Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Missing Caterpillars

Disclaimer: I am trying to reconnect with the positive tone of my blog posts from the beginning of my cancer treatment, but it's not been easy. While I completely and totally maintain a positive attitude about the effectiveness of my treatment, my treatment team, and my prognosis, there is really just nothing even the least little bit fun or pleasant about chemotherapy. Please read on with that in mind.

The last week has not been my greatest week to date. My legs don't want to work correctly. I'm seriously considering a cane because I am stumbling around like an 80-year-old who's lived her entire life on bacon and booze. All of my limbs feel like they've been filled with lead. My nose is bleeding constantly. And it's so dry that when I squeeze my nostrils together, they stay that way. The membranes fuse together and I have to physically pull them apart to breath through my nose again. My fingernails hurt. My teeth ache. And I keep getting sharp pains in my ovaries and weird charley horse type cramps in my feet. All of this is horribly unpleasant, but there is something far worse happening with my body. There is an inexorable doom lurking on the horizon. A preordained inevitability that I can barely bring myself to talk about - but I will because I promised transparency in this cancer shitshow - and that I dread more than the weekly needle puncture in my chest. That's right. You guessed it.

My eyebrows are falling out.

I've always had a complicated relationship with my eyebrows. Puberty gifted me with a...er, uh...healthy brow. (Alternative adjectives would be bushy, unruly, and yeti-like.) I was late to the waxing game for whatever reason (Naivete? A complete rejection of social norms surrounding beauty? Rampant lesbianism?), so spent most of my adult life walking around looking like I had two gypsy moth caterpillars snoozing on my forehead. Ruanita always said she liked my eyebrows, but we've been together for 20 years. It's highly likely she hasn't actually looked at my brows in the last 15. These days I wax, but I still have what would probably be considered an ample brow.

When I was 13-ish, my gay uncle said to me, "Girl, only you and Brooke Shields could pull off those eyebrows!" At the time, I took it as a compliment. My uncle (the only person I ever knew at the time who had actually - gasp! - left Kentucky) was the epitome of cool in my eyes, so I was thrilled that he even noticed me. In hindsight, however, I realize that my uncle was likely 1.) Drunk on cheap beer and sub-par basketball like the Hoosier he had become, and/or 2.) Stoned, and/or 3.) Speaking in the ironic vernacular common to gay men of a certain age. I looked nothing - and I repeat nothing - like Brooke Shields. Case in point:

But now I am losing my eyebrows and I am not happy about it. I have counted the hairs I have remaining and it is around 18 on the left and 16 on the right - give or take a few since my eyesight has also become quite octogenarian-ish as of late. This may sound like a lot, but it is actually downright wispy compared to the caterpillars of my youth.

Let's be honest. Human beings look just plain WEIRD without eyebrows. I don't say that to in any way disparage the brow challenged, but it's pretty common to take a second look at someone who has no eyebrows. It's just doesn't appear normal - it's not what we expect a human face to look like. Take Star Trek for instance. Just think about how many strange Star Trek aliens are lacking in eyebrows. It's not a coincidence. There is obviously a correlation (at least on television) between eyebrow thinness and level of freakiosity, right? The fewer brow hairs one possesses, the odder they appear.

Scientists believe the purpose of the arched human eyebrow is to avert moisture in the form of rain or sweat around the face and out of the eyes. Eyebrows serve a useful purpose in that regard. They are also one of our most important nonverbal communication tools. We all know how to read a grimace or a raised eyebrow. But they also serve a perhaps less important aesthetic purpose. They make us look...well, normal. Without eyebrows, it is obvious that something just isn't quite right with a person. More so than a bald head (lots of men are bald - both willingly and unwillingly) or a limp (perhaps I just sprained my ankle at the gym) or a bloody nose (allergies, anyone?), a lack of eyebrows tells us immediately that someone is sick. Probably seriously so. And we all know how people who are obviously sick are treated.

That's right. Like invalids. Like someone who needs to have hands laid on them and a prayer circle formed around them at a BP gas station. Like someone for whom we should feel sorry. I don't want anyone feeling sorry for me. I don't want to be that person. I don't want my identity to be that sick woman. I know what you are probably thinking.  

So, Shannon, don't you feel like a complete and total shallow asshole for being so concerned about your appearance when cancer could very well be eating its way through your chest this very minute?

Why yes, yes I do. But I can't seem to help myself. It's stupid to be concerned about how you look when your body seems to be failing you on so many levels. But it's difficult not to be. The reflection we see in the mirror is very much tied to our identities. And when the YOU you are used to looking at suddenly looks nothing like YOU anymore, it's more than a little disconcerting.

I miss my little caterpillars.


Virginia said...

I think my mom went through this too. I remember her saying that she was surprised at how little losing her hair bothered her, but losing her eyebrows was somehow a much more difficult blow to her perception of herself.

Hugs, lady! Thanks for sharing all the truths of your experience, including how negative the whole thing can make one feel.

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