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.  


  1. This was a wonderful story and video. Loving, Caring, Sharing. Gaye

  2. Thank you Susan. I now have a better understanding of what happens on the inside.

  3. You've made it...Congratulations...
    You are now in the Survivor's Club...Welcome!
    Keep going strong...
    You will always be in my heart...
    Hugs, Corinne