In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, I am reprinting this blog I wrote in response to a salon.com “open call” on the question, “What can’t you bring yourself to throw away?” While it’s a sad reminder of a period of my life I don’t want to revisit, it’s also a reminder that breast cancer is real, and still affecting far too many people. Let this be a reminder that screenings and early detection saves lives. Early detection definitely saved mine.
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 a 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.
I was done with it because it just shouted, “Cancer!” to me.
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, I thought, or just stuff it in the trashcan …
I didn’t have to keep it, but old ominous sayings ran 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 kept it, granting it a cancer-fighting power that would protect me from ever having to be 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 up 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.
I worried that it kept coming back as a sign that I needed to keep it to ward off cancer.
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.