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What to Expect in the Shower

by Nancy Smiler Levinson


After my second chemotherapy session 
I knew what to expect in the shower.
But first I read every section of the Sunday newspaper,
emptied all the waste baskets in the house, 
played solitaire on the computer,
rearranged a bookshelf and watered the garden.
Came afternoon I could no longer avoid the shower.
I tested the water temperature, stepped in and washed slowly. 
Finally I squeezed shampoo onto my head and began rubbing.
My hair !  It pulled out and pulled out---gobs of it,
pasted to my wet hands, shoulders, chest, back. . .
thick strands in my mouth, across my tongue, my teeth.
I screamed to my husband, a retired physician,
now suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
He came running and took command as a doctor once more.
"Get out of that shower," he ordered over my sobs. "Now!"
He wrapped a towel and his arms around me, 
then grabbed a scrub brush from under the sink 
and stooped to sweep hair from the tile floor.
The next day, wearing a straw hat to cover 
unsightly tufts of gray hair peppered on my scalp,
I drove to Supercuts.  A young Armenian woman
Led me to her chair  When I removed my hat, 
she blurted, "Oh, you are losing hair!"
"Breast cancer."
"Ach I am so sorry."
"Buzz it all off," I told her and shut my eyes.
In a minute the deed was done.							
When I  looked I sobbed from my deepest gut.
The woman brought me a tissue box and a paper cup of water.
"Don't look too much in mirror," she advised.
"Go home and poot on nice vig."


One winter evening after my chemo had ended
my husband and I were preparing 
to meet friends for dinner in a restaurant.
While he searched for his wallet and watch
I dressed in a black skirt and sweater,
heels and silver hoop earrings-
ready to go except for my wig.
I happened to see out the front window
a U-Haul truck blocking our driveway
and dashed out to ask the driver to move it.
No problem.  We noticed that we are both wearing 
yellow LiveSTRONG bracelets.
Was he a survivor?  No, an uncle had died of colon cancer.
Me? I shrugged, pointing to my head.  
"I'd never have guessed," he said
"I took you for a chic, artsy lady."
----------------------Really?  Could I? Would I? Dare I?
venture out in public with only 
the first feathery wisps of gray grow-back?
At the restaurant our friends exclaimed
"Wow! Fabulous.  Sassy looking!"
Yeah, I was doing it!
Artsy. Chic.  Sassy.  Why not?
I tossed back my near-naked head, 
sat down to dinner and opened the menu.

Nancy's submission previously appeared in Touch: A Journal of Healing.

Nancy is author of numerous books for young readers. When she turned to caregiving giving for her husband and faced her own struggle with breast cancer, she found it necessary to reinvent herself; having never written as much as one poem, she sat down at the computer and began writing in the second person, present tense, the story of her and her husband's lives as they lived them, over a period of a decade. This form felt more fulfilling than simply journaling. The result is her book, Moments of Dawn: A Poetic Memoir of Love & Family; Affliction & Affirmation, Conflux Press.