A Breast Cancer Diagnosis

at 11:43 PM

Breast cancer diagnosis was a hard slap at my 78-year-old body and mind. The mastectomy and subsequent treatments occupy an enormous amount of time. My six-month job description: show up and be cured. The first week after chemotherapy is difficult and inconsistent. My athletic body is an unreliable partner.

Needing to direct something, I took charge of my appearance. First, a substitute was needed for my missing breast. Rejecting plastic surgery reconstruction, a "falsie" was required. That old 1940s word describes the soft foam rubber device to balance a lopsided chest. With several variations, I easily create a match. My husband always checks for off-kilter alignment, which I correct.

Knowing that hair loss can begin dramatically, I wanted a hairpiece. A friend took me to her favorite wig store. What an overwhelming experience. Literally hundreds of hairpieces are displayed on eyeless styrofoam heads. So much hair, so many eerie choices. We chose a silver-white model, almost exactly my color.

I asked my husband to become a barber and shave my head -- a difficult adventure for both of us -- since I now resemble an alien from another planet. But when I leave the house it's either the wig or a colorful tubular scarf that makes me resemble an elegant kibbutz farm worker.

On one wig-wearing morning I met a friend from years ago. "Oh Joan, you look great but your hair has gotten straighter!" How grand to hear her praise my hairpiece.

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I've learned the difficulty in predicting the most dire future moments based on past experience. Now I confront whatever falls in my path. The independent me, has also learned to ask for help. I know that the love and support from family and dear friends enables me to move forward to the cure.

I'll be skiing in January, cancer-free.

With a Perspective, this is Joan Reiss.

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Joan Reiss lives in San Francisco.

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