The Lord watches over the innocent; I was brought very low, and (the Lord) helped me. Turn again to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has treated you well. For you have rescued my life from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.
Psalm 116:5, 6, 7
In one sense, we are all innocents before treatment, which is an initiation ceremony like no other. I did very well in chemotherapy, as my nurse kept telling me, but often during those four months I found myself thinking, I had no idea.
Cancer seems to me one of the most potent ways to be brought very low. Along with the reality that our lives are at risk, the indignities of treatment also bring us low. Most women I know regard losing their hair as a loss that cannot be made right with the simple assurance, Hair grows back, or the brusque “encouragement,” Be glad you’re alive. In addition, once we realize that we are going to live (for now, at any rate) we must deal with insurance forms and ever-mounting bills that result from our attempts to monitor the disease and to remain well.
Eventually we regain the strength lost to the powerful drugs. “You won’t feel like yourself all at once,” my oncologist cautioned when he released me for three months after chemotherapy ended. Friends who knew about chemo said I’d need a month to six weeks before I would feel something like myself. Although I had days near the end of chemo when I took three naps, I was determined to regain strength and stamina. I began walking half a block, then a full block, then two. At first the walks were a chore, and I carried a treasured walking stick because I felt unsteady; soon it felt good to move freely again.
Hair does grow back, slowly, and perhaps not the way it used to be. Mine was curlier than usual. Friends thought it was darling; I hated it, even though I was glad not to be bald. Every time I looked in the mirror, I was reminded that I’d been in chemo, and that it continued to affect me. Because I was trying to avoid anything that might set off mutant cells, I quit coloring my hair, so it was gray mixed with mousey brown fur. The first time I needed a haircut, I looked at the wisps on the black cape and told my stylist, “It looks like rabbit fur,” and he had to agree. He told me it would take perhaps eighteen months for my hair to regain its usual texture, and he was right.
After treatment, we do turn again to a more restful soul, although we may find a new vigilance in that soul. We feel and express our gratitude to God, to our treatment team, to our family and friends who have sustained us. We stop crying, walk without stumbling, and have the beautiful sense that we have been rescued.