Hair today, gone tomorrow

Peggy Meintjes

Chemotherapy! I never heard that word before and there I was sitting in my doctor's office, after a radical mastectomy and three months of radiation, hearing him state I needed chemotherapy. My mind tuned out on the "chemo" part and I only hear the word "therapy." Back in 1975, chemotherapy was an unknown word to my husband and myself. To me, chemo therapy meant physical therapy.

I was concentrating on that word until I heard the doctor say "loss of hair." Well, that shocked me back into reality real fast and I started paying attention to the doctor!

After he explained what chemotherapy was all about, I went into a state of numbness. He mentioned all the bad side effects, including possible death, but all I heard was "loss of hair." I did not think I liked that idea at all.

My husband and I were living in Brussels, Belgium, at the time with our 11-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. Our doctor spoke English, but the chances of my having chemotherapy in Belgium with English-speaking technicians was highly unlikely; I could not bear the idea of going through this in a foreign language. Prior to living in Belgium, we resided in Germany. I recalled asking, in broken German, for two pears. The grocer handed me two onions. Thus, I knew I was not proficient in languages and heaven only knew what would happen in Belgium if I ask the technicians a question in my broken French.

So my husband requested a transfer to the United States from the international company for whom he worked. This was granted and in a month's time, we were settling into our new U.S. home. After living in Europe for 11 years, this in itself was a new experience for all of us.

After being evaluated in the U.S., it was decided I would start experimental drugs as a protocol for my chemotherapy treatments.

The day I was scheduled to start chemotherapy was the day my husband had a heart attack. One friend later asked us if our doctor gave green stamps! My husband was rushed to the hospital for treatment.

After my husband got stabilized, we were informed that with proper diet and exercise, he would make a full recovery, He returned home in 10 days and my chemotherapy treatments started.

In the back of my mind all this time were the words "loss of hair." During treatments, I was able to interact with various women who also were undergoing chemotherapy. We all knew that possible "death" hung over our heads, but all we were agonizing about was "loss of hair." Vanity, show thy self!

The creed of my mother drifted across my mind and I realized she had instilled that creed into my mind, "If you have faith and a sense of humor, you can survive anything."

Well, I had my faith all right and decided to use my sense of humor when the dreaded "loss of hair" stage began. Sure enough, the hair disappeared. I decided to have some fun and bought wigs in different colors. I knew all our friends were aware I was going through the "loss of hair" stage and they enjoyed seeing me as a blonde one day, a red-head the next, with black hair the next and so on. I even had a cute wig with pigtails.

Eventually my hair grew back and I was delighted to see some curls. My hair had always been straight; now I looked like Little Orphan Annie.

My faith was strong and I was ready to accept what God had in mind for me. I prayed he would spare my life until our children were 16 years old. I started teaching them how to clean the house, how to use the washer and dryer, and how to cook. I thought if I could live until they turned 16, they would then be able to drive themselves to school, after school activities, friends' homes, shopping, etc., and help my husband retain his job and not have to worry about fetching and carry them everywhere.

My prayers were more than answered!

Recently, I was able to join in the college graduation celebrations of our grandson and step-grandson. Thank you, God.

Now, at the ripe old age of 80, I do not wear a wig but sport silvery locks. However, lately I notice my hair getting thin. Oh, my goodness, am I going to experience "loss of hair" again? Where is the local wig shop and do they have green wigs?

Peggy Meintjes is originally from Boston. She and her husband, John, have been living in Charleston for about 14 years.