On hair regrowth

My hair has grown back enough to cover my head, so I’ve stopped wearing wigs, even to work. To be honest, I was getting tired of wearing them anyway. The one I was wearing was starting to look raggedy and it wasn’t very natural on me, plus it made my head itch.

One thing the wig was good for was keeping my head warm. December is a rough time to have next to zero hair. This winter I should invest in warm hats.

People have mostly been supportive, telling me I have a good head shape for short hair. So that’s something. There are a lot of people at work who may not even know I had cancer. Many started working there after I was already working from home during treatment. I get the feeling maybe they just think I have a new haircut.

I have, unfortunately, been mistaken for a man a couple times. The latest incidence of this was at a store after work last night. As I waited for the clerk to ring up my cat food and eggnog, he said, “How you doing, bub?”

It was kind of funny. Earlier this week, a man asking for change outside a drugstore called me sir. I gave him a dollar anyway. You just have to laugh about it.

Recent picture of my hair length.

Losing my hair was one of the most traumatic and jarring parts about cancer treatment. Sometimes I run across videos on the internet of women shaving off their hair for the hell of it, and it sends me back to that moment: me in my hairdresser’s chair wearing my mask and a “Keep up the fight” t-shirt, my mom watching from beside me. It’s not just the moment of cutting it off, it’s the dramatic change in your appearance that can be traumatic.

Earlier this week, I dreamt I had my long hair back again. I ran my fingers through the stands and knew that I was dreaming. I woke up with hot tears on my face and the realization that I was more emotionally attached to my hair than I knew.

But the good news is there are advantages to having hair this short. The biggest is that it takes me no time at all to get ready in the morning. I haven’t had to use a blowdryer since May.

And my hair is growing back more and more each day. Everyone around me says they see it getting thicker and longer each time they see me. I’ve been taking a hair, skin and nails vitamin to help it along. I can’t say for sure if it’s helping or not.

It will be awkward for a while, I’m sure. Anyone who’s every grown out their hair after it was short can tell you that. But I’m glad to have gotten to this point and excited to watch it grow.

Column: The end of cancer treatment

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Note: This column, published Sunday, is the last I’ll write about treatment for the Gazette-Mail. I plan on continuing to write updates here.

As I left the CAMC Cancer Center early Monday morning, I snapped a picture of the parking lot and sky outside. I wanted to remember how I felt walking out those doors after my last radiation treatment.


I carried with me a sheet of paper from the Radiation Oncology staff certifying that I had finished my prescribed course of treatment with “courage, determination and good nature.”


This is the last cancer column you’ll read from me. I am officially done with breast cancer treatment.
Even now after 28 rounds, my skin hasn’t had too bad a reaction to radiation. It’s red and itches like crazy, but there are no blisters. I’ve been treating it with a mixture of hydrocortisone cream and Aquaphor. I continue to feel tired, as I expected to.


From diagnosis to surgery to chemotherapy and radiation, these past eight months have been a fight. A global pandemic has only made it more difficult. In some ways, I’m not the person I was before March. I don’t look or feel like her. I’ve still got a ways to go until I’m completely recovered. I’ll always be onguard for signs the cancer has returned.


But I realize how lucky I am to get this far. Hang around a cancer center for too long and you’ll hear stories of people who are not as fortunate as I have been. I think about them often.If there’s one thing this year has taught me, it’s that I can’t take my life and health for granted. I’m grateful that I caught the tumor in my breast when I did. I’m grateful for the doctors and nurses who treated me. And for the family members and friends who have supported me.


Throughout treatment, writing this column has been an outlet for me. It’s been a way for me to process what I’m going through. At times I’ve felt like my readers have humored me by continuing to follow along. It’s not always been exciting, and I appreciate everyone who has trekked with me over these weeks.


Thank you to everyone who has reached out after reading with words of encouragement. You have certainly made this time in my life a little bit easier.


I hope my story is a reminder to you not to skip out on those doctor’s visits and cancer screenings. I hope it teaches you the importance of knowing your body. At 35, I didn’t even have regular mammograms before I was diagnosed. Had I not noticed the lump myself, I could not have had the mammogram and biopsy that ultimately confirmed my cancer. My cancer fight could have faced an entirely different outcome had I been diagnosed later.


If you’re caring for someone with cancer, I hope these glimpses into my life have helped you understand more about what your loved one is going through. If, God forbid, you ever get cancer or face another life-threatening illness, I hope reading this has helped you believe that if I can get through treatment, you can too.


I’d like to thank the Gazette-Mail for giving me the opportunity to write about my experience here. Despite the circumstances, it’s been a great feeling having my byline back in the newspaper each week. I had missed it so much.


I hope you’ll continue to follow my writing on my blog and that one day I have another chance to write for you, next time about something other than cancer.

What radiation treatment is like

I figure there may be a few of you who stumbled onto this blog because you’re going through your own cancer treatment. Maybe you have questions about what it’s like.

With that in mind, here’s what radiation has been like for me so far.

I’m about to be done with my 28 radiation treatments. I go every weekday to the CAMC Cancer Center for treatment. Luckily, the treatments are relatively quick.

My treatments are usually scheduled for early in the day — around 7 a.m., so that I can go before work. The cancer center let me tell them what time of day I prefer, although not all appointments are that early.

When I arrive, I scan a registration card to let them know I’m there. Usually within a couple minutes, they call me back to get changed into a hospital gown. There’s a men’s dressing room and a women’s dressing room.

Patients put their clothing and belongings in a locker. Another minute or so and I get called back for the actual treatment.

Since my cancer was in my breast, I lie face up on a bench on the radiation machine (it has a more formal name, but that’s what it is). My arms are over my head with my hands gripping handles.

The therapists adjust my body to a precise position.

The room is kind of cold, but the therapists put a warmed blanket over my arms.

The most uncomfortable aspect of this type of treatment is exposing myself to strangers, but even that you can get used to. Laying on a machine with my chest exposed was awkward for the first day or two. By a few treatments in, I was chatting with the therapists about the weather and weekend plans. Everyone at my cancer center has been extremely kind and respectful.

The therapists leave the room, and a big thick wall closes in the doorway.

It’s hard to describe the treatments themselves. I can’t see much but the ceiling, a monitor and the machinery moving around me, buzzing and making other noises. I don’t feel the radiation or anything at all during the treatment itself. It’s over within 10 minutes or so.

Only recently have I actually felt the side effects of radiation. My skin is red, despite the layers of Aquaphor and lotion I’ve been putting on it every night. It hurts, much like a sunburn would.

And I’m exhausted. I sometimes take naps before bed. Occasionally I’ve been nauseated to the point of throwing up. That wasn’t one of the side effects my doctor mentioned, but I’m sure it’s from the radiation.

But luckily this will all be over soon. Monday is my last treatment.

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Column: About the running

I wrote recently about getting back into running for the first time since I was diagnosed with cancer in March. To be honest, I have not been keeping up with it regularly.

I have more than one excuse.

One is that radiation starts early on weekdays, and I don’t want to get up before then to run. Then when I get home from work in the afternoons, it’s really easy to talk myself out of going.  

But the main reason is that I usually don’t feel like it. My legs don’t feel like it. They’re still sore. It’s not all the time, but it’s enough to defer me from running. No one told me this would be a lingering side effect of chemotherapy, but I’m convinced it is. 

I sometimes forget about being sore. My legs don’t hurt when I’m sitting still or lying down. Then I start to move and my legs just hurt. They’re stiff. To see me stand up and try to walk, you might think I’m much older than I am. That’s usually when I’m reminded that I’m very much still getting over chemotherapy treatments. 

Despite using the ice gloves and mittens some, I did develop some neuropathy from chemotherapy, too. (That’s not to say cryotherapy didn’t help. I bet it would have worked better had I been able to keep them on the entire time. The cold was too much for me.) I feel a numbness in the bottoms of my feet. It makes running a bit uncomfortable.  

A friend of mine who’s been through cancer treatment told me that I will eventually feel like myself, but it might be a few years, not months. 

I tell you this because a few cancer survivors and caretakers have reached and told me they read my column. If they were to measure their recovery or that of a loved one by what I’m writing about, I’d hate for them to think I’m back to running full speed without any issues a month after chemo. I’m not. My mind wants to. I miss seeing Charleston from the 35th street bridge as I’m running across it. 

And I haven’t given up on running. I have hopes that I’ll eventually get back to full speed. I know I will. To be honest, I was never that fast a runner anyway. 

In other news, as of this week my radiation treatments are halfway through. Because they’re five days a week, they really have flown by. As I wrote last time, I still haven’t noticed any reaction to the treatments. 

I should be finished with them — and cancer treatment altogether– in a little more than two weeks. Can’t wait until I can officially call myself cancer a survivor rather than a patient.

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Column: Good riddance, chemo port

Lying in the hospital bed before I was taken back to surgery, I had the briefest of second thoughts about removing the port that had been implanted below my collar bone since just before treatment started. The port is what the oncology nurses used to administer chemotherapy and draw blood for tests.
Before my cancer treatment started, I was given a choice: my veins or a port.
The nurses could put an IV in my veins each time they administered chemo, or the surgeon could implant the chemo port into a vein in my chest and have chemo administered through it. I chose the port.
Now, more than a month after chemotherapy ended, I was finally going to be rid of it. I’ve noticed that toward the end of cancer treatment, if it’s going well, there are several milestones. That day I had reached another one.


And while I had been happy about having the port removed, I started to get nervous.
What if the cancer comes back? What if I have it removed only to find another tumor somewhere?
I keep hearing (mostly from fellow patients) that triple negative breast cancer is aggressive. Part of me is scared that I’ll have to have another port, and go through more chemotherapy.
I can’t remember exactly what the surgeon said when I told him about my doubts. At a previous appointment, when I said the word “recurrence,” he smacked my hand.
Even if, down the road, the cancer returns, it’s good to have the foreign object out of my body for now, he told me.
I woke up after a quick outpatient surgery that day with no port. A bandage covered the making of what will soon be a scar on the left side of my chest. Goodbye and good riddance.

My radiation treatments are going OK so far. I haven’t noticed any skin reaction or exhaustion, which are the two things I was told to expect. Any tiredness I do feel I attribute to getting up earlier than usual.
My treatments have me up and at the Cancer Center an hour before work starts. I can’t complain about that; I asked them for early time slots. Treatments are five days a week.
The process starts with changing into a hospital gown. Then I’m taken back to a room with a linear accelerator — the machine that delivers the radiation. The worst part may be lying on an uncomfortable bench with my arms above my head while the machinery swirls around me, occasionally beeping. It may also be the country music the therapists play.
The treatments themselves are quick.
I’m usually done in time to go get coffee on my way to work.

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Column: Getting acquainted with radiation

While getting set up for CT scan Friday morning, I tried to reason with the man running the machine. I was back at the CAMC Cancer Center, this time in the radiation oncology department for a preliminary appointment.
In a few days, my radiation treatment will start. In addition to the scan, I was there to get three tiny tattoos — markers in the center of my chest and on my sides — that will somehow factor into positioning me for those treatments. Getting tattooed did not sound pleasant.
“Can’t you use permanent markers instead?” I asked. “You could put tape over them so they don’t come off, and put more ink on whenever they start to fade.”
No. Even permanent markers come off, and these three markers needed to be permanent. But he assured me that it wouldn’t hurt.
I didn’t believe him. I had already asked another of my health care providers — a breast cancer survivor — and she said it would.
I expected the worst. I thought he would come at me with a tattoo machine. But once the scan was over and the time came for him to put the markers on, he took out a lancet, not a tattoo machine. I only felt a tiny pinch for each of the markers. It was over in no time, and with minimal pain.
“Was that it?!” I said.
That was it. I had dreaded this appointment since I was told about it five days before. All week, I told everyone who asked about treatment that I had to have three tattoos and that it would hurt.
Once again, I had been built up something in my mind and made it worse than it actually was. I’ve decided that with cancer treatment, it’s difficult to tell what’s going to be hurt and what won’t. It’s hard to determine what I should dread and what I shouldn’t.
As I’m writing this, I have about 10 days before my first radiation treatment. I’ll have 28 treatments total. I’ll go in for them five days a week.
The appointments are quick — maybe 15 or 20 minutes each. The doctor told me that for the first three or four weeks of treatment, I may not have any sort of reaction to the radiation.
By the fifth week, though, my skin may dry or flakey like the start of a sunburn. Some people even have blistering. The good news is that skin heals quickly from radiation.
Exhaustion is the other side effect I’m likely to experience on radiation. The doctor said it’s similar to the tiredness you feel when you’ve been out on the beach in the sun all day. Some women I’ve talked to about radiation say they sleep 18 hours a day during treatment.
Every body is different. I’ll just have to wait and see how mine takes it.

Column: Trying and failing at cryotherapy

On my second round of Taxol chemotherapy treatment, I tried out something the women in my breast cancer Facebook group recommended: cryotherapy, or extreme cold therapy.
Some of them wear frozen gloves and socks in an attempt to help prevent neuropathy, a common side effect of this chemotherapy drug. Neuropathy is generally pain, tingling and numbness brought on by damage to the peripheral nervous system. Symptoms can also include trouble with motor skills like writing and texting, problems gripping, clumsiness and weakness, according to an article on Healthline. The same article said that symptoms can be temporary or a lifelong problem.
Just another one of those fun chemotherapy side effects.
I don’t know much about finding medical research, but from some quick Google searching, it seems that studies of cryotherapy for chemo-induced neuropathy have had mixed results. So this column is not meant to be an endorsement.
According to breastcancer.org, a small medical study of 36 women published in 2017 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggested that wearing ice socks and gloves for 90 minutes during Taxol treatment helped control neuropathy symptoms.
My doctor hadn’t heard of it, but told me to try it if I’d like. One of the nurses at the Cancer Center told me that some patients do it, but the nurses don’t weigh in on whether it’s a good idea or a bad one, “because there are mixed results from studies.”
I figured it was worth a shot. One less side effect is one less side effect, and what could it hurt?
I meant to try it sooner, but my first week I wasn’t organized enough. I waited too long to order the gloves and socks. A delivery man brought them to my door an hour or so after my treatment. The gloves look like big blue mittens only instead of yarn they’re made of plastic with a liquid filling that freezes. The socks have inserts that you pop in the freezer.
The first treatment I held frozen ice packs in my hands and on my feet for lack of something better.
The second treatment, I packed the gloves and socks with some ice in a cooler and carted it to the CAMC Cancer Center. I hoped they wouldn’t thaw out too much while I had my blood test and waited for treatment to start.
When the nurse finally hung the bag of Taxol and started to administer it, I got out the gloves and socks from the cooler and put them on.
A little about me: I hate being cold so much. I complain about it all through the winter.
So I should have anticipated hating extreme cold therapy as much as I did.
I could not keep my hands in the gloves for too long before yanking them out and rubbing them together to warm up again.
My nurse noticed my discomfort. It might have been the cuss words I muttered under my breath.
“Yeah, I can’t stand being cold, either,” she said.
The socks weren’t so bad. Maybe that was because there was a cloth barrier between my feet and the ice.
The first two treatments of Taxol were administered really slow to make sure I didn’t have any negative reactions to the new drug. The ice was thawing in the socks and gloves before it ended.
So not a great first start at cryotherapy, but I’m going to try again.
I may end up having to get a second pair of both the socks and the gloves. I‘m not sure they’ll stay frozen long enough to use during the entire treatment. My next treatment promises to be shorter, though.
Because I frequently get reader emails from former and current breast cancer patients, here’s a question for you: did you use cryotherapy during Taxol treatment? Did you not and then get neuropathy? Feel free to email me at the address listed below.

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Until next year, Charleston Distance Run

Note: I promise not to do this a lot, but I wanted to share the column I wrote for today’s Gazette-Mail, just in case you missed it. I liked this one.

I’ve run the 5K portion of the Charleston Distance Run most years for the past few years, and 2020 was going to be the year I finally ran the entire 15 miles.
I’ve run five half marathons and countless other 5K races. But until this year, I’d never got up the nerve to sign up for the full Distance Run.
Besides being 15 miles, it takes on Labor Day weekend. If that’s not actually the hottest part of the summer, it sure feels like it. It could be because by late August or early September, I’m sick of the heat.
I’ve seen other runners sweating hard on Kanawha Boulevard in mid July in preparation for the race and thought to myself how smart I’ve been to train for races that take place in December or November. I really like avoiding heat stroke.
Then there’s the legendary Capital Punishment Hill. That doesn’t seem fun no water what time of year it is.
At the same time, I’ve so wanted to do this race. There’s something about it that makes me nostalgic.
Maybe it’s because it seems like every Charleston runner has a story about running it. Maybe it’s the way the city comes out to cheer on the participants. Maybe it’s the spaghetti dinner. I don’t know.


My uncle would run it when I was a kid. I remember hearing that he’d trained for it by running Route 21 from Sissonville to Charleston. That seems like a crazy feat when you’re a kid.

My uncle Gary and I after the 2019 Distance Run.


In the past few years, he and I have started the 5K portion of the race together. I’m a slower runner, so despite our age difference, he finishes first. (My grandmother jokes that if I keep running, one day I’ll beat him).
When I got the news that the Distance Run is cancelled for this year, I of course was not surprised. Even the Boston Marathon was canceled for this year. The organizers made the right move.
I would not have been able to run the race this year anyway because of cancer treatment. I started out the year training for training for the race by running Carriage Trail’s hill. I think I had worked my way up to running seven miles.
But I have not run since March when I was diagnosed, unfortunately.
I’m to a point in chemotherapy treatment where I get fatigued, even though I don’t exercise much. I walked a block in the heat Sunday morning and it was enough to make me sick.
But I will run again.
The race organizers gave us the option of having a refund for the registration fee or deferring it to next year. I chose to defer mine until next year. It’s my way of believing that I’ll recover from this. That I’ll get my life back. That cancer won’t have the final say.
When I was a reporter, I wrote a story about a woman who ran the 2015 Charleston Distance Run after finishing lung cancer treatment. She had run it before she was diagnosed and had a terrible time with it. When her cancer went into remission, she returned to conquer it.
I have to believe that I will, too.