An ambulance ride on New Years Day landed Libby in Erlanger Hospital, but her stay lasted much longer than any of us expected. It took some time but the doctors were able to control the nausea, however they could not stop the crushing headaches which caused Libby to spend a lot of time with a damp rag draped over her eyes in an attempt to block out all light and stimuli.

The oscillation between good news and bad news increased in frequency and amplitude beginning that first day of 2014.  One of Libby’s doctors told us that the new experimental drug that she had recently started was likely the reason for her headache and nausea, “Therefore,” he said with medical confidence, “As soon as the side effects from the drug wear off, this little girl will be going home… probably tomorrow”; fantastic news that I relayed to friends and family as soon as the doctor left the room.

Before that good news got three “likes” on Facebook things changed. Helen, Jerod and I were all in the hospital room as Libby rested beneath her rag in an attempt to fight off yet another headache.  A nurse was in the room taking vitals when Libby began jerking violently, her eyes fluttered and rolled back in her head and then her body went limp. The nurse fumbled nervously for the call button and reported a code blue.

I felt useless as the room quickly filled with medical staff coming from every direction, a doctor began barking orders to the Rapid Response Team while we shrunk into a corner unable to see Libby. I remember thinking to myself, “Surely it’s not going to end like this, I haven’t even said goodbye!”

Following the initial flurry of activity, the team seemed to be doing very little to actually help Libby until one of the nurses asked, “Mrs. Gilley can you hear me? Mrs. Gilley do you know where you are?” Silence.  Seconds later she asked again, “Mrs. Gilley can you hear me?  Do you know where you are?” Then a very small, sweet voice from within the circle of white coats and blue scrubs said,  ” I know that I’m in my hospital room…but I don’t think I have met any of you.”  After some nervous laughter from the medical team Libby, a little stronger now, continued, “Why are all of you in my room?  Did I do something wrong?”

Over the next few days the seizures increased until Libby was having as many as five a day and the Rapid Response Team responded so many times that they were soon on a first name basis with us all.  Then as the seizures became almost routine we stopped calling the team or even the nurse and I eventually learned to handled the seizures myself.

At the time I could not have imagined anything worse than watching Libby have a seizure and pass out but then toward the end of the week Libby seized while her mom and sister were visiting and although I had done my best to prepare them both, it was difficult to look in her mother’s eyes while trying to coax her daughter back to consciousness.

Later that night Libby’s sister, her mom and I made the decision to call in all of the family in on the next day to see Libby, for what we all believed would be the last time.

Hair Today…Wig(s) Tomorrow

Libby always had gorgeous dark hair, it was one of first things I noticed about her during Coach Killen’s gym class at Chattanooga Valley Junior High School; well, her hair and the fact that no one really wanted to pick her to play on their dodge ball team.

Libby’s hair remained roughly the same length and style for her entire adult life (except for that teased, big hair, 70’s look). Libby spent a lot of time cutting, curling and fixing that hair, so and it was traumatic when a few days after her first chemo treatment, all of that gorgeous hair started coming out by the handfuls.

Libby snowshoing

Soon after her hair came out Libby said, ” The worst part of chemo isn’t necessarily loosing my hair, it’s that people treat me different without my hair because now I look sick.”

Libby in hat

Years later Libby’s opinion changed slightly and she said, “The worst part of chemo is not that my hair, eyelashes and eyebrows all fall out, its having to deal with all of that while still shaving my legs, because for some dumb reason, my leg hair is resistant to even the most toxic chemotherapy drugs known to man!”

In the five years that Libby dealt with breast cancer we spent a lot of time (and money) on wigs and they became a fun diversion because just as she did with so many things in her life, Libby made the best of a bad situation.

Libby had on her favorite wig one day as we were visiting my dad at his house on the lake; he had been feeling ill and like most southern ladies, Libby believed that home cooking could heal most any sickness. Using my mom’s recipe and her old black iron skillet Libby decided to made some cornbread to go along with the meat and vegetables that she had cooked.

It was difficult to determine if the cornbread was done by simply turning on the oven light and peering through the dark glass, so periodically Libby leaned over and opened the lower oven door to make sure it was golden brown.  After cooking, Libby decided to let the cornbread cool on the stove top and join me for a boat ride across the lake.

As we were walking back to the house after the ride I mentioned to Libby that she needed to check her wig in the mirror because she had a wind-blown look as if we were still flying across the lake in the boat. When Libby found a mirror, I heard a scream and uncontrolled laughter as Libby came into the living room with her wig in her hand explaining that the hairs had evidently melted from the heat of the oven and then cooled on the boat ride. The wind-blown look was permanent because the synthetic hairs melted together forming a cohesive wave and it looked as if she was moving fast even while she was standing still.

Later we decided to take a short family trip to the beach and Libby thought that she should buy a blonde wig because, “Blondes and beaches just somehow seemed like they should go together.”


It was rare that we could all get together as a family since Nathan and Bethany were in Augusta but the late fall weather was perfect and I was able to spend some time walking on the beach with my newly blonde wife.

Libby learned a lot about wigs and wig care, mostly through trial an error, for instance once you get the shape and look that you like in a synthetic wig, maintaining that look is easier if it is placed over a round object instead of putting it back in its box.

Unfortunately on our beach trip we didn’t take any of the styrofoam heads to hold the wig’s shape at night so Libby found a roundish lamp shade to support her new favorite wig.  The only problem was that during the night someone decided that particular lamp would make a good night light and synthetic wigs do not do well with heat (see cornbread story above).

Yea, we may have gone through a few wigs during Libby’s five year illness but with Libby life was never dull, just ask the lady at the wig store, we helped put her son through college.

From Now On…

After discovering that Libby’s breast cancer had metastasized into her abdomen in November of 2o12, our emotions began to rise and fall in an inverse relationship with the fall and rise of her tumor tumor marker results.  Even though we were warned that we should not let our emotions be driven by the results, when a blood test revealed the tumor markers were down, indicating fewer cancer cells, our excitement was high, likewise we were down when the markers went higher.


During one particularly sobering visit to University Oncology, Libby asked her doctor how many rounds of this new chemo were planned for her during this treatment series and Dr. Schlabach said,”Oh, Libby, I’m sorry, I must not have explained myself very well when we started these treatments.  You will be on some type of chemo to control the cancer for the rest of your life. As long as your tumor markers stay low we will stay with the current drug and dosage, if the tumor markers rise we will need to make changes.”

The realization that injecting Libby with toxic chemotherapy, from now on, just to keep the cancer at bay changed our thinking and our lives as evidenced in this Caring Bridge post from Feb 1, 2013

When this breast cancer journey started in September of 2008 our focus was on getting through the treatments and “getting back to a normal life”.  Many of you even attended a huge “NO MOE CheMOE Party that we had at our church to celebrate.  Things are different now.

We understand how serious this is; and short of a miracle from God (for which, by the way, we are still praying ) chemotherapy will be used in some form or fashion to keep the cancer in check from now on, providing us extra time that we have determined not to take for granted.

We don’t mean to avoid the question that is on everyone’s mind which is either “What is the prognosis?” or “What does the future hold?”  The truth is we honestly don’t know and, yes, we have asked those questions of Dr. Schlabach he said we are simply in uncharted waters.  When we asked what would happen if she didn’t want to take these treatments he said ” Oh you definetly don’t want to do that” and so we left it at that.  Dr. Schlabach told us to keep praying that the tumor markers will continue to fall then we will decide what to do after that.  To date the chemo has kept the Peritoneal Carcinomatosis symptons in check and for that we are truly thankful to God.

Libby has had so many tests run on her blood such as CA-2729 and CA-153 that Libby and I have developed a running joke; anytime one of us says something harsh to the other one, we say that a blood test would reveal that their DC markers (Devil Cell) count is up, likewise an act of kindness would indicate that the AC markers (Angel Cell) count is up.

As Libby fights this cancer enemy and the rest of us fight the enemy of Devil Cells markers, remember this verse:  The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are under you. He drives out the enemy before you; he cries out, ‘Destroy them!’  (Deuteronomy 33:27 NLT)


Déjà Vu All Over Again

IMG_5280Things happened quickly after Thanksgiving 2012: The metastasized breast cancer was biopsied, analyzed and charted, Libby had another port implanted and the drug protocol was established.  On December 17, 2012 we began Chemo Round Two and I posted  the following message on Libby’s Caring Bridge website:

I have been a “fixer” all of my life and I have the accumulated tools and workshop to prove it.  When our boys were little they naïvely thought their dad could fix anything that they broke and believe me, they broke a lot.  I inherited that “fixer” mentality from my dad who saved everything and was capable, in my mind at least, of fixing anything (are you sensing a pattern here?).  As a boy when trying to repair a broken toy I always wanted to give up and throw it away, but my dad’s response was always the same; “Somebody, somewhere came up an idea, designed it, built all of the pieces and assembled it.  The only thing you have to do is repair one little piece to make it work again.” 

As a “fixer”  it has always been hard to accept help from others and today was no different as I sat idly by while nurses prepared and administered Libby’s afternoon “cocktail” of Taxatere, Herceptin, Perjeta, steroids and anti-nausea drugs, hoping and praying that they would be able to fix the only girl that I have ever loved.

Caring Bridge entry by Barry 12/17/12

We had planned to celebrate my birthday after Libby’s chemo treatment but she was soon confronted with nausea, dizziness, metallic taste and loss of appetite, similar to the symptoms that she had experienced during her first round of chemo four years earlier, so we decided to postpone the birthday celebration.

A few nights later as we were getting ready for bed, Libby was scratching her head with both hands and said, “I just can’t figure out why my head keeps itching”.  Then, as if a light went on, Libby raised her eyebrows and smiled awkwardly as we both remembered, at the same time, that the itching meant her hair was getting ready to fall out just like it did four years earlier.

Without much discussion nor emotion Libby said, “OK let’s get this over with.” We walked into the bathroom where I took out our trusty Wahl clippers, attached a black plastic 1/4″ guard and I gave Libby a buzz haircut, but instead of buzzing it all, I left a 2 inch wide strip of relatively long hair on the top of her head forming the perfect Mohawk.

Readers will have to take my word for this because as I stepped into the other room to get my camera and record Libby’s new hair style, she found a mirror and…well… lets just say that she was not excited about her new look.  I calmly and logically explained that there was no reason to “go on the warpath” because I could easily correct it.  (It was at this point that insights gained after 33 years of marriage kicked in and I decided not to take that picture). Libby insisted that I cut the remaining hair immediately becasue she said, “What if the rapture comes and I am ‘caught up together with them in the clouds’ looking like this?”.


Family Traditions

The Thanksgiving holidays have always been extra special for the Willis clan because the entire family gathers to celebrate two holidays at once. During the first half of the day Thanksgiving is celebrated with a huge meal, then during the second half of the day Christmas is celebrated with presents, a tradition that we have kept since the beginning, and by “beginning” I mean from the time I married into the Willis family, not the very beginning when there were pilgrims.


Libby and I discussed holiday traditions with our respective families during the first year of marriage and decided that we would spend Thanksgivings with the Willis’s and our Christmases with the Gilleys.  Then, as the years went by and Libby’s sisters started their own families that tradition continued.

By Wednesday November 21, 2012, the annual Willis family Thanksgiving/Christmas celebration had been in the planning stages for months, the menu had been decided and the Christmas gifts were wrapped, in fact, most of our gifts were already in the back seat of my truck as I was driving home following a meeting in Nashville.

During the drive Dr. Schlabach unexpectedly called to offer us the use of his condo in Montana for a family ski trip, but there was a long pause before he asked, “Is Libby with you right now?”  “No,” I responded, unsure of where this conversation was going.  “OK good……… (long pause)………Barry we need to talk…” .

Instantly I felt a tightness in my chest just as if someone were tightening several of those ratcheting cargo straps around my chest.  Dr. Schlabach began explaining to me that Libby’s most recent blood test revealed certain enzymes which were given off by tumors and that Libby’s “tumor markers” numbers had gone from normal to “significantly high” and he wanted to schedule a PET scan immediately. My chest tightened a little as if the ratchets on those imaginary straps were all cinched up one click.

Now, there had been some scares in the past but something in Dr. Schlabach’s voice told me that this was different.  My own voice cracked a little when I said, “Dr. Schlabach this is not the kind of news I wanted to hear” his reply was full of emotion, “It is not the kind of news that I ever wanted to have to tell you…. Barry, I am so sorry.”  Click, the imaginary ratchets tightened again.

I thought Dr. Schlabach was trying to change the subject when he asked “What plans do you and Libby have for Thanksgiving?”.  I explained to him about our standing tradition with Libby’s family and he said, “Do me a favor Barry, “Let Libby enjoy her family over the holidays, because……..(long pause)……I have to be honest with you here, the next part of this journey is going to be rough.”  It was getting harder and harder to breathe now as the ratchets clicked once more.

What followed was the worst 24 hour period in our marriage (for me at least, up to that point) as I tried to pretend everything was normal.  Libby, on the other hand, was so preoccupied with the upcoming holiday and the opportunity to get together with her family that she only asked me one time if something was bothering me and I felt another click when I lied to her.

Following a restless night, there was the usual flurry of activity on Thanksgiving morning as we loaded up the truck and drove to Libby’s sister house in La Grange, GA.  During the day I forced myself to make small talk with all of the in-laws, nieces and nephews as the pressure from the proverbial straps built every time someone asked, “Hey, Barry how are you?”  “Doing great,” I lied.  Click. “How are you?”

When our family finished our meal and gathered in the living room to open presents, the Detroit Lions were loosing yet another Thanksgiving day game on the big screen TV when Libby said, “Wait, before we start. I need to run out to the car, I left one of my gifts.” Seeing my opportunity to catch Libby alone I called after her, “I’ll help you”.

I had made the decision during lunch as I watched Libby interact with her family, that I should tell her about Dr. Schlabach’s call and let her decide when and how to tell her family the bad news.  In what may have been a first for our marriage, I caught up with Libby in the driveway and said, “Libby, we need to talk….”

Libby turned quickly with an awkward half-grin on her face, unsure of what she had just heard, but when she saw the emotion in my face and the tears in my eyes, she knew instantly that she was not going to enjoy this “talk”.

Libby had some obvious questions like, “Why did he call you instead of me?” and “Are you sure about the test?”.  But, as usual, Libby took the news in stride and she wanted to be the one tell her family, but, she said, “Lets wait until after the gifts are opened so we don’t ruin the entire day for everyone”.


After opening gifts and trying to act like everything was normal, Libby and I gathered Jerod, Nathan and Bethany into the kitchen and told them the news privately before gathering all of the rest of the family.  It is hard not to miss the irony when I say that I wanted to be as honest with everyone as possible since I had been lying to everyone, Libby included, for twenty four hours.


The proverbial bands around my chest had tightened so much that my lungs struggled for enough air just to say, “Before you all go back home today ” breath, “Libby wants to tell you all something…”   We each turned to face Libby but the tears had already started to flow so she nodded her head toward me, the signal for me to take over.  Now, as if spectators at a tennis match, the family all turned their heads in unison back to me.

I eventually got most of the message out to the family before the tears choked off the rest in what had to be the worst ending ever to our thirty three year Thanksgiving/Christmas celebration.

Makeup, Hairdos and Tattoos

After thirty years of marriage and lots of conversations starting with, “Barry…We need to talk…”, one would think that every subject imaginable had been discussed.  Occasionally those conversations happened simply because Libby wanted to talk, but many times when she said, “Barry…We need to talk…”, it meant I was in trouble and it didn’t take long to discover that, with Libby, there was a right and a wrong, a black and a white but very few greys.

Following Libby’s diagnosis of breast cancer we were introduced to a whole host of subjects that, until now, we had never even considered, much less discussed. We were both making adjustments continually because our lives were completely different BC (Before Cancer) than they were AC (After Cancer):

BC (Before Cancer) Libby never had to advise me as to the best methods for washing, conditioning, drying, combing and fixing her hair.

BC I never would have dreamed of offering an opinion about whether Libby would look better with spiked hair or with it parted on the side in a “boy cut”.

BC I never thought that Libby would ask me to help her apply her Merle Norman foundation, makeup, blush and eye liner stuff.

BC I never dreamed that we would be casually viewing photos and discussing breast implants options with a plastic surgeon.

And finally, BC I never dreamed that one day I would be encouraging Libby to get a tattoo:

Following chemo treatments, on Libby’s first visit to the radiologists’ office, a bubbly young nurse was escorting us back to the exam room when she nonchalantly turned to Libby and asked in her perky little Smurf voice, “So, Mrs. Gilley,  what kind of tattoo are you planning to get?  Libby stopped dead in her tracks, unwilling to go any further as she called out to the nurse who had continued walking down the hallway. “I’m not real sure I understand what you are talking about Nurse Perky, but I’m certainly not getting a tattoo!”,

(OK,  I took some literary license there, Libby didn’t actually call her “Nurse Perky” because in the last few minutes Libby had taken the time to learn our nurse’s real name, her hobbies, how many siblings she had, what church she attended, where she did her postgraduate work, her favorite Christian artist and who she was dating.  I, however, did not even bother to learn her name, so Nurse Perky it is;  besides this is my story.)

Nurse Perky came back to where Libby was planted and gently guided her into the exam room as she explained that some people get a tattoo to cover up the radiation alignment marks that she was about to receive.  Perky also said that it became a kind of “badge of honor” for many of their female cancer patients to incorporate the ink spots into the eyes of a dolphin or the antenna of a butterfly tattoo.

After dropping the tattoo bombshell, Nurse Perky left the room just as Dr. Getner entered to find an agitated Libby who explained as succinctly and briskly as she was able that she would not be getting ink dots, initials, a dolphin or a butterfly tattoo, today or at any time in the future and if that was what this procedure was going to involve, she would just leave now.

Dr. Getner had unknowingly walked into a hornet’s nest as he attempted to explain to Libby that alignment was critical and permanent ink tattoos were the preferred method, adding that they had tried using a Sharpie to make the marks but if it wore off then it would mean a long involved process of re-marking and equipment re-calibration.

I offered to Libby, what I thought were some helpful suggestions for a tattoo such as “mom”, “Barry”, and a heart with our initials, etc. but I received one of those looks that made me reconsider my input altogether.

A compromise was reached when Libby earnestly reassured her doctor that if he used a Sharpie, the marks would stay on for the duration of the six-week treatment.  We kept that promise by taping plastic over the Sharpie marks every time Libby showered and strategically placing Band-Aids to prevent her clothes from wearing the marks off for the next two months.  Those precautions and retouching with a Sharpie anytime the mark started to fade were the only things that kept Libby from becoming a tattooed lady and slipping into the dark side.

The  technicians took this picture to show me that she even smiled during radiation treatments:


“OK, Now I Remember—— What I Forgot!

As Libby’s hair began to grow back following the chemotherapy, her once dark hair came in solid white and began to curl into hundreds of fine little ringlets perfectly sized to wrap around a pinky finger.  Soon after the goose down hair started growing those same damaged hair follicles began producing thicker and darker hair, now capped with those fine, curly, white tips.  Libby was not accustomed to change in any form, especially when it came to her hair, so she was slow to embrace the new look and unwilling to be seen in public without one of her wigs.

Nathan, Jerod and I were commenting on the unique and attractive look of Libby’s hair one Saturday night during one of our planned family nights.  Embarrassed by the compliments and the attention she was getting, Libby got up from the couch to go start dinner but after standing, she awkwardly stepped sideways, and nearly passed out as three sets of hands gently guided her back to her seat.  A combination of residual chemo drugs and radiation treatments often affected Libby’s balance and rising quickly from a seated position increased those odds.

Even after a diagnosis of cancer, which made us all reevaluate our priorities, it is embarrassing how quickly each one of us became overly busy with life.  In fact we all became so preoccupied with our own lives that we had to schedule family nights at our house.  This particular night was planned to be a simple meal around the dinner table, but after the light-headed spell subsided, we convinced Libby that riding in the truck to and from St. Elmo and sharing a pizza would probably net us more family time than cooking at home.

Noticing the time and worried that the restaurant would soon close, we hurriedly gathered up to leave.  Libby never liked to be rushed when going anywhere, so it she became anxious as I hustled her toward the truck glancing back over her shoulder.  “What are looking for? I asked,  “I don’t really know, ” Libby answered, “it just feels like I’m leaving something”, then after making one last unsuccessful sweep of the room, we left for the restaurant.

Mr. T’s Pizza is our favorite pizza place located just a few miles from our house in a condensed little area of St. Elmo, TN with several intersecting roads, pedestrians, tourists and restaurants all within walking distance of one another.  Libby flipped down the sun visor on her side of the truck as we approached the restaurant so she could check her makeup in the small mirror, a move that always obscured my view out the passenger side of the truck.  Then, just seconds into her primping session, we all heard the scream.

I instantly hit the brakes, anticipating air bag deployment and bracing for impact; I was confident we were about to crash, then, after several seconds, during which time no one died, I asked, much louder than was necessary, “WHAT WAS THAT ALL ABOUT?”  Libby calmly turned toward me with an awkward, sheepish grin as she flipped her wrist to close the sun visor/mirror combination.  Cocking her head to one side and shrugging her shoulders she said in a soft voice, “Now I remember what forgot!”

Still in shock over the scream,  angry and confused, I whined, “What did you forget Libby?”  She turned her shoulders a full 90 degrees to look straight at me and then Libby struck a pose while pointing to her head in a gesture which was supposed to make it obvious why she was upset.  Libby’s eyebrows (okay, what used to be her eyebrows) were raised and her head cocked to one side as if I should be able to guess what was going on without any hints.  Dumbfounded, we all three stared at Libby and at one another without venturing a guess as to why she was so upset.  Eventually giving in with disgust Libby said, “My hair guys! My hair, I can’t believe none of you noticed!  I left my hair at home, I can’t go anywhere looking like this.”

Libby and Barry at Pizza Hut without her wig

I probably should not have laughed as hard as I did but we had seen her so much without the wig that it never crossed our minds that she had left it.  It was so traumatic to Libby that later she equated the experience to the nightmares common in young school-age children who dream of going to school but forget to put on clothes.

The boys and I pulled out all of the stops to convince Libby to go into the restaurant including but not limited to: “Mom you look great. There are only a few cars in the parking lot.  No one will know us there,”  and finally, “No one else has a hair do like yours”.  Hunger pains and a compromise finally convinced her that we had to eat somewhere.  The compromise was that we would go to Pizza Hut instead of Mr. T’s because in Libby’s words, “I don’t know anyone who goes to Pizza Hut anymore, but if we go to Mr. T’s we are sure to see someone we know.”

That day was a turning point in Libby’s post cancer treatment life and a huge boost to her self-confidence because the next morning Libby went to church for the first time ever without a wig and she made short hair look awesome.

Libby's first trip out without her wig

Libby Thanks All of Her Friends

 Halfway through the chemotherapy Libby said to me, “I really feel guilty because everyone is being so nice to me and offering to do things for me but I’m not really sick, or at least I don’t feel sick.”

Libby and I both had heard all of the horror stories of nausea and vomiting that were common with the chemo drugs that she was taking but as her treatments continued our anxiety level began to decrease with each successive, uneventful infusion.  There was some mild nausea, some mouth sores, and of course all of her hair fell out (except the hair on her legs) but compared to what other people had experienced, we both truly felt blessed.  The nurses even set up the infusion dates so that Libby would feel her best and have good white cell counts to help her resist infections during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays (so she could still hug Santa).


During Libby’s chemotherapy regime she was constantly amazed at the number of people who called, sent emails, texts and cards, and after three months of treatments with weekly updates that I posted to her Caring Bridge site Libby decided to write her own post and thank everyone for their concern:

By Jan 23, 2009 6:38pm

My precious friends and family, I just finished my 8th chemo treatment and I am halfway through. Oh, I feel so honored and blessed to have so many caring people in my life. You’ll never know how much it means to me.

I read all the notes and cards and every one of them is treasured. The gifts of food, visits, and surprises make this journey so much more wonderful. I feel like the paralyzed man who was carried by his friends to see Jesus. He couldn’t do anything to be healed in and of himself, but his friend’s took the time out of their busy schedules to make sure the relationship continued, but more importantly they took him to see Jesus. Jesus then healed him!!!!! Hallelujah!!!!

I’ve told you before I have felt carried all the way. There are times I feel a little scared and then I go to God and He speaks to me through His Healing Word. My times with Him are more precious everyday. There are many things I don’t understand in this world but I know I can trust my sweet savior. My desire is quick obedience to His will. More than anything I want to glorify Him with my attitude and actions.

Please pray I will take every opportunity to tell others how wonderful Jesus is. I love you all so much. Please keep praying. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

I’m feeling your great love and concern!!


Hair Today, Gone Tommorrow


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.