On having my head shaved, and the tarantula cap (a story that should have been in my previous book)

The combo punch of craniotomy, six weeks of radiation, and chemotherapy did a number on my hair so one day I decided to go to the local barbershop in Colorado Springs and have my head shaved. Henry and I had discovered a repurposed elementary school north of Penrose Hospital. The classrooms had been turned into a variety of shops: a bakery, a café, a brewpub, and a barbershop to name a few.  The hallway, with lockers still intact, was for communal seating.

The barbershop, as Henry and I immediately discovered, was androgynous or gender fluid, whatever the correct term will eventually be. Comparing notes later, Henry and I agreed that it was delightful to sit in the chair and be fussed over by a beautiful and flamboyant young person whose sexual identity and preferences were clearly none of our business. I even had the hot towel treatment in preparation for the straight razor. I was offered a drink from the local brewpub, but declined, thinking that the combination of bizarre and poisonous treatments I was undergoing might not have a lot of room for liquor. But I loved the idea of sipping a glass of wine while being fussed over. My scalp was only nicked once — it’s a little tricky because of the titanium plate — but I loved the look and feel of a bald head, and I was assured that my head had a good shape. I was surprised that even though it was late October and warm outside, I needed to wear a scarf to insulate my head.

I was scheduled for radiation treatment and a blood lab on Halloween of 2019. A friend back in Alamosa had given me a ratty god-awful stuffed tarantula that looked like it had been chewed upon by a pack of slobbery dogs and left to dry in the field. I imagine its real purpose was to be strung up in some tree over a sidewalk where an upward glance at this large hovering and hairy arachnid would spook the walker underneath. Indeed, as Henry and I were to discover that evening as we took in the wonders of Halloween in Colorado Springs, many of the trees in the neighborhood of the hospital and our guesthouse had been decorated and adorned with all manner of large creepy spiders, complete with spiderwebs and weirdly pulsating lights.

But I had a different idea for my ugly tarantula. I bent its legs in such a way that it grasped my newly shaven head like a kind of spidercap. I scrutinized as best I could in the bathroom mirror and then realized it was missing something, so after finding an index card, I wrote “the latest cure for brain cancer” and attached the card to the spider. We went off on our day first to the lab to get my blood drawn where happily many of the phlebotomists were adorned in vampire clothing. I felt right at home. Several women riding the elevator with us took a step back and then fist-bumped me when they realized what the card said. “You go girl,” they called as they want off to their offices.

Blood collected, we had time to go to the hospital cafeteria before my radiation appointment. Most of the people we passed added extra buffer space between them and us when they saw the tarantulacap. Some laughed nervously when they read the caption, but I think it’s safe to say that most of them were caught off guard and somewhat horrified even though Henry and I were clearly amused. Same in the cafeteria although it was gratifying to see a few people genuinely laugh out loud.

Just in case you’re wondering, I do know that there is an electrode cap meant to be a treatment (of last resort?) for glioblastoma. I was given a pamphlet about it when I first saw the doctor at Penrose Hospital. What I noticed right away was the pamphlet did not include a picture of the device.

Hmmmmm. That bad, hunh? I think I’ll stick with my tarantula.

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