Cancer In The Closet

I wrote this in response to a salon.com “open call” on the topic: spring cleaning.

What can’t you bring yourself to throw away?


It sits on the top shelf of my closet, inside a box, where I don’t have to look at it.

Most days I don’t even think about it.

I store breast cancer in my closet.

It comes in the form of a wig.

Not just any old wig,

a custom-made, human hair wig that fit perfectly over my smooth bald head

for nearly a year,

giving the false impression to the world

that I was in good health

with my mane of beautiful blonde hair.

When a friend was diagnosed

(the first in a series of six friends in four years since my diagnosis),

I offered it to her as a gift that she could keep, pass on, throw away, or burn for all I cared.

She gladly accepted it.

I was exuberant

to let it go, like excess weight falling off my body,

making me feel lithe, agile, and aloft.

Within days it showed up on my doorstep with a note.

“Sorry, it didn’t fit.”

I held it cautiously like a snake

I might pick up with a long, sturdy stick

to keep it far from me

until it could be tossed back into the woods

where it belonged.

I could give it to the American Cancer Society

or just stuff it in the trashcan for that matter.

I don’t have to keep it, but old wives tales run through my head like,

“If you get rid of it, you’ll need it.” Or, “If you keep it, you’ll never need it again.”

So I keep it, granting it a cancer-fighting power

that will protect me from ever having being caught up

in the maelstrom of a cancer war again.

I tried to give it away at least three times

but it kept coming back

with comments about it being too small.

Stupid small head anyway, I thought

as I marched upstairs to store it for the last time.

I climbed on the stool, reached for the designated floral hat box

on the top shelf of my closet,

and stuffed it back in there for permanent keeping.

Maybe that it kept coming back to me

was another sign that I needed to keep it, I told myself.

Whatever works, I thought as I walked back downstairs.

Storing a wig in my closet is a small price to pay for being cancer-free.

I know this is insane, but old wives tales or not,

I’m keeping that wig forever

because getting rid of it makes me feel as naked, vulnerable and afraid

as the day I looked into the mirror

and saw a bald woman reflected in the glass,

and realized it was me.

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