By Dawn Murphy
Tom and I met a year and a half ago through a dating website. We were attracted to each other by both our pictures and profiles, and then confirmed that attraction when we met for a “brief” cocktail. We ended up moving from the bar to the dining room and had dinner. We were the last guests to leave the restaurant that evening.
Three months after our first date, Tom and I were living together. Three months after that—we were not. I demonstrated my unhappiness with his behavior on that fateful day by giving him the silent treatment. He responded by leaving.
The break-up only lasted a week; but it was a pivotal period in our relationship. Over a dinner date, we talked about how important communication was. By not telling Tom what I was upset about, I committed a relationship faux pas that never works for anybody! We women tend to think that men should be able to figure it out, but in most cases men really do need to be told, as they tend to not be very good mind readers.
“Let’s talk things over,” I suggested, “when either of us have a disagreement, instead of you moving out, ok?”
Tom agreed, and since then we’ve been able to work out our disagreements, without either of us resorting to passive aggressive behavior.
Our relationship was going well, and then in December I had my annual mammogram.
A Diagnosis That Changed Everything—Except the Way He Feels About Me
“You’ll get the results in two weeks,” the technician told me, “Unless they see something, in which case you’ll find out sooner. No news is good news!” she said.
They called the next day with the news.
“There is a mass on your left breast,” my gynecologist said on my voicemail. “We’ll need to get some more images; this shouldn’t be taken lightly, we’re talking about cancer.”
It seemed every woman I knew had a mammogram scare that in every case turned out to be nothing. My mass, however, would turn out to be something, as a biopsy two weeks later would confirm my worst fears. I had breast cancer.
“How could this be?” I wondered. Cancer did NOT run in my family! I was a staunch advocate of healthy living. I ate right, ran six miles a day…
Luckily the lump was removed in a procedure called a partial mastectomy, which meant I didn’t have to have my breast removed. Unfortunately, the cancer was also discovered in my sentinel lymph node, an indication that it had spread. This meant I would have to consider more aggressive treatment as follow-up.
“I am not going through chemo!” I declared, to myself and anyone who would listen. “I will not be bald!”
I remember being more worried about looking un-attractive to my boyfriend, than anything else. He would later tell me that was completely ridiculous my thinking was!
My resistance to going through chemotherapy did not last long; I knew it would save my life. A few weeks later, I began a series of four treatments given in three-week intervals. Two weeks into the first round, as expected, I began to lose my hair. Other cancer survivors told Tom and I that in the beginning, I’d find clumps of hair on my pillow when I woke up in the morning. Tom told me not to worry about that.
“I’ll wake up every morning before you and get rid of the hair,” he said. “Then when you ask, ‘How does my hair look today?’ and you only have one strand left, I’ll tell you that it looks great!”
Your Man Loves Who You Are, Not What You Look Like
Tom always makes me laugh. During my first week of being bald, he bought me an assortment of cute hats and some hairpieces, too. (A few weeks earlier we’d gone out together to pick out a wig).
I remember Tom and I sitting with friends one evening, at our favorite karaoke bar. One of the women was a cancer survivor, so that was the topic of conversation. Tom sat quietly.
“Sorry,” I said to him later, “that must have been boring for you.”
Tom assured me that it wasn’t. “They were talking about breast cancer, and that’s what you have, so how could I be bored?”
I knew before starting chemo that I would lose my hair. What I was not prepared for was the weight gain and the constant tearing of my eyes that prevent me from wearing my contact lenses. The latest things to go now are my eyelashes and now my fingernails. I’m a far cry from that profile picture that attracted Tom to me.
“I look at who you are on the inside,” he told me. “Your hair will grow back, anyway.”
I seem to be the only one in our relationship who is bothered by my lack of hair, but I still query him with, “Do you still think I’m beautiful?” and “Are you still attracted to me?” The questions are rhetorical, because I know the answer will always be, “Yes.” I feel like the wicked queen in Snow White who always asks her mirror, “Who is the fairest one of all?” If we don’t feel beautiful, we have a hard time believing that others could see us that way.
Tom’s nonchalance over my baldness has been a huge relief. I remember thinking that I’d always wear my wig even when we were at home together; I am so glad I got over that!
Choose to Love Yourself, No Matter What
Those three months that I endured to get through chemo were definitely rough. While I have acknowledged the cancer, I’ve refused to let it get me. We have the power to choose how we’re going to respond to “bad” news, and I chose to be happy and grateful. The alternative, feeling depressed and victimized, was simply not an option.
If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer put your thoughts and energy on getting well, not about how your boyfriend or husband will feel once your looks are altered. We need to give our men credit for being attracted to our inner beauty, and not worry about what we perceive they are thinking.
Tom and I laugh all the time. We both make jokes over my lack of hair. It’s amazing how much humorous fodder there is in baldness. I know that my hair will grow back, as will my nails, and then Tom and I will have to find something else to laugh about.
Dawn Murphy is a humor writer living in Reno, Nevada. A former columnist for the Reno Gazette Journal, Dawn contributed anecdotal humor to the Sunday edition. She holds a master’s degree in education and has written many papers on effective teaching and student engagement. She currently writes for www.examiner.com and her own website: www.singingbadly.com, where she is writing about having breast cancer.