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December 15, 2008

Not Just a Job, It's a Mission

Handcircle_8 When the doctor told me I had cancer, I had only one question.

"Will I loose my hair?"

I know that seems like a superficial question for such a serious situation, but I was all of 22 and the doctor had already assured my parents and I that even though I had stage four Hodgkin's Disease, I had an 80% chance of survival (which, in my naive 22 year old mind, was as good as 100%).  So while I was assured the chemo would save my life, I knew the only way I could actually get through it was to maintain my dignity.

Mom and I set out to find a wig before I started treatment so I could find one that looked like my real hair.  I wanted to recognize myself in the mirror.  Mom called the American Cancer Society to get a list of wig shops and at the top of the list was something called "Burnadette's."  Burnadette's required an appointment, so we grabbed the first available slot and checked out the other shops on the list.  The more shops we visited, the more panicked I became.  The wigs we saw were fine if I wanted to look like a punk rocker or like Edith Bunker.  But there was hardly anything that remotely resembled my normal straight brown hair.

By the time my Burnadette's appointment arrived, I was scared and defeated.  I began to imagine life as a hermit, knowing the only way I could get through the next nine months of treatment was by avoiding the sympathetic stares of strangers.  When we arrived at Burnadettes, which turned out to be an average hair salon, we were led into a small private room.  Beautiful wigs lined the walls.  We were joined by a consultant who was specially trained to work with cancer patients. With compassion and reassurance, she explained exactly what to expect with my hair loss.  Not only did they have wigs that matched the texture and tone of my hair, but they offered to cut and style it to match the style I normally wore. She suggested we cut off a swath of my real hair and attach it to strips of masking tape that I could pin to the inside of a hat, making it look like I had hair peeking out, for the days I wanted to go wig-free.  She gave me information about nutrition while undergoing cancer treatment and taught me make-up techniques to cover the loss of my eyebrows, something I hadn't even anticipated. The only thing I paid for was the cost of the wig.  I was so grateful and relieved -- I was now ready to beat my disease.

A few years later after my full recovery, by a twist of fate, I was offered a job at the American Cancer Society.  It was there I learned that my Burnadette's experience was part of a program called Look Good...Feel Better, a collaborative program between the American Cancer Society and the personal care products and cosmetics industry.  I also learned just how much beyond Burnadette's the Society contributed to my recovery  -- from the critical information that helped me understand my disease to the medical advances, made possible by the Society's huge investments in cancer research, that not only saved, but enriched my life by maintaining my fertility so I could have my beautiful girls.  The Society continues to give to me and my family by allowing us to fight back against the disease at the American Cancer Society Relay For Life (or "The Cancer Party" as my girls call it).  It's there that my husband, who was my caregiver during my illness, and I get to celebrate our triumph over cancer as I walk the survivors lap with my daughters each year.

I'm so proud to work for an organization that saves lives from cancer.  Every day I hear stories and meet people like me whose lives were saved by the Society through its contributions to cancer research, its extensive education efforts to help prevent cancer, its aggressive advocacy work and its work to help patients and their families overcome the variety of daily challenges that inevitably come with a cancer diagnosis.  And although it makes work-life balance particularly tough for working moms like me (long hours are frustratingly easy to justify when you're saving lives), I know first-hand that my work at the Society truly makes a difference.

An original Deep South Moms Blog post.  When she's not fighting cancer, she's trying to figure out how to fight cancer AND be a great mom at her personal blog Up With Moms.

 

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