The Green Bag

The cabinet underneath my bathroom sink contains a green bag lodged somewhere near the back.

It’s been there for more than 14 years, although not always under the same exact sink. We’ve moved twice during that time, but the bag always comes with me and takes up residence under the new sink.

I forget about the green bag, sometimes even for years. But invariably, I stumble across it again when I am doing something mundane, like looking for a new bottle of shampoo or a fresh tube of toothpaste.

When that happens, I’ll typically stop what I’m doing. Then, I’ll sit on the bathroom floor and open the bag, withdrawing my pre-cancer ponytail.

I’ll put the ponytail up to my nose and sniff deeply. It smells sweet and of innocence, different from my hair now. It’s blonder, naturally so, whereas now I achieve that same hue with salon highlights. It’s straighter – not perfectly straight – but my hair grew back much wavier than it was before I had chemo. I am not opposed to my new hair, but for some reason I can’t let my old hair go.

Logically, I know I should throw it away. It’s one thing to keep clippings from baby’s first haircut but what kind of crazy person keeps their own hair?

Hair of the dog doesn’t apply to cancer treatment. Chemotherapy is a bitch with a capital B. No one knows beforehand how they’ll specifically handle chemo, either physically or mentally. Physically, I became extremely sick, but that’s another story. Mentally, I was a wreck, but that’s hardly surprising. The one and only thing that IS predictable with the drugs that I received is that everyone loses their hair about 3 weeks after the first treatment.

EVERYONE. It’s not a maybe.

Before chemo, my hair fell in loose waves almost down to my traitorous breast.

Two weeks after chemo, I went to Supercuts to get my hair cut really short before it fell out. I definitely wasn’t going to pay salon prices for a haircut destined to fly out of my head a week later.

When it was my turn, I found the shortest haircut in the styles magazine, pointed, and stated with as much confidence as I could muster, “Like this, only a good inch and a half shorter.”

I think I sent the poor haircut girl directly into therapy. She was very young. She didn’t really believe I wanted my long hair cut so short, and she was right – only she didn’t know I had no choice. I thought about telling her the truth but 1) I was afraid I’d start crying and 2) I was worried about freaking her out, although probably she’d have been much happier if I’d told her my reason (but see #1).

She first put my hair in a low loose ponytail before confirming, “Are you sure?”

“Oh yes, cut it all off please.” I’d never been more certain when it comes to my hair.

She trembled slightly when she picked up the scissors. Then with one firm snip, she cut my ponytail off. I thought she was going to cry. I thought I might too. She gently put the ponytail into a green bag and silently handed it to me, somehow knowing I needed to take it home.

And I did.

When I got home, I laid the bag to rest in the vanity cabinet. As I stood up, I looked in the mirror at the sassy survivor staring back at me and smiled.  Then I walked out of the bathroom, promptly forgetting my ponytail.

This morning, so very many years after that moment, I found myself once again sitting on the bathroom floor feeling the soft silkiness of my ponytail, breathing in its familiar scent. I knew it was finally time to part ways, toss it out, leave the past in the past.

Instead, I placed my ponytail back in the green bag and put it under the sink behind the sunscreen.

___

My entire family was incredibly supportive during my cancer diagnosis and treatment. I want to thank and acknowledge my sister Robynne, who went with me to Supercuts that day to get my hair cut. She is very much a part of the story, even though I left her out for the sake of brevity. If you are interested, you can read my diagnosis story here.

I’m linking up again with yeah write, my favorite writing community. Head on over to read an entire collection of awesome quality blogs! 

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62 Responses to “The Green Bag”

  1. VanessaDecember 11, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

    I’m glad you tucked that green bag back behind the sunscreen. Some things are meant to be kept.

    • StacieDecember 12, 2012 at 8:55 am #

      Me too. I think any regret I might feel tossing it is far worse than the silliness I sometimes feel for keeping it!

  2. GinaDecember 11, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    No! Don’t EVER throw it away. Your ponytail is beautiful! You’re a brave thing!

    • StacieDecember 12, 2012 at 9:10 am #

      Thanks Gina – after 14+ years, I doubt I can ever bring myself to throw it away (even though sometimes I still think I should)

  3. IASoupMamaDecember 12, 2012 at 1:02 am #

    And this is why I do the opposite — I go to Cost Cutters when my hair gets long enough it gets stuck in my armpits and have them cut off enough to donate.

    I’d keep the hair, too.

    • StacieDecember 12, 2012 at 9:10 am #

      Good for you! I don’t recall hearing anything about Locks for Love or hair donation in general back then. Otherwise, I might have done that.

  4. Mayor GiaDecember 12, 2012 at 1:02 am #

    Wow! I would keep it too. It’s a part of you.

    • StacieDecember 12, 2012 at 9:11 am #

      Yes, it is. Funny though, I’m not at all sentimental about all of the other pieces of my hair that have been cut over the years!

  5. shannonDecember 12, 2012 at 3:17 am #

    I just fell in love with you.

    • StacieDecember 12, 2012 at 9:11 am #

      Or my ponytail 😉

  6. cathy@1970kikiprojectDecember 12, 2012 at 7:26 am #

    stacie, what a beautifully written essay. thank you.
    i am glad you have held on to that ponytail. it is important to have these life mementos of a different era tucked away – we can access them when we want to or need to.
    on a lighter note, from what i have seen in pictures, blond hair suits you … however you get the colour!

    • StacieDecember 12, 2012 at 9:12 am #

      Thanks Cath! I did actually try the brown hair for awhile and it didn’t suit me at all. Not right for my skin tone and also my eyebrows were still light so it looked too stark on me.

  7. BeeDecember 12, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    I’m glad you kept it. It’s not just a part of you, but a part of your history.

    • StacieDecember 12, 2012 at 11:32 am #

      I guess that’s why I can’t toss it 🙂

  8. Samantha Brinn MerelDecember 12, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    “As I stood up, I looked in the mirror at the sassy survivor staring back at me and smiled.” This sentence sums up why I am so glad that you kept the ponytail. It’s not to hold on to a bad time in your life, but rather to remind yourself how far you have come and that you are, indeed, and strong and powerful survivor.

    • StacieDecember 12, 2012 at 11:32 am #

      Thanks Samantha, what a beautiful comment!

  9. Ginny MarieDecember 12, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    Oh, you know I can relate to this post! 😉

    I did confess to my hair dresser that I was going to lose my hair to chemo. And boy, did I shock him! I already had short hair and just went shorter, so I didn’t have a pony tail to save. I would definitely save it if I had one!

    Here’s a post I wrote a few years back about my hair loss. http://www.lemondroppie.com/2008/11/black-wool-hat/
    (It’s a short read!)

    • StacieDecember 12, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

      I might have confessed if it were my normal hair person. But this was a stranger and I was barely holding it together! I loved your post – I wore hats too.

  10. The Dose of RealityDecember 12, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    This is one of the most moving things I’ve ever read. I read it twice just so I didn’t miss a single word.

    You know what I love best? I love that it’s been 14 years and you are here to tell us about it! And you keep that ponytail forever. You deserve to look back and see all you’ve overcome to get where you are today. 🙂

    • StacieDecember 12, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

      Thank you so much for leaving such an amazing comment 🙂

  11. Kim at Mama MzunguDecember 12, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    Stacie, this was simply beautiful. I have a very dear friend who is just emerging from her chemo, more bad ass and beautiful than ever. I’m sending this post to her immediately. I agree with everyone else here – keeping the ponytail only makes sense. I’m sure knowing it’s there, exactly where it you left it provides some comfort and acts as a reminder of your strength. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    • StacieDecember 12, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

      Thanks so much Kim. It’s comments like yours that just make my day!

  12. KristinDecember 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    There’s a chance part of it is PMS, but I’m in tears. So beautifully told without self-pity, sappiness, or bitterness. (Which is different from anger.)

    • StacieDecember 12, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

      Wow, thanks Kristin. I’m all warm and fuzzy inside now!

  13. christieDecember 12, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    I am definitely in tears. I had no idea what that green bag held. It was so well told. And this line stopped me cold: Before chemo, my hair fell in loose waves almost down to my traitorous breast.

    I love that you still have that. I vote that you keep it forever and I am getting up early to vote for you tomorrow.

    • StacieDecember 12, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

      You are so sweet Christie, thank you! I doubt I’ll ever be able to get rid of it, especially not now!

  14. Mary @ A Teachable MomDecember 12, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

    You are a miracle and this piece is brilliant. I support you in keeping your beautiful ponytail for as long as it feels like a loving thing to do for yourself. I also loved the “traitorous breast” line – took my breath away.

    • StacieDecember 12, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

      Cancer is so odd – it really does feel like betrayal – I mean, your own body trying to kill you? Really though it’s just bad luck. Thank you so much Mary for leaving such a wonderful comment!

  15. emmaDecember 12, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    Oh Stacie what a post. Wow. I have a friend who just went through the chemo and the radiation because of her own traitorous breast. Her hair has just grown back and she plans to keep it short. She’s beautiful, and so are you, for your life-affirming attitudes.

    • StacieDecember 12, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

      Thanks Emma! I’m glad your friend is doing well!

  16. LarksDecember 12, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

    What a beautiful post! And I, too, am glad you kept your ponytail. It strikes me as so symbolic of your strength.

    • StacieDecember 12, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

      Thanks so much Larks! I am so touched by all of these wonderful comments 🙂

  17. MizYankDecember 12, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

    Thank goodness you kept it! It’s part of who you were, which by definition makes it part of who you are, and it tells a better story than any other ponytail I’ve ever met.

    • StacieDecember 12, 2012 at 7:23 pm #

      Thanks for the kind words Miz Yank!

  18. Laura @ Close FamiliesDecember 12, 2012 at 7:20 pm #

    Oh I would keep it too, Stacie. Great story and a great keepsake. <3

    • StacieDecember 12, 2012 at 7:25 pm #

      Thanks Laura. I was on autopilot when I took it. I didn’t really think of it as a keepsake at the time.

  19. Teresa Cleveland WendelDecember 12, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

    What a heart-wrenching story–it broke me up. I’ve struggled with hair issues all my life, and finally decided to grow it out long. For the first time in my life, I love my hair. Still, I keep thinking, it’d be just my luck to get cancer and have to get it cut off. But this post was very positive–especially when you looked in the mirror and saw a Sassy Survivor.
    I hope you’ll keep writing such honest essays.

    • StacieDecember 13, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

      Thanks Teresa – glad you like your hair now! I bet you can keep it long until you decide otherwise.

  20. Fran@ Broken Cookies Don't CountDecember 13, 2012 at 6:01 am #

    I absolutely think you should keep it. I would suggest however that you give a place with a little more honor. Maybe find a little decorative box or cloth bag. Then keep it in one of your drawers. It represents one of the things you had to trade for the good health you have today. I like having symbols to remind me of things both good and bad. So happy you are well and healthy now!

    • StacieDecember 13, 2012 at 9:22 pm #

      You’re probably right. But truthfully, I don’t think about it that much – only in those moments when I run across it.

  21. KathleenDecember 13, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    This is one of my favorite pieces from you so far, Stacie. It was just beautiful. You had me in tears and then smiling broadly. You are a remarkable, inspiring person. I am so happy to know you.

    LOVED this line:
    “As I stood up, I looked in the mirror at the sassy survivor staring back at me and smiled.”

    That’s you — the sassy survivor. Big hugs!

    • StacieDecember 13, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

      Thanks so much for the awesome compliment Kathleen!

  22. PeachDecember 13, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Stacie, you already know I adore you. This piece is just a testament to why. Your story is yours to tell, in your way, just as that ponytail is yours to keep, in your way. Beautiful writing, my friend. xox

    • StacieDecember 13, 2012 at 9:23 pm #

      Aw Peach, I’m all blushing now!

  23. LindseyDecember 13, 2012 at 10:58 am #

    I can’t even imagine going through this. My best friends mom got all her hair cut off before she lost it too, but she told the girl. I think it was still just as traumatizing for her. You made it through cancer though. Someday you will be ready to throw that hair out, just not today.

    • StacieDecember 13, 2012 at 9:24 pm #

      We’ll see. After 14+ years, I’m not sure I’ll ever toss it!

  24. Lisha @ The Lucky MomDecember 13, 2012 at 11:20 am #

    Beautiful story.

    If someday you feel it’s time to let it go, place it outside in the Spring. Let the birds collect the strands for their nests, so that another mother will use it grow her family. And your strength will forever be part of the world.

    • StacieDecember 13, 2012 at 9:24 pm #

      That is a wonderful idea.

  25. Michelle LongoDecember 13, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    I can’t even imagine. Such a well told story. I like the line where you say you’re not opposed to your new hair, but you can’t let your old hair go. That’s a very powerful statement. Well done.

    • StacieDecember 13, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

      Thanks so much Michelle! At least it grows back – hard to complain about new hair when it’s so much better than having none!

  26. TiffanyDecember 13, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    Your writing blows me away!! As a hairstylist who has had to do that for pre chemo patients it is such an intimate thing to be a part of!! Seems like that stylist somehow knew something. Beautifully written my friend!

    • StacieDecember 13, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

      She probably did. I really did want to tell her but it was too emotional for me at the time. I’d love to hear the story from your perspective sometime!

  27. Dawn BeronillaDecember 13, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

    I read this as soon as you published it, and then life got in the way and I wasn’t able to comment until now. I tell you that because I want you to know that out of all the other posts, yours is the one that stayed in my mind.
    You brought tears to my eyes in the greatest way possible.

    You are so, so amazing. xo

  28. icescreammamaDecember 13, 2012 at 11:42 pm #

    I’m glad you kept it. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a tangible reminder of our history. That pony is your survival story. I love it hiding back there in the green bag, behind the randomness of ordinary life. great post.

  29. JohnDecember 14, 2012 at 8:20 am #

    Wow Stacie, I had no idea. I’m inspired by your courage.

  30. Louise DucoteDecember 14, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    Whew, I’m SO glad you didn’t throw it away. Wonderfully told. The stylist’s reluctance to cut your hair off, and you having to show confidence in order to shore her up, is just a great and memorable scene.

  31. Mod Mom Beyond IndieDomDecember 14, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    No, you should never throw it away. It’s a symbol of what you experienced, what you’ve battled and that you ultimately won the war. God bless you. This is beautiful writing and I congratulate you on a very well deserved win!

  32. DianeDecember 15, 2012 at 3:51 am #

    “I think I sent the poor haircut girl directly into therapy. She was very young.” This cracked me up. Hopefully it wasn’t her first day on the job. Tee hee.

    The Green Bag is a keeper. <3

  33. stephanieDecember 15, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

    I don’t know how I missed this. Absolutely beautiful. A well-deserved win.

  34. BonnyBardDecember 17, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    This is a beautiful post. My husband had cancer, not me, leukemia, so I don’t have the perspective of a cancer survivor but just of the person next to one. But I’m glad you kept the ponytail, because I think oftentimes with these illnesses you risk losing a bit of yourself and your ponytail is just a bit of who you were. A very strong bit.

  35. MelanieDecember 19, 2012 at 2:10 am #

    That green bag and its contents are a part of you. So strong and such reminders of who we are and all we are meant to be. You hold it until it no longer means something. Until then, it’s such a beautiful reminiscence that you are still here. Altered. Smarter. Wiser. But even better than before.

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