When I was 13 I got a very terrible fever. My mother thought it would go away and she fed it the medication she kept in our medication cupboard. I started losing weight and I sweated excessively at night but still, we thought it was a terrible cold that would go away. And because I hated going to the doctor, I was happy with the choice my mother made, to just treat it at home. Usually when I got a fever it went away after a week of my mother’s intensive treatment of concoctions and medicine. But this time it took longer than usual. I admit that a part of me was happy to be losing weight but then I started feeling very sick and my body easily got bruised. Still, my mother didn’t think there was a need to go to the doctor as yet, not that she couldn’t afford it, but because she was a workaholic and so was my father. It was as if they were on a competition of who could work harder and yet no one seemed to be winning it.
Until then, I was happy with my parents being passive in my life. I enjoyed the freedom they gave me. The trust they had and never asking too many questions when I told them that my allowance had finished before the end of the month. Seeing me only at breakfast and uninterestingly asking me how I am and how school is going. But when I started getting really sick, I realized that my nanny’s touch will never replace that of my mother not that I remembered it much, nor can money and a fancy life make everything alright. I longed for my father to hug me and fan me when I got too hot and for my mother to come into the bedroom at night to see if my blanket needed pulling up. But I had made it ok for our relationship to be like that, and during that time, I learned that I had to take it like it was.
It was only after I started getting tiny red spots in my body that as much as I hated going to the doctor, I pursued my mother to take me to the doctor because no teenager wanted to be seen with a skin condition and I was just as typical as the rest.
After enough persuasion from both me and my nanny, my mother took a day off at work and asked for a day off at my school and we made our way to the doctor. Making very little conversation on our way there and surviving the awkward silences. When we arrived, Dr Ming, who was our family doctor asked a few questions and he told us the possibilities of what could be wrong with me and then took blood samples to run a few tests and promised to call us after two weeks to come back for the results.
After two weeks I heard news worse than a skin condition. I didn’t grow up as a sickly child also because my mother was strict with our general check up at the beginning of each year, and when I come to think of it, that is one of the few occasions I got to spend time with both my parents. That might have been the only time my parents got to spend time together.
The test results diagnosed me with leukemia. And because we had taken so long to bring my symptoms to the doctor’s attention, this meant I immediately had to undergo treatment. My mother cursed herself for not paying too much attention to it and just dismissing it as fever, while my dad didn’t know how to handle it.
The doctor made suggestions of where I could go for my treatment and we settled for an institution that offered treatment to children, teen agers and young adults. Being around people my age, younger and older who beamed with more hope than me made me think that, maybe, just maybe, I too will heal, all I need to have is hope.
Because here at 13 years old, my entry into teenage hood, I was confronted with the reality of death. All my life until then I had thought of myself to be an immortal being. My friends and I often joked about how we will live to witness all the fashion trends of the coming generations and critically analyse how designers keep on recycling trends from the beginning of time. We thought of ourselves as fashion analysts and that one day the world will be grateful for our existence. But my life was about to end.
After the necessary preps, my mother took a long deserved leave to help me settle into chemo while my dad worked even harder to avoid the fact that his daughter might be dying. If his hard work was to leave me a legacy, it must have started to feel like it was in vain, yet he couldn’t stop himself from working. And not once after my diagnosis did he look me in the eye and genuinely ask me how I felt. I couldn’t blame him because I couldn’t look myself in the mirror and admit the reality of what was happening. Death was knocking at my door and treatment was about to try to keep it outside.
One day I went to the institution for my dose of chemo, which I was slowly getting used to. Now that I had made peace with my bald head, thanks to my mom who shaved all of her hair to support me. One of the local celebrities came to the centre to do her work for “charity”. It was always nice to have someone new around, as long as they didn’t feel sorry for us.
She had long black silky hair, her eyes were green and her height did assert that she was the model she introduced herself as. She started playing with the children at the playing court while some of us sat on our treatment chairs, watching as bandana wearing children enjoyed life without hassles.
When I first arrived at the centre I was ashamed to sit and get treatment while people could easily watch my reaction, but after a while I realized that in my condition, there is very little to be ashamed of. Your perfect golden skin has abandoned you, you have lost your hair and your favourite food doesn’t taste the same anymore. The disease leaves you nothing but the choice to surrender, and pray that you surrender into healing.One of the kids started playing with the lady’s long black silky hair. The kid slipped her bandana off her head and lay the woman’s hair on it. I could tell from the smile on her face that the lady’s hair was smooth and silky. And shortly into this action, the children had gathered around the woman and they started describing their hair before they lost it. As if they were under a spell, those who were wearing bandanas and hats slipped them off and exposed their bald heads.
“Mine was curly and bouncy and short. It looked just like my sisters”
“Mine was long and my mother used to tie in a high pony”
“I washed mine every week. Then my mother would dry it while I combed my doll.”
“Mine was short and I hated it when my mother combed it every morning.”
As I listened to the children going on and on, I drew into my own thoughts and I realized that I didn’t remember my hair. I started to go through my cell phone pictures, yet I couldn’t relate to my own hair. I couldn’t remember how it felt, the texture, the length. I couldn’t recall having any form of relationship with my hair. I couldn’t even tell if it looked like my mom’s, and I would have to wait a long time to find that out. And I hardly ever saw my father for during treatment, he took a lot of work outside of town. Anything that kept him far from our house that now smelled like a mini clinic and the nurse who was hired to be at my service, was most welcome. So I couldn’t say, “Daddy please come close, I’d love to touch your hair”, which he kept in a brush cut.
After treatment, I decided to be just as hopeful as the children about my treatment, about getting better. And I told myself that, I will face my chemo day with enthusiasm because that will ensure that I get close to healing, which will get me closer to growing my hair back. Then I too will be able to describe it just like those little kids did. And I secretly hoped that my hair grows long, black and silky, just like that of the model lady who came to visit.
After many treatments and intensive procedures, the best that my parent’s money could buy, I beat the cancer. When my friends came to visit, I urged them that not only will we be looking at fashion trends, we will be looking at the hairstyle trends.
But on what was meant to be a final check-up before I could settle back into my life, go back to school and finally start growing my hair, I got diagnosed with alopecia.
Photo:Hazel Fasaha Tobo