by Carol about Judy
“It’s only hair.” When a clump of it shows up in a hairbrush one morning, it’s more than hair.
Judy Wallace Irvin (my lifelong friend) had not been feeling well for almost a year. After many tests, one revealed a tumor lodged in a duct in her pancreas, and two months ago she began chemo treatments to shrink it before surgery. Once a week, she goes to Lexington, sits in the chair where others have sat, and watches the drip flow into her body, praying that it is doing its job.
“You will lose your hair,” the oncologist told her.
“It’s only hair,” she consoled herself. We all said the same thing to her, “It’s only hair. It will grow back.”
Dealing with being sick from chemo was much more of a dread than losing her hair. Now in her final month of treatments before surgery without being very sick or having days when she couldn’t get out of bed, she is grateful for being able to endure chemo as well as she has. “I’m better the first few days than the last of the week, but nothing that keeps me down for long!” she said.
At our “girls” monthly lunch last week, Judy appeared in her new wig. “It looks wonderful,” we exclaimed. No one could have told the difference except it was a little longer than the way she wore her hair. When we finished praising it, she told us how it felt losing her hair. It was an emotional moment for all of us.
“I thought I was handling this well, but the sight of a handful of hair on my pillow when I woke up one morning did something to me,” she said. “For the next couple of days, I found hair in the shower and on the back of my chair. Suddenly, I saw the effects of chemo and knew it was time.”
Her hairdresser buzzed her head, and her niece went with her to find a wig. “Getting used to the wig was not as bad as I thought it would be, but by the end of the day, I have to get it off my head. Most days I go around the house bald and forget when someone comes to the door that I don’t look the way they have always seen me.”
“I discovered that morning when my hair was on the floor and the bed that it is more than just hair,” she concluded.
One day Judy had gone to Kroger (she lives in Russell Springs) and saw a little girl clinging to the front of a cart while a lady (her grandmother) pushed it. “The child’s head was bald, so I immediately knew. Something came over me and without hesitation, I went up to her and kneeled down. “You are a pretty little girl. What is your name?” Judy later thought that approaching a stranger’s child might not have been appropriate, but she wasn’t thinking of that.
Judy continued, “You want to know a secret?”
The girl nodded “yes.”
“My head looks just like yours.” Pulling back her wig, Judy revealed her own baldhead. “We have something in common. The only difference is I’m wearing a wig.”
The child was around seven-years-old, so she didn’t know exactly what to say, but her grandparents did. “We can’t thank you enough for what you just did,” one said out of the presence of the child. “She has just gone through her fortieth treatment.” Judy didn’t ask what kind of cancer; it didn’t matter. She knew what the little girl had endure and what her grandparents had suffered with her.
When Judy told me this story, she did so with a lump in her throat, thinking about the child on the back of the cart. “I don’t know what made me approach this little girl; I could have made her grandparents mad, but they told me over and over when our paths crossed in the store, how much that meant to them.”
Cancer is a lonely disease even if a person is never alone. Sometimes strength comes from different places. “My strength,” said Judy, “came from a little girl named Sarah on the back of a cart in a grocery store.”