In 2003, I was fighting my way through a brutal chemo regimen for a cancer that was attacking my lymph nodes. I had just come through a double transplant not too long before and a couple surgeries for more minor health issues. I was rundown and though grateful for all the blessings in my life, sick and tired of dealing with doctors and painful treatments and medications that made me feel worse instead of better.
About a month or so into my chemo treatments, I grabbed my friend Jackie and we went shopping for a wig. I was in a pretty good state of mind the evening we went and I chose Jackie to come with me as she has the ability to be brutally honest and unbelievably compassionate, and absolutely hilarious all rolled up in one. So off we went to the wig salon.
Upon arriving, we met our consultant, Charlene, who led us into a rather large room stocked with mannequin heads from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. I managed to find a couple that I thought would be good choices. Charlene chose a few of her own. For those of you who do not know me, my hair has been basically the same for most of my life . . . .usually on the shorter end, more wavy curly than straight, and brown. Though some like to think of me as a “subtle redhead”. Charlene’s choices for me were: a bold red long wavy cut; a dramatic long straight jet black cut with bangs; and a blonde bob.
Now I understand that in her mind, she may have been thinking, “let’s offer her something she is unlikely to try and let her see how good it looks!” OK. I was willing to play along. I don’t have to buy it and when else would I have the chance to try a different look without doing some serious damage to myself? So I went along with her game and kept smiling.
I’m the kind of shopper that I can pretty much tell if I like something or think I will look good in it when I first see it. It is very rare that when I try something on, it is completely different than what I originally expected. The same held true for the wigs I picked to try. And for the wigs Charlene picked for me. I looked like a stripper in the red one, Cher’s long lost sister in the black one, and a 50s styled diner waitress in the blonde one. ICK! But I kept my sense of humor, thanked her for her choices and reached for the ones I had picked.
This is when I started to realize that Charlene was not one bit happy that I did not care for her choices. I put the first wig of my choice on, and although it wasn’t a great fit, it was okay. Charlene instantly listed three things she found “quirky” about the way I looked in the first wig. I listened to her opinions and reached for the second one. This one was also okay, but not completely what I had hoped for when I picked it off the shelf. I barely had it situated when Charlene began her rant of how ridiculous I looked. And, as you can probably guess, I started to lose my sense of humor and I could feel a few tears welling up in my eyes. My friend did the best she could to help me along and helped me put the last wig choice on my head. Before Charlene could say anything, my friend jumped in and told her that this situation was difficult on its own and she wasn’t being very compassionate or helpful (and this is why I chose her to come along with me!).
At this point, we got up, gathered our belongings and left the salon, without another word to Charlene. I managed to get to the car before completely breaking down in one of those really ugly cries. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy shopping trip. But I also knew it was “just hair” and mine would eventually grow back. However, a bit of compassion and some kind words, despite what she may have been thinking, would have been helpful coming from Charlene, especially since she didn’t know what my normal head of hair looked like.
When I got home that evening, I had a voicemail waiting for me from my friend, Liz. She was leaving the name and number of a woman who was also fighting cancer and thought it would be a good idea for the two of us to connect. After the experience I had just had, I didn’t feel much like hearing another cancer patient’s story and I deleted the voicemail and never thought about it again.
Until two weeks later . . . . .