In my two years and counting researching and writing for 4Women.com, I have learned more than I maybe ever wanted to know about hair loss and cancer. Along the way, a question has been repeatedly posed to me by new employees: “Don’t you start feeling paranoid thinking about this stuff all the time?”
There I was, new to 4Women.com, just getting my feet wet, deep in the trenches of research on the many known and poorly misunderstood causes of female hair loss. Each woman’s online account of her hair-loss experience seemed to be ejecting no less than one hundred hairs per word from my own head. Susan (President of 4Women) had shared her own hair-loss story with me, how despite the fact that her hair was falling out overnight, no one else would admit noticing it. And yet, she was skeptical that I was actually losing mine.
One year later, when the shedding finally and rather abruptly mellowed out, I had lost nothing short of 50 percent of my hair. I’m now in full-on regrowth phase, with a new, poofy/curly head of four-inch-long hair, and then about fifteen of my formerly long hairs hanging around underneath. Lovely. The cause was never found. I’m just glad it ended and it wasn’t associated with some life-threatening disease.
I am oh-so fortunate to have, thus far, no personal experience with cancer. I’ve not known anyone who has had cancer, be it family or friend. Autoimmune disease? Plenty, but cancer, zip. So everything I’ve learned about breast and other cancers while working for 4Women.com is brand new to me. What a sea of confusing information!
It is true that at times, based upon my day-to-day at 4Women.com, I get to feeling like cancer is all around me. That feeling collides with the majority part of me that lives in opposition to the idea that I am a vesicle in waiting for disease or medical care. I’ve had my share of “disease”—giardia, malaria, dengue fever, schistosomiasis—infectious diseases that most of my compatriots have little knowledge of and probably no experience with. But these are diseases of environment, plaguing our planetary neighbors that supply the natural resources upon which our economic system runs, the same neighbors that see little to none of the wealth generated by capitalism. But I’m getting off track …
I have every reason to expect good health for myself. I’m young. I’m a runner. I breastfed for two and a half years. I eat almost 100 percent organic and consume very few processed foods (exception: Kettle’s Jalapeno Potato Chips, in moderation of course). Our home water supply is reverse osmosis. I do my best to keep toxic chemicals out of my home. I spend as much time as I can in nature, reconnecting to the living planet. My grandma lived to be 104. But then that’s just part of the story.
I also had a grandma who died at age forty-seven. As a growing child, I dined daily on oodles of alcohol-induced family stress, sugar, Yellow#5 (think Fruity Pebbles and Little Debbie), secondhand cigarette smoke, and 1970s PCB-laden Coho Salmon from Lake Michigan.
So while I do my best to protect life—mine, my family’s and the planet—I’m aware that in the end, we often have little control over what life and the universe hands us. As I often remind my son, we do get to choose our thoughts and responses. I choose to be grateful, hopeful, and not to lose sight of the fact that I am just one tiny part of something much, much bigger that neither begins nor ends with me. Naive? In denial? Blissful?
Wham-BAM!! Last Saturday, I happened to feel a pebble-sized lump under my right arm. Not in the armpit, but on my rib about where my bra wraps around me, closer to my back. I immediately recalled Sue Glader’s story. She’s the author of Nowhere Hair, a children’s book to help mothers with cancer explain their hair loss to their precious young ones.
Sue tells her story: driving down the road, inadvertently scratching her armpit, feeling a lump, being diagnosed with breast cancer, mother of a one-year-old at the time. Had I not heard that story before feeling this lump under my own arm, my first thought would have been “cyst.” I had a cyst removed from my scalp years ago. This lump feels like a cyst. I have every reason to suspect first and foremost that it is a cyst. But no, upon discovery, “BREAST CANCER” whispered a scream in my mind, while “cyst” was nowhere to be heard. I couldn’t wait for Monday and the opportunity to my lump looked at.
Doctor’s conclusion? He said he feels comfortable that it’s either just a cyst or a swollen lymph node. A pre-4Women version of me would have been satisfied. The one that insists that I’m not a disease waiting to happen. As for the 4Women version of me …
I smiled and told the doctor that I was glad he was feeling comfortable. As for me, I wanted certainty. I’ll go in next week to have it cut out and biopsied. I do feel fairly comfortable that it’s nothing to worry about. I’m not thinking about it much, except yesterday when I was on one of those blogs reading/researching under the topic of breast cancer. I saw the word “underarm” and my heart jumped. I clicked “X”. Phew! Gone and good riddance.
The moral of this story: knowledge is power. The other moral, this one contributed by my dad: “Chelle, you know too much for your own good. We’re all going to die of something.” I’m okay with that, dying someday of something. Again it’s a choice, which motto or mottos to live by. “Ignorance is bliss” just is not me. Good thing too cuz I work for 4Women.com.
Research and Communications Director, 4Women.com