I quickly worked the pick through the streaks of my hair. It was time to head to church for my weekly appointment with my lunch ladies. My devotional thoughts waited in the red folder on the kitchen table, ready for me to pick them up on my way out the door.
As I finished fooling with my hair, I examined the results in the mirror. That's when I had a strange thought.
"I don't have bad hair days anymore."
Indeed, every day that I can look in the mirror and see hair - my own hair - growing out of my head is a good day. Of course, the thought has its roots (ha ha!) in vanity. My very first question when I was told I would need chemo two years ago was simply "Will I lose my hair?" The straight answer came back quickly. "Yes."
It may have been vanity at the time, but on this side of that battle my hair has become a symbol of life. Of recovery. Of having faced an enemy and moved on. And I had this thought for the first time: cancer changes the face of gratitude. To be grateful for every strand of hair is to be grateful for every breath of life.
Later in the day, I chatted with my friend, Linda Ruding. Linda's cancer was three years before mine. She's the parish visitor at my church, First United Methodist in Vero Beach. Linda had two rounds with triple negative breast cancer and she was amazing during her treatment. She rarely missed work and always looked terrific. Of course, we knew she was sick but we could also see the resolve not to let this dastardly thing bring her down.
I asked Linda about being grateful on this side of the disease. Her first response was so very HER. "I was so thankful it was me and not my sisters." This terrible gene runs in their family.
To Linda, the world took on a more majestic aura. She spoke passionately about trees in particular. Trees to her symbolize living things and the beauty of creation. She gestured widely with her arms. "EVERYTHING is so much brighter and more alive!"
Hair figures into her feelings as well. Hers has come back curly and a lovely salt and pepper combination of dark gray. "I'm grateful I don't have to fool with coloring my hair or using a curling iron!"
Being the "people person" she is, Linda is most grateful for the many women she meets who are part of this vast sisterhood we all now belong to called Survivors. Since her job involves meeting and getting to know people on behalf of the church, she says she meets a new Survivor every week. Truly, I feel that we are legion. More and more of us every day because more and more are surviving than ever before.
It's now the end of a month devoted to awareness of breast cancer. The football players can put away their pink socks and gloves. The NASCAR cars can do new paint schemes about other things. Men who never before would have worn such a thing can take the pink ribbons off the lapels of their suits.
We who are survivors don't need pink anything to show our gratitude. Gratitude now has a new face that is reflected in the world around us. And yes... even in our hair. I do keep one thing hanging in my closet, just because it supports the attitude I have.
It's a simple tee shirt that says "Yes, they're fake. My real ones tried to kill me!" Thank God I'm still here.