Breast cancer is stored on the top shelf of my closet, inside a box, where I don’t have to look at it. Most days I don’t even think about it.
It comes in the form of a wig.
Not just any old wig, a beautiful, custom-made, human hair wig that fit perfectly over my smooth bald head for nearly a year, giving the false impression to the world that I was in good health with my own mane of beautiful blond hair.
When a friend was diagnosed (the first in a series of six friends in four years since my diagnosis), I offered it to her as a gift that she could keep, pass on, throw away or burn, for all I cared.
She gladly accepted it. I was exuberant to let it go, like excess weight falling off my body, making me feel lithe, agile and aloft.
Within days it showed up on my doorstep with a note. "Sorry, it didn’t fit."
I held it cautiously like a snake I might pick up with a long, sturdy stick to keep it far from me until it could be tossed back into the woods where it belonged.
I could donate it to the American Cancer Society or just stuff it in the trash can, for that matter. I don't have to keep it, but old wives' tales run through my head like, "If you get rid of it, you’ll need it." Or, "If you keep it, you’ll never need it again."
So I keep it, granting it some kind of cancer-fighting power that will protect me from ever having to be caught up in the maelstrom of a cancer war again.
I tried to give it away at least three times but it kept coming back with comments about it being too small. Stupid small head anyway, I thought as I marched upstairs to store it for the last time.
I climbed on the stool, reached for the designated floral hat box on the top shelf of my closet, and stuffed it back in there for permanent keeping. Maybe the fact that it kept coming back to me was another sign that I needed to keep it. Whatever works, right? Storing a wig in my closet is a small price to pay for being cancer-free.
I know this is insane, but old wives' tales or not, I’m keeping that wig forever because getting rid of it makes me feel as naked, vulnerable and afraid as the day I looked into the mirror and saw a bald woman reflected in the glass, and realized it was me.