Hair On the Shower Wall
Cancer always feels out of reach, something off in the distance that will never affect you. I thought that too, until I was sixteen. I was diagnosed with stage three Burkitt Lymphoma in May of 2020, in the midst of quarantine. It seemed to affect everyone else more than it did me, not because I wasn’t frightened or upset, but because I was still stuck inside my own thoughts. I wasn’t in denial, no. Everything just felt surreal, like I was sleepwalking for half the year.
I stayed positive through it all, walking peacefully through my “dream.” The truth is, the dream-like state started months earlier, before I was even diagnosed. I don’t know why this was, maybe I was sad, or lost in my head for reasons unrelated to cancer. I did my daily activities without struggle, but sometimes I would forget if something happened in real life, or in a dream, or maybe just in my imagination. This is when I noticed that my memories of the recent days had grown cloudy, like a heavy fog had settled in my brain, blurring it around the edges. I did often feel sad, and stuck, since the days seemed to be repeating themselves, with nothing to break the cycle. I had no purpose, there was no point. I floated around, doing homework, eating, showering, sleeping, and repeating it all again. It was as though I had become the fog, just drifting around, going wherever the wind pulled me.
I still don’t know if there even was a reason, it isn’t like something had caused me to feel sad or isolated. I detached myself from friends, and my family. I lost the desire to be myself; I had let the fog devour me. Then, I found the lump. A ping pong ball sized lump in my neck, near my jaw. We ignored it for a couple months, and then asked the doctor. After a few weeks of needle biopsies, scans, ultrasounds, and even an open biopsy, it was confirmed. Burkitt Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. One of the fastest growing types of cancer. They rushed me into treatment, five days in the hospital, three weeks out. Five times. I felt frustrated at first. Why me? Why me. It was all I thought for weeks. I was sixteen years old. This shouldn’t have happened. Not to anybody, but especially not a kid.
After the second inpatient trip, my hair wasn’t falling out. This gave me hope, because maybe it wouldn’t come out, maybe I wouldn’t have to deal with the disappointment and hopelessness that I knew it would bring. But a week or two after I got home from the second inpatient trip, I found it. Twice the normal amount of hair tangled in my fingers in the shower. My eyes got wide, and I didn’t want to believe it. I took a deep breath, and sat down in the tub. I took a minute to come to terms with it. I acknowledged that yes, my hair had started to fall out. I thought about crying, or calling my mom. But I decided not to. Those reactions didn’t reflect my feelings the way that I needed them to.
Instead, I smoothed out the long, dark strands of hair against my hands. I stuck them to the wall, making sure to keep them as straight and neat as possible. I took my time washing my hair, knowing that it would be one of the last times, at least for a while. When I finished, I let the shower continue running as I laid the rest of the hair on the wall, each strand running vertically down the tiles, twisting and interlocking with one another.
“Like vines.” I remember thinking. I imagined each hair was a long, green vine, riddled with tiny leaves and colored flowers. I began to move my fingers around the tiles, the ceramic’s cold seeping into my fingertips. I swirled and circled the hair, forming loops and lines and gaps. I frowned, focused. A big loop here, little loops surrounding it, then straighter lines going down the sides…
I stood back, and gazed at the bundles of hair on the blue and white tiles. All the previously shapeless loops and lines had grown together, forming the shape of a girl’s head, with long, flowing hair on either side. My hair. I studied the girl, and closed my eyes. In my head, she came to life; a rosy face was framed by rich, leafy vines, sprinkled with baby pink and purple flowers. She looked similar to me, but not quite the same. I grinned, and for the first time in months, I felt fully awake; the fog had dispersed. The hair on my head had died, and had started to fall out. But all my fingers’ swirling and smoothing had repurposed the strands, creating a brand new head of hair, a beautiful tangle of flowered vines. Who knew that such a vision of hope, of renewal, could have manifested itself in the hair on the shower wall?