Women Lead Pendidikan Seks
October 16, 2013

Focus on the Concrete: Coping with Cancer

Having lost a breast to an advanced stage cancer, and while undergoing treatments that often left her too weak to get up, this survivor decided to set her priority. And that is her hair, or, rather, headpieces. An uplifting testimony on coping with cancer.

by Penny Purnawaty

Cancer—never thought of it, never paid attention to it, never would’ve guessed I would get it. But, hey, what do you know, I got it.
I remember how surreal the whole situation was, being diagnosed with Stage 3B breast cancer with no better option but to have it removed in a mastectomy procedure, after a series of treatments including chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Chemotheraphy—loss of hair.
Mastectomy—loss of breast.

And so began the movie scenes-like journey.
Nothing could ever prepare me for the moment when it actually happened. Soon after the chemos, I had trails of hair following me wherever I went. I was shedding. Oh, the horror!

I lamented my hair for a day or two. And then I made up my mind, called my hairdresser and asked him to come over to help me skin my head.

Everyone has their own coping strategy to survive hardships. Some resort to prayers, meditations and motivational books. Some rely on support groups, family and friends. I was never short of attention and support from my loved ones. Yet, at the end of the day, when I was left aching in bed, I needed something more concrete to help me go beyond philosophical textbooks and moral lessons. I needed to focus on something that could help me feel better, something to boost my confidence. It had something to do with my appearance.
So I chose to pay more attention on how I would present myself in public during those dreadful days, when no strand of hair was left on my head.
These were what came across my mind:
1. If I hadn’t had cancer, I would’ve never shaved my head.
2. Sure, this is devastating. But it is not the end of the world.
3. Being bald is frightening, but why not turn it into an opportunity?
3. I should make the most of the situation and just try to ‘have a little bit of fun’ with it.
I began to do research on headpieces on the Internet. I stole some looks from the movies as well. (I like Allison Janney’s head cover as cancer patient Charlotte Phelan in The Help). I started collecting scarves, hats and wigs.  Sure enough, I had “fun” trying different looks.

The experience has taught me that women can endure excruciating physical pain, but it is the thought of horrible appearance that may dampen the spirit.
With each passing treatment day, I also carried with me a humble prayer:
         Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
         The courage to change things I can.
         And wisdom to know the difference.
Yes, my way of coping with cancer might seem superficial, but, guess what? It worked! And in the end, what works for me is all that matters.
About Penny Purnawaty
Penny Purnawaty is a freelance worker, a travel junkie and a coffee enthusiast. Currently an acting Account Manager for a media monitoring company, she is also involved in breast cancer awareness campaign program initiated by Lovepink. Penny is on her second year surviving stage 3B breast cancer treatments of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and mastectomy.