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Any Color You Want

I was planning a trip to Puerto Vallarta, living a promise I made on a hospital bed during breast cancer treatment — a promise to say “yes” as often as I can when life offers something fun or meaningful. But while I’m parasailing over the Pacific, my new friend Suzanne will be having an unfamiliar experience of her own – her first round of chemo.

The two of us sat next to each other during a lecture on reiki, a healing technique in which trained practitioners use energy to restore physical and spiritual wellness. When we introduced ourselves, Suzanne mentioned she was recently diagnosed, and I flashed back to the first moments of my own journey. Before I knew it, we were engrossed in a conversation about the surreal quality life takes on when cancer sneaks into the room.

With the fluency of a medical specialist, Suzanne mentioned body parts I’d never heard of, one of which had an unwelcome mass. It grew at a pace that rivaled Jack’s magical beanstalk just as my own lump swelled palpably during my long wait for a mammogram. Was it during that interval that cancer spread? I refocused my attention to the important conversation we were having.

We talked about the peculiar reaction friends have toward disease, how some of our besties pulled away, and how others we barely knew came out of the woodwork. “Some of my friends hurt my feelings by their standoffishness,” she said. “But mostly, I found the reactions fascinating, as if I’m suddenly privy to a little-known quality of human nature. It’s like watching an experiment in psychology unfold right before my eyes.”

As we talked, I realized that the next time I saw this new friend, she’d look completely different. “Are you going to freeze your head?” I asked. It’s a technique some people do to save their hair during chemo. It didn’t work for me, but another woman I talked with had a great experience.

“You know, it’s weird,” Suzanne said. “My doctor listed horrifics about my health condition –what I’ll be required to do, how long treatment will take – and I was fine. But as soon as he said I’d lose my hair, I lost it.”

We laughed. Sort of.

I remembered telling my friend Terrie about my cancer diagnosis when I ran into her at the Dollar Store just before my treatment started. Visualizing myself bald was what teared me up. While Suzanne and I laughed, sort of, my cellphone buzzed. It was time for my daughter’s softball game, and I didn’t want to be late. I headed toward the door, and my new friend turned and asked one last question. “If I get a wig,” she mused, more to herself than to anyone else, “what color would it even be?”

I whispered a prayer, silently willing her to be strong. “Any color you want, Baby. Any color you want.”


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