. 

It was no secret that he loved my long hair; but I thought this opportunity to support Susan, while exploring a whole new frontier of identity and appearance would appeal to his boundless curiosity and love of adventure. It didn't. Any time the subject came up in following weeks, he would get the same sour expression. I quit mentioning it. Then Susan's chemo started, and she scheduled her hair buzz for March 22. I scheduled mine for the following Friday. Scott and I finally started talking about it.
A time of  more concern about the dog's alcoholism than about hair
(Photo credit:  Gwyn Padden-Lechten)

"You know I'll support you in whatever you do. I'm so proud of you for doing this and supporting Susan. But... " He went on to say that he felt conflicted by a sense of betrayal that his life partner would radically alter her appearance without his input. He also reminded me that he does not adapt well to change. (As I reflected back several years on an argument that spanned an entire weekendit was over changing the paint color of our bedroom from white to a muted mauve, or my desire to change it at allI could see his point.)

My distress came from feeling that he viewed me as a life support system for a bunch of hairand perhaps even more from my sense of loss that he was not joining in as my co-conspirator and road buddy on this venture. It seemed he could fully accept the loss of my hair if it were due to illness, but it was no cause for celebration to be healthy and taking this route as a conscious decision.

Even as we both politely grieved our grievances, we retreated to our respective emotional corners. I stewed endlessly on his recalcitrance toward embracing this journey that meant so much to me. Finally I realized that emotions are not currency; and Scott didn't owe me positive feelings about my choice. Despite his unhappiness with it, he had pledged his support. He didn't owe me that either, but he freely gave it. I loved him for that and for so much more.

I came out of my emotional corner, started expressing more love and appreciation, and everything seemed to shift. Scott became far more open to the impending Shear and even wanted to be present for the event.

The homeschool lessons aren't entirely over even post-Shear. Scott will occasionally look wistfully at my head and ask things like, "How fast does hair grow?" And when the "bald maintenance" Wahl hair clippers I'd ordered from arrived a few days ago, he got that sour milk look again. But he tells me I look beautiful, and we tell each other "I love you." And we keep learning.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Art and Life Intersect

It started as a quest to see every 2013 Oscar-nominated film in every category before the Academy Awards ceremony. One documentary and the desire to support a friend took me down an altogether unexpected path.

On February 9, 2013, my husband Scott and I were pursuing our Oscar Quest at the Madison, Wisconsin Sundance Theater. Fully loaded with popcorn and other sundry concessions, we were armed for the all-day undertaking of viewing the 15 nominated "shorts"—those films with a running time of under 40 minutes—in the categories of Animated, Live Action, and Documentary.

As we viewed the documentary short, Mondays at Racine, about a New York salon that offers free beauty services to cancer patients, I could only think about my friend Susan, who had been recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. The fact that Susan had seemed almost as distressed about the potential loss of her hair through chemotherapy as she had about the cancer itself made the tag line of the film particularly poignant: "When your life is at stake, why is losing your hair so hard?"

As several women in the movie had their heads shaved as a preemptive strike against its loss to chemo, it occurred to me that this was one part of Susan's path I could share with her. With immediate certainty, I knew it was the right thing to do; but it was also daunting. Shed the locks I'd spent four years nurturing and growing to great lengths? And how weird would I look with no hair? Oh yeah, considering what Susan was facing, those concerns were petty. Nevertheless, they were there.

The next instant was like being struck with lightning on the road to Damascus. As I imagined what I would experience without hair, it was a liberation akin to flying. Why? I'm not entirely sure, but I think it goes back half a century.

Due to my mother's utter lack of grooming skills, my early years were spent as a homely kid and all the rejection that entails. When I was about 10, my cousins had some teen magazines with "beauty tips", at which point a brilliant light of hope went on for me. From that moment I spent the next 50 years desperately grasping at every tip, every skill, every product (okay, maybe not "every"—never did go with anything that had "lamb this" or "placenta that" in the ingredients or title) that would help me look pretty.

Something about that moment of imagining what it would be like without hair—who I would be without hair—with the associated freedom from trying to make it look good and earning the approval of others, felt like a hostage release. Although it was still a journey I wanted to share with Susan, it became a pilgrimage I was making on my own behalf as well.

Thus began the countdown to A Year of Living Baldly.