I had just dug my Navy uniform out of a storage box last night in anticipation of my first day back today. This baby hadn’t seen daylight in about 10 months and I was ready to dust off my boots (isn’t that a country song?) and get back to my part-time military life. After some much needled snuggles with Chloe and Cassie this morning, I put my uniform on and immediately went to the mirror to check it out. It had been so long since I last wore it I forgot what it looked like, but it all quickly came back to me. Yup, this uniform was just as unflattering as I had remembered and I was loving it. It was a nice change from the dresses and thick makeup that I typically wear to work. Just as I was in the middle of admiring my uniform in the mirror, a devastating realization hit me out of nowhere.
I can’t wear my wig.
The hair on my wig is too long to wear down in uniform and it’s too short to fit into a bun. I tried on some old wigs that I hadn’t worn in months and quickly remembered why I hadn’t worn them. Seriously, what was I thinking when I bought these?
I stared in the mirror for a good ten minutes, trying to figure out what to do. I spent way too long trying to tame the tiny pieces of hair that each seemed to have a mind of their own. You see, I have this permanent bedhead look going on right now and I can never get all of my little hairs to flow in the same direction. I tried hard to make it look a little less like I had just rolled out of bed, even though I technically had, but to no avail. I was not ready for this. Sure, I post pictures and show you all updates of my hair growing back, but somehow this felt different. You all know what I’ve been through and there’s a level of comfort there that I don’t have when I’m in public. Plus, let’s be real, in photos I can control the lighting and the filters I use and believe me when I say that most of my pictures have filters on them. If Instagram didn’t want us to use them they wouldn’t be available, right? At least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself.
I also have to say that I even skip the wig at the gym most of the time, but honestly there are maybe 3 other people in the gym whenever I’m there. Maybe it’s not very logical to most, but to me it was dreadful. To be completely honest, I felt like someone would end up calling me “sir” before the day was over. Navy uniforms aren’t exactly feminine and combined with short hair, it would be an easy mistake for someone to make.
I fluffed up my hair as much as I could without having any hair products because, well, who needs hair products when you don’t have hair? I used water and lotion (I was desperate) to try to make it look like I have more hair than I do. I walked out the door, made my way to the base, and got to work.
Today ended up being awful. It was one of those days that nothing seemed to go right. I got very little work done because of problems that were beyond my control and it felt like a complete waste of a day. Feeling defeated and tired, I found a Dunkin Donuts on my GPS and made a quick detour before heading home for the day. I needed a pick-me-up and although the Starbucks right outside base looked appealing, I’m definitely more of a Dunkin girl. I pulled up and realized that there was no drive thru at that particular location. I didn’t even realize they made Dunkin Donuts without drive thrus! I wasn’t being lazy, instead I was dreading going inside and showing off my half inch hairs to even more people. I looked for other nearby coffee shops and didn’t find any that weren’t completely out of the way. The caffeine addict in me won and I eventually worked up the courage to walk inside.
I ordered my medium coffee with almond milk in a paper cup (I avoid styrofoam like the plague) and awkwardly waited in the corner, staring at my phone and avoiding any potential eye contact in hopes that nobody would notice me and my lack of hair. As I was walking outside, a woman in front of me held the door open and then continued walking to her car. All of a sudden she stopped, turned around and said, “you are so beautiful.” I don’t even remember what I said back because I was so caught off guard. All day I had been feeling uncomfortable and insecure and this total stranger has no clue how much those four little words meant to me. I got in my car and my eyes swelled up with tears. Maybe it was partially from the stress of my day or from all of the insecurities I had held in since this morning, but I know it was mostly from the sweet compliment by a total stranger and I just completely lost it.
I wanted to share this story for a couple reasons. The first is to show that I’m still struggling. Every. Single. Day. I’m constantly trying to find my “new normal” and it’s been so much harder than I have ever admitted to. Nobody tells you how hard life after cancer is so here I am, letting you know that it is not nearly the cake walk that I had been dreaming about since my diagnosis. Please go easy on the cancer survivors in your life because even when it’s over, it’s not really over. The second reason is to remind everyone that a simple kind gesture will go so far. You never know what the person next to you is truly going through and a small compliment, or any other act of kindness may mean the difference between a total failure of a day for someone or a happy ending.