A few years ago, Libby was writing in a diary-type book designed to help record your life’s memories and the question was asked, “What things do you wish you had done differently?” Libby wrote this response, “I wish I hadn’t been so self conscious. I thought I was not attractive and I spent a lot of time trying to make myself as attractive as possible. If I had to go anywhere without my makeup or without my hair dried, curled, etc. then I would not go!”
Libby was raised in that distinctly southern tradition which dictated that a proper young lady had make herself “presentable” before leaving the house, her outfit had to be coordinated, her hair had to be fixed (no cover-up hats, or pony tail short cuts) and all makeup, including lipstick, had to be diligently applied. Throughout her life Libby never wavered in that effort to always look her best; in fact Libby’s nurses commented on the morning of her mastectomy that they had never seen a patient arrive at 5 AM on the day of surgery looking so beautiful with gorgeous hair and full makeup.
That long, perfectly coiffed hair was the first thing I noticed about “the new girl” walking along the covered sidewalk between the cafeteria and our old Junior High School. Although Libby changed hair styles often during our 35 years together they were (to me at least) subtle changes and somehow I was caught off guard each time by that dreaded question, “Well, do you notice anything different?” I would nervously look her over from head to toe while she put her hands on her hips and impatiently tapped her toe against the floor, waiting on me to compliment her because she had just paid someone $35 to cut off 7/8 of an inch of her hair and curled it in a slightly different direction (but I digress).
When we first heard the word cancer used in the same sentence as chemo, Libby and I both knew this hair thing was going to be emotional. In order to lighten the mood and to sincerely demonstrate my sympathy, I offered what I thought to be a noble gesture by shaving my head. Even after years of marriage Libby and I often struggled with communication, but this was not one of those times because her intent was very clear when she said “You are not cutting off your hair! There is absolutely no reason for us both to be bald, besides I plan on buying a wig and then you will simply look stupid!” Then, as if the point needed more emphasis, Libby explained that if I cut my hair, I could expect any and all physical contact to cease until such time as all of my hair grew back. I waited a long time before I even trimmed my hair again.
After our first trip to the infusion lab for chemotherapy one of the nurses took Libby aside and talked to her about her hair, “Libby,” she said, “cut your hair much shorter than you ever have in your life and let that new look sink, then it will not be as much of a shock when you loose it all, besides short hair is less messy and it will be easier for Barry to unclog the drain in the bathtub.” I have included a photo that I made just after Libby’s short hair cut, but after a few days her hair was coming out by the handfuls and she asked our youngest son, Nathan, to buzz the remaining hair. Afterwards Libby explained that loosing her hair was so traumatic she didn’t want me to be the one to cut it all off.
Libby was given Andromycin (often referred to by cancer patients as “The Red Devil”) as a part of her treatments which was the main drug that caused her hair to fall out. Libby told me one day, “I think the Red Devil is truly ‘of the devil’ because every hair on my head fell out, I’m getting mouth sores, my eyebrows came out and now my eyelashes have fallen out, but do you what is the worst thing about this drug?” Now I had a pretty good indication from the tone of her voice that this was a rhetorical question, so I shook my head and waited, then Libby finished her thought, “I know the drug is ‘of the devil’ because I still have to shave my legs!!!”
We made several trips to several different wig stores and we bought a lot of wigs in that 5 year period but nothing ever came close to her own gorgeous long black hair that truly was “her glory” (1 Corinthians 11:15). Libby had cut, curled, brushed, rolled and washed her long hair for over 50 years and in just under a week it was all gone.
Cancer is one of those things that keeps relentlessly taking away things away from you until there is nothing left for it to take from you.