Straight Talk

59cfb656ab749.image

Even though it’s technically still spring, it’s pretty much summer in the South. The temperatures have already hit 90 more than once, and afternoon showers mean the humidity levels stay high. Hot and muggy–that’s the forecast for the next five months.

Last summer, with my chemo curls in full effect, I struggled to keep my hair from becoming a frizzy mess atop my head. Headbands were my go-to, along with a healthy dose of texturizing cream and some hairspray.

This summer, I actually have a decent bit of length to my hair. It’s actually at or maybe even a little longer than when I got it cut before beginning chemo:

IMG_0145

The chemo cut of 2016

But while it’s longer, it’s certainly not straighter. My chemo curls are still in full effect. And to be perfectly honest, I am sick of them.

Sure, my curls are cute. And I’ve tried my best to rock them proudly. I get a lot of compliments on them. But, again, if we’re being totally honest here, I kind of hate them.

The reasoning is two-fold. For one, they’re a pain in the ass to maintain. I have to use a special shampoo and conditioner to help deflate the frizz. Blow-drying is pretty much impossible, because that just leaves me with a poofy mess. So, to wear it curly, I usually wash it on the weekend (I’m a once- or twice-a-week hair washer), apply some texturizer and let it mostly air dry. And then I usually have to pin back part of it to keep it from being huge.

The other option is to straighten it, which is even more time-consuming–it takes at least an hour to wash, blow dry and flat-iron it into submission. And even then, I never get it totally straight. Those chemo curls fight pretty hard.

The second reason I hate my curls: They’re not me. I never had curly hair. I never wanted curly hair. The only reason I have curly hair is because something terrible happened to me. And so, they’re like a constant reminder that I had cancer. That I went through chemo. That I could go through all of that again.

I’ve done the whole “having fun with different hair” thing. I wore the pixie and dyed it red. I rocked funky headbands and barrettes. And I became a curly-haired gal for months.

But I’m over it. So that’s why I decided to get a Brazilian blowout.

I got the idea from a naturally curly-haired friend at work who recently got a keratin treatment. Her curls transformed to smooth, straight locks, and I was jealous.

So, I brought it up with my stylist at my last color appointment, and she told me she could give me that same look with the Brazilian blowout technique. It’s essentially a keratin treatment that relaxes the hair and reduces frizz. And the best part? It can last up to 12 weeks. Hells yeah.

Last week, I gave it a try. The process was pretty simple. My stylist first washed my hair with a clarifying shampoo to remove any buildup. Then she applied the solution and blow-dried my hair, using a round brush to straighten as she went. Then she used a flat iron to finish, leaving it bone-straight.

And then she washed it again. Weird, I know, but that’s part of the process. After washing and conditioning, she repeated the blow-drying process. Only this time, my hair was dry and straight in what seemed like a matter of minutes. She then flat-ironed it just a bit for extra smoothing, but honestly, that wasn’t totally necessary. Y’all, my hair is SO straight–even in the back, which is a really hard place for me to totally straighten.

IMG_1003

Back view

IMG_1001

The day I got it done

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I went three days of sleeping on it, walking around in the rain and humidity, and it stayed pretty straight. By the third day, I decided to test out the washing and styling process.

I did purchase the Brazilian Blowout shampoo and conditioner from my salon, but I don’t know for certain that it makes a ton of difference.

After washing it, I noticed my wet hair was slightly wavy on the ends, but nothing like the ringlets that normally form after wetting it. I combed it out and did my usual blow dry straightening with a round brush. I noticed immediately that it was far less poofy as I dried it, and it was straightening much faster and easier. Once I’d blow dried the hair (in sections–I use clips to hold the upper layers to get the hair underneath), I went over it with my flat iron. This also was much easier and it seemed to get much straighter than usual.

Here’s how it looked after I finished styling it myself:

IMG_1020

Still straight!

I didn’t get it quite as straight as my stylist, but pretty darn close. Each day since I’ve had to straighten it just a touch in the morning after showering (I haven’t washed it again, but it still gets a little damp in the shower). And I just took a walk outside in the super-thick humidity, and it has taken on an ever-so-slight wave, but for the most part, it’s still straight.

Y’all, this is a revelation. This is about more than just my hair. It’s like I got a piece of my old self back–I feel like me again. And with all the changes I’ve experienced in the past two years, that is a very welcome feeling.

 

Advertisements

Hide and Seek

1795894_10202533207125098_366213061_o

My mom, me and my sister

The other night, my son and I were snuggling in bed when he pointed to a photo hanging on the wall and asked “Mom, is that your mama?”

The photo–or photos, rather–hang in a collage frame my aunt and uncle gave me as a wedding gift. It was my favorite wedding gift, the only one that made me cry–a collection of images of my mother as a baby, teenager, on her wedding day, with us as kids, alongside similar images of me. A couple of the shots I’d never seen, making them the equivalent of long-lost treasure.

My son is only three, so questions about my mother make me a bit nervous because I’m not quite ready to explain the concept of death to him. I told him, “yes, that’s my mama,” and he replied, “I wish I could see her.” “I wish you could, too, baby,” I replied, trying my best to hold back tears.

Belonging to this terrible club I never wanted to join–children who’ve lost parents–is a game of hide and seek. Once you get past those first few years of grief–the all-consuming kind that can take your breath away–you find ways to live with the pain. To file it away in the back of your mind. To find a good hiding place where it can’t find you. Only, every now and then–usually without warning–it pops back up, and you grieve all over again.

My heart ached as I talked to my son about the grandmother he’ll never know. I hurt for how much I know she’d love and treasure him. I grieve the utter delight he would’ve brought her.

Holidays like Mother’s Day tend to dredge up these feelings for those of us missing our parents. We plaster on smiles and pretend everything’s fine, when deep inside, we’re hurting. Grief has found us again.

And while this holiday has gotten decidedly happier for me in recent years, it’s still bittersweet. As I revel in my own role of mother, I ache for the one not here.

To Be Young and Sick

5639bc863ca5485edb94ddf4631cb9f1

A couple weeks ago, I met with a dear friend for coffee and catching up. After running through the latest updates on work, school and family, we got down to the nitty-gritty. What’s really going on. How we feel.

After years of respiratory issues, she was recently diagnosed with a chronic lung condition. While such a diagnosis surely brought some sense of relief and validation, not to mention treatment that has her feeling more healthy than she has in a while, it also has left her with plenty of anxiety and sadness.

I can relate. And as she shared her experiences and feelings, I nodded my head in commiseration. Sure, our conditions were different, but we both shared a common (yet uncommon) experience–dealing with serious illness at a young age.

When I was diagnosed and in treatment, I had so many tell me how lucky I was to be so young and strong. Surely my youth would see me through this. And in a way, yeah, that’s right. My young, strong body certainly equipped me to handle chemotherapy and surgery and all the other trauma of treatment better than an old, frail person.

But didn’t that young, strong body also fail me? Didn’t it betray me? Didn’t it allow me to be very sick and face my own mortality far too soon?

My friend and I shared our grief over losing trust in our bodies. It’s something a lot of people experience, but it wasn’t supposed to happen to us. Not now, at least, when we’re both still in what’s supposed to be the prime of our lives.

We also talked about the utter loneliness of being seriously ill at a young age. My friend related her experiences at the pulmonary clinic, surrounded by patients decades her senior. I knew exactly what she meant having experienced the same thing at the cancer center. While your peer group is doing totally normal things like having babies, traveling, advancing in their careers, you’re in a cycle of doctor’s appointments, trips to the pharmacy and hospital stays.

People your age can be sympathetic and kind, but they truly can’t understand how it feels to be thrust into this world of constant medical attention.

Then there’s the fear and anxiety. Being diagnosed with a serious illness at a young age casts a shadow over your life. Sure, you may be treated and be just fine. You may have clear scans and NED (no evidence of disease). But there’s always that fear lurking in the shadows that it’s going to come back. Or get worse. That the treatments that worked will fail. That the medication no longer does its job.

And when something like this happens to you at a young age, that fear seems almost amplified simply because you’ve got so much life ahead of you. There’s so much time for something to go wrong. You’ve seen the boogeyman, and you just know he’s waiting for you, but you don’t know which corner he lurks behind.

There’s never a good time to face serious illness. But to be young and sick seems especially cruel. Even if you recover (which some do not, an almost unfathomable truth), so much detritus still remains, so much is left to be dealt with. Figuring out the illness is but a first step on a long journey.

Dispatches from the Dressing Room

o-bras-store-facebook

When I was younger, bra shopping was a bit of a thrill. As a teenager not even close to letting a boy see anything beyond the occasional strap slip, fancy lingerie was pretty much for my own personal enjoyment, and shopping for it felt a little naughty.

As I got older, I’d make the twice-yearly pilgrimage to the mall, sidling elbow-to-elbow with other bra bargain hunters to dig through the discount bins of Victoria’s Secret’s semi-annual sale. My collection of brassieres grew to necessitate their own drawer, filled with everything from racy lace numbers to the most utilitarian of sports bras.

In my mid-30s I became a mom, and breastfeeding forever altered my lingerie drawer. Punchy pink satin bras languished in favor of more practical–and comfortable–cotton nursing bras that I’d buy in bunches while lugging my newborn around Target.

Then cancer happened. I lost my breasts (or lost them in their natural state). While I opted for reconstruction, what I’ve been left with isn’t exactly what I’d had before. Never let anyone fool you into thinking mastectomy and reconstruction equates a “free boob job” (seriously, stop saying that, people).

That’s how I found myself at the mastectomy bra shop. I actually went there before my surgery to pick up some post-mastectomy supplies (sports bras with a front closure, camisoles with pouches built in to hold surgical drain bulbs). And once I’d healed, I came back for bras to fit my new body.

Unlike Victoria’s Secret, this bra shop operates pretty much by appointment only. Also unlike VS, they take insurance. Yes, this is one fantastic perk of this otherwise pretty shitty turn of events–insurance will pay for my bras. Of course, my new insurance makes it a huge pain in the ass by only approving one bra per day, meaning I have to go to the store multiple times to pick up my allotment one at a time (I’m trying not to complain about getting a bunch of bras for a small co-pay, but it is kind of annoying).

Being at the store is a strange experience. Just like at the cancer center, I’m usually the youngest person in the room, other than the sales staff. I sometimes think the salespeople enjoy that because they get to bring out all the fun, brightly colored, more youthful styles.

In the old days, the thought of someone joining me in the dressing room as I tried on bras would have sent me running for the door. But in this post-cancer world, such indignities don’t even phase me. That’s good, because trying on bras at the mastectomy shop is never a solo experience.

A very kind, sensitive woman helps me figure out what bras will work for my body. She brings me armfuls of different styles and sizes to try, and offers gel inserts to help me fill them out (lots of talk about how I don’t have an “apex”). Yes, even though I’ve gotten implants and fat grafting to help fill me out, the shape is different, and kind of weird. Because all of my breast tissue was removed, there’s a flatness to my chest above the implant, and there are also slight indentations where the grafted fat didn’t take (yeah, that happens).

It’s a long process to find bras that fit my weird shape and look and feel good. And while the saleslady does an excellent job of trying to make it as fun as possible for me, there’s still something uncomfortable and a little depressing about the process. It’s just another one of those moments where I ask myself, “Is this really my life? Is this really my body?”

Body image is one of the biggest struggles for breast cancer survivors. Even if you have reconstruction, it’s never perfect or exactly like what you had before. And you’re left with scars and all sorts of other physical reminders of the trauma you’ve been through. One the one hand, these things remind me how strong I am and what I’m capable of enduring. But on the other, they’re constant reminders that I’m different, both inside and out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eighteen

DETA-72

The strangest thing happened today.

It’s Easter, so we rose relatively early this morning to see if the bunny visited our house last night (he did). We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. We played outside in the balmy spring sun with my son’s new Easter goodies.

It wasn’t until late in the morning when I checked Facebook on my phone that it hit me–today is April 1.

12472449_10154098880459314_2015776637288938079_n

This photo showed up in my feed via the “On This Day” feature. Of course, I shared this two years ago today. It’s April 1, the day my mom died.

For the last 17 years, I’ve dreaded this day. This box on the calendar, with its power to transport me to the past, to the single worst day of my life (yes, even trumping the day of my diagnosis). This date that changed my life and my family forever.

But this morning, I spent hours blissfully unaware. I blame the fact that Easter fell on April 1 this year, providing a happy distraction. For a few moments, it felt like just another day, and not a reminder of what I’ve lost.

I think this would make my mother happy. I think she’d smile seeing me play with my son, enjoying every moment of his joy over his Easter basket, and my elation at being able to provide that joy.

I think she’d be thrilled to see me spending part of this day at my in-laws’ house, sitting in the sun with my mother-in-law, who loves me like one of her own. I think it would do her heart good to know that I have these incredible people–who’ve welcomed not only me, but my entire family into theirs–in my life.

Briefly forgetting what today is doesn’t say anything about my grief or how much I still miss my mother. What it does remind me is how incredibly blessed I am to have this family and this life that can produce enough joy to, even if momentarily, blot out the searing pain of her loss. I think that’s something that would make her very happy, indeed.

Graduation Day

how-to-spend-graduation-money.jpg

Today I had my six-month follow-up with my oncologist. This is my regular check-in with him that includes blood work and a physical exam.

While these appointments are routine, they kick my anxiety in high gear. My oncologist is very busy, so I always end up nervously playing solitaire on my phone while waiting on him to come into the exam room. Those minutes tick by very slowly–all the bad news scenarios race through my mind, and I have flashbacks of sitting in that room during my first appointment after diagnosis. I think about how hard his job is. While there’s certainly the high of literally saving people’s lives on a regular basis, he’s also the bearer of really bad news on more occasions than I’d like to imagine. It must be tough.

But today’s visit was a good one for both of us. He let me know my blood work looked great, and when I brought up the ongoing back/hip pain I’ve been experiencing for the past few months, he said arthritis or perhaps some degenerative disc pain was the likely culprit, but ordered an x-ray just to be on the safe side. While an arthritic hip would mean I’m just an AARP discount away from full-on old ladyhood, I’m really hoping that’s the problem.

As we wrapped things up, he told me I could start seeing him on a yearly basis. This is a big deal. I’ve graduated from every two weeks to every couple months to every six months, and now, just once a year. My schedule no longer revolves around cancer. My doctor’s appointments no longer fill my calendar. I feel so very…normal.

As I drove home, I had a little talk with myself. I have a bad habit of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Since my diagnosis, I’ve felt like bad news was around every corner. I’ve had some scares and disappointments, but for the most part, things turned out pretty damn well for me.

Yet the nervous Nelly inside me can’t help worrying that something bad is going to happen. The cancer will return. It will spread. I will die. I won’t be here to raise my son. This is is the fear I live with every single day.

But I realized today that I can’t keep living like this. Just like I came to terms with my diagnosis, I need to come to terms with the fact that I’m OK. Right now, I’m OK. I can’t control the future, and worrying about it isn’t going to prevent anything bad from happening.

So, that’s where I am now. I’m going to focus on living one day at a time, and today happens to be a very good day.

Weighty Issues

o-WOMAN-SCALE-facebook

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, amid the fear of death, treatment and hair loss, I managed to have the stupidest, most-vain thought I possibly could: “Maybe at least I’ll get skinny!”

Fucked up doesn’t even begin to cover having such a thought, but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t secretly hope I’d lose a little weight during chemo. Getting skinny when you have cancer is not a good thing. It means you’re not eating. It means you’re probably throwing up. It means you’re not well.

Yet there I was, hoping to drop a few pounds. Insane, right?

I’ve never been a super-skinny person. I’ve also never been very overweight. Like most people, I fall somewhere between–not obese, but I could stand to drop a few pounds.

My mother was always overweight. Even as a child, she was chubby. Three pregnancies and the stress of making ends meet while raising a family did nothing to help her situation.

Not to say she didn’t try mightily to change that. My childhood is filled with memories of my mother trying everything–from Weight Watchers to Richard Simmons to that wacky “Stop the Insanity” lady–to drop weight. We ate fat free cheese before they figured out how to make it edible (remember how weird that texture was?). My sister and I played while my mom walked lap after lap around the track of a local school.

But no matter what she tried, she couldn’t seem to shake the extra weight.

And she hated it. I have just a few photos of her because she always shied away from having her picture taken. When we went on vacation, she rarely went out on the beach during the day–staying indoors until evening, when she could walk on the sand fully clothed.

Though she never once did anything to make me feel like I needed to lose weight (even though I went through a pretty chubby period between third and sixth grades), seeing her struggle stuck with me. And it instilled a deep fear of gaining too much weight.

Fast-forward to today. For most of my adult life, I’ve done a pretty good job keeping my weight under control. Sure, I got so big during pregnancy that I’m pretty sure I had a couple of moons orbiting me, but I managed to drop all that weight (and then some) afterward.

But this cancer mess has thrown me all out of whack. Between my oophorectomy-induced menopause and Tamoxifen (apparently, “Tamoxifen tummy” is a thing), the numbers on my scale keep climbing. In fact, just this morning at my yearly physical, I realized I’ve apparently gained two pounds.

Sure, a little weight gain isn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. But when you’re actually trying to lose weight, get in shape and be healthier, it’s a bit dispiriting. I’ve joined a gym and actually go, and I’m keeping track of what I eat, for the most part. I’m actively trying to make better choices.

And honestly, my weight has become more than just a vanity thing at this point. Carrying extra weight can put you at higher risk of cancer–particularly breast cancer, as fat cells have been proven to produce estrogen. If you had estrogen receptor-positive cancer like I did, that’s not a good thing.

So, what am I to do? For now, I plan to push forward and continue the good habits I’ve adopted–regular exercise, more fruits and veggies, less red meat, etc. I’m also really going to try to cut back on refined sugar (a monumental task for someone with a massive sweet tooth).

I’m also going to try my best to stop thinking about the numbers on the scale and focus on ones that matter even more–my blood pressure, my cholesterol, my vitamin levels. Hopefully, even if I never reach my goal weight, I’ll still become a stronger, much-healthier person in the process.

Yes, I’m Writing About My Hair Again

032817-hair-masks-lead

I feel like I talk about my hair too much (I definitely think about it too much), but as a cancer patient/survivor, hair is a really important topic. It gives you something a little healthier to obsess about than fear of recurrence/metastasis–it’s far more fun to research hairstyles on the internet than to constantly consult Dr. Google with symptoms.

This past week, I had a particularly exciting hair development. I went to see my stylist for a routine color appointment. I also wanted her to trim my ends and take some of the bulk out of my hair with thinning shears (I have really thick hair). This was all pretty much my normal hair maintenance routine before chemo.

After doing all that, she asked if I wanted her to straighten my hair. I hesitated–I’d tried this myself at home a few weeks ago and wasn’t crazy about the results–but decided to go for it since her skills are far superior to mine.

Boy, was I glad I made that decision!

Holy moley, y’all! I almost skipped out of the salon. This was the first time I looked and felt like my old self in almost a year-and-a-half. I was practically giddy in the car as I drove back to work. And the pleasantly surprised gasps and compliments my coworkers showered me with once I returned from my lunchtime appointment only further buoyed my spirits.

Of course, I don’t have the skills or patience to maintain or replicate this look at home. A few days after the blowout, I attempted to create the look again myself. I got it sort of straight, but not nearly as nice as my stylist did. But just knowing it’s possible feels sort of magical–it’s almost as though I got a piece of myself back.

I started thinking about my cancer journey through my hair. I feel like I’ve come sort of full-circle. Here’s what I mean:

This was me pre-chemo. It’s hard to believe my hair is almost as long as it was when I cut it just before I started chemo.

And, chemo time. The shot on the left was the day I had my husband buzz my hair off after I started getting bald spots from the clumps falling out. That was my patchy Britney Spears circa 2007 look. On the right is the only photo I ever took and saved of myself completely bald. I know a lot of women who fully embraced their baldness and have lots of gorgeous photos of themselves sans hair. I just never got to that point. I hated it, and when I looked at myself with no hair it just made me feel even more like a sick person.

The shot on the left is from mid-December 2016, about two-and-a-half months after my last chemo treatment. I was also about two-and-a-half weeks post-mastectomy there. I drug myself out of the house for my work holiday party that day because they were presenting me with the Employee of the Year Award. I remember sitting at a table, and a coworker introduced herself to me–she totally didn’t recognize me with no hair.

The shot on the right is about a month later, after I dyed my hair red.

These photos were taken in February and March of last year. March was six months post-chemo. I actually really liked this stage of regrowth. My hair was long enough to style a little, and I thought I looked cooler than I actually was with my pixie cut. Plus, the chemo curls hadn’t come in so much yet, so my hair wasn’t all over the place.

Hello, chemo curls! These photos were from May and August of last year. As my hair got longer and curlier, it got harder and harder to style. I had no clue what to do with it. So I started wearing headbands. They were the only way I could keep my hair relatively tame and in some sort of style. I also fell in love with Not Your Mother’s Beach Babe Texturizing Cream, a product I still use to this day to help keep my curls under control.

IMG_0057

When I’m wearing my hair curly, which is most of the time, I have to do a little work to keep from looking like Bob Ross’ blonde little sister. Though it’s expensive, Deva Curl No-Poo shampoo and One Condition Decadence are awesome. My hair is noticeably softer and less frizzy when I use these products. I also like their Set It Free moisture-lock finishing spray. A few spritzes of this give my hair a little hold without making it stiff.

Another thing I can’t live without these days is bobby pins. When I’m wearing it curly, my routine is to wash it, work in a little of the texturizing cream and pin back pieces on either side so that they lie flat. Then I let it air dry. Or like today, I’ll pull some hair back off my face and pin it back in the center of my head.

One more thing to note: Getting haircuts is a crucial part of growing your hair out. When you go from having nothing, it seems counterproductive to cut what little bit you have. But it is so necessary! I never thought about it until I went through it, but while your hair grows at the same rate on your head, different placement makes it look longer in spots. In other words, if you don’t trim the back you will have a mullet. Nobody wants a mullet (sorry, Mike Gundy). Seeing that precious hair you’ve only just gotten back falling onto the floor with every snip is hard, but it’s worth it.

I remember being fresh off chemo with my peach fuzz head, barely able to imagine no longer being able to see my gleaming white scalp. But here I am. And if you’re going through this and feeling like you’ll never get there, trust, you will, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Year of Growth

0555bbe9368a05bff51437bdc1ff702e_XL

The other day I logged into Facebook and was greeted with a blast from the past via their “On This Day” feature. It was a photo from last January’s Las Vegas Market, my first work trip since my cancer diagnosis.

That trip felt a bit like a coming out party. I’d been off the road for nearly six months, and I was completely changed, inside and out.

Particularly out. At that point, my hair was just growing back in, and I’d decided to dye it red for a change of pace. I had a funky new pair of glasses, and I was trying to figure out how to feel comfortable in my skin again after the world-rocking experience of cancer, chemotherapy and mastectomy.

Looking at that photo, I couldn’t help thinking how here a year later, I once again look completely different. I did a side-by-side comparison for you–these photos were taken almost exactly a year apart, to the day.

IMG_0093

2017 vs. 2018

I can’t help noticing more about the photo on the left than just my hair. There’s a sadness in my eyes in that first shot, and a feeling of trepidation. I look like I want to smile, but just can’t quite bring myself to do it. I’m still too tired, still too fearful, still too worn to even fake joy.

And here I am today on the right. There’s a smirk, but not a full smile. I’m not quite there yet. My hair is wild, curly and blonde. The latter feels like the me I was before all this, but those wild curls seem to represent how I feel about my life now. One of my favorite sayings is: “You can’t control everything–your hair was put on your head to remind you of that.” Ain’t it the truth?!

I have a new appreciation for relinquishing control. Or accepting that I cannot control everything, and that’s OK. Are there days that living that truth is hard? Hell yes. But it’s an important lesson to learn, and even though I hate the way I was taught it, I’m glad for the knowledge nonetheless.

This last year has been one of growth for me on so many fronts. From my hair to my health to my emotional well-being, I’m in a better place than I was in January 2017. And while I still have plenty of growing to do (particularly on that hair front!), I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished thus far. Growth is hard, but growth is so good.

 

Awkward Conversations

One of the things people never really warn you about with a cancer diagnosis are the awkward conversations.

There’s the unpleasant business of telling your family, friends and co-workers. There are the “how are you feeling” questions that during chemo you want to answer, “like a steaming pile of shit just flattened by a tank.” But you don’t because you’re Southern and too polite for your own good. There are the conversations with your oncologist about how menopause is affecting your sex life. SO much awkward.

And the thing is, they don’t end with the conclusion of treatment.

This week, I went to a conference for work. I saw lots of people from the industry I cover who’ve seen me go from a long-haired blonde to a pixie-cut redhead to the blonde, curly mop I’m sporting now.

Because I never made any sort of public announcement about my cancer (because that would have been super-awkward), most of them have no idea what I’ve been through or why my hair has changed so drastically.

One sweet gal remarked how much she loved seeing all the hairstyle changes over the past year. She was genuinely complimenting me, so I just smiled. But inside? So awkward.

Another time, a colleague from a previous job who now works for one of the furniture companies I write about remarked on my short, curly hair. “Is it naturally curly?” She asked, having always known me to have straight hair. “No,” I responded. Later I laughed, realizing she probably thought I’d cut my hair off and permed what was left. She probably thought I’d lost my mind!

I could’ve just told these people the truth. I didn’t cut my hair; it fell out. And when it finally grew back, it was curly. Because of chemo. Because I had cancer.

But like I’ve said before, that’s a giant turd to drop on someone. It stops the conversation. It changes the tone. It makes people feel…awkward.

Just like I’ve learned to talk around my dead mom when new people ask about my family, I’m learning to talk around my cancer. Not out of shame or anything like that, but just to make things easier. When things have been so hard, a little ease is worth any internal awkwardness I may feel.