Shirley handled the news far better than I did. Even though the doctor reminded her that she was in the high-risk category, she didn't seem upset. She had breast cancer and it had already spread into the lymph nodes. He informed her that after surgery, she would have six weekly chemo injections.
Shirley is one of those individuals who has never been physically strong and has suffered from many illnesses. Although this seemed to be one more burden for her to overcome, she didn't complain or feel sorry for herself.
The doctor sent home a video and several helpful pieces of literature to prepare us for the surgery and for the chemo treatments.
A few days before her surgery, I walked in a nearby park. I love my wife, even though many times I felt I'd expressed it inadequately. The thought of losing my life-partner burdened me and I hardly knew how to deal with it. No matter what happened, I wanted her to have some sense of how deeply I felt. In our years together we've had many problems and struggles—like other couples—but our relationship had always been the one stable thing in my life. God had given me a loving, committed wife. I'm a better Christian today because of her.
As I walked that day, I decided that I wanted to give her a gift—something beyond words and something beyond what was prized one day and laid away and forgotten a month later. It had to be a special gift. As I prayed, nothing came to me.
A few days before the surgery, we watched the video. It warned us that some marriages break up when a woman undergoes a mastectomy. Some men see their wives as disfigured, disgusting, and unappealing.
A few wives spoke openly about feeling unattractive and ugly. Especially, the women spoke about their hair. As I learned then, most women lose all bodily hair during chemo treatments. The women spoke about their hair coming out in the shower in huge hunks. Some told of their tears, even though they knew the hair would grow again after the treatments stopped.
I loved Shirley's thick mane. When we married, it was that beautiful shade of red they call titian. By her mid-thirties, the graying had taken away the titian and her color became what they call champagne. I thought it was beautiful.
After we watched the video, I had an idea. I knew the gift I could give her.
"You'll probably go bald," I said. "At least that's what the video depicted."
Before I could say anything more, Shirley said she'd either buy a wig or wear a turban. She didn't seem distressed. That felt a bit strange because I was more upset over the loss of her hair than she was.
"I have an idea," I said. "It's something I'd like to do for you. When you lose your hair, how about if I shave my head?"
The suggestion took her by surprise and she stared at me.
"We can go around as two old baldies," I said quickly.
She continued to stare at me for several seconds.
I have a full head of hair. It had been dark brown and the white had streaked through it. My hair has a loose curl but I'd always kept it cut short. My mother once said that when I was quite young natural ringlets formed across my forehead.
I didn't say it to Shirley, but I thought, This could be my gift to you. It will show you that I'm with you in your lowest time.
"I have a better idea," she said, as she reached over and stroked my face. "I've always liked your curls but you cut them too short to show."
"It's easier to take care of that way,"I said.
"Here's what I'd like. I'd like you to let your hair grow. Let me enjoy looking at your curls."
She wanted to look at my curls? I didn't mind men having long hair, but I couldn't conceive of my hair being long.
"I'd like to look at your curls during the weeks of chemo. I'll also tell you when to get it cut."
"All right," I said. I reached over, hugged her, and held her a long time.
This is my gift to you, I thought. Each day as you look at me, you can see my love for you.
"So you'll tell me when to cut it?" I asked.
She smiled and assured me she would do that.
Shirley's surgery took place in September 1999. By the second chemo treatment, she'd lost every follicle of hair. Most of the time she wore wigs her friends had given her. Occasionally, she wore only a turban. It didn't matter to me. She was still the woman I loved—with or without hair. And as the doctor predicted, after the chemo ended, her hair grew back again.
My hair? A decade later it's still long and curly. When it gets long, the curls on top form ringlets as they did in childhood. Every few weeks, Shirley will say, "It's time to get it cut again."
I've gotten used to the long hair. A decade ago I combed it after my shower and didn't bother with it again the rest of the day. It's different now. When I think about my hair, I smile and remind myself, This is my gift to Shirley. This is my gift that lasts. Whenever she looks at my hair, I want it to be a reminder that this is for her.
This is my gift of love.
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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