Folding cranes for Clare and how talking about being bald is healing

The Beginning, Christian Schloe

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I folded a paper crane today. It’s my 347th.

I began folding them in February of 2011 when Terry's sister Clare called to say that her breast cancer metastasized. 

That's the day I started.

I got the idea from Sadako Sasaki whose story is told in A Thousand Paper Cranes.

Sadako was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped near her home in Hiroshima, Japan.  A few years later she was in the hospital with leukemia.

While in the hospital, her friend Chizuko Hamamoto visited and buoyed her spirits: “Remember the ancient story about folding 1000 paper cranes? If you do, you get a wish.” Then Chizuko folded a gold crane for her.

Inspired, Sadako begins folding cranes for that big wish.

In a similar spirit, I fold.

Over the last three years I’ve folded and given the cranes away: to friends, to people in the grocery store, to people in the infusion rooms, to nurses and doctors, to support groups. I give each one with a silent peace wish for the person and for Clare. I say, "Make a wish."

Clare doesn't know. (I was waiting until I folded the 1000th which will be hers.)

Well, I haven’t folded for a long time. Until today.

Clare says scans show that the cancer is advancing—in her bones, lungs, liver. Significantly.

Clare already describes her cancer-eaten femur and hip as looking like delicate Belgium lace. That’s her choice of seeing the beauty in her being. (Writing that chokes me up.) 

I want to think and feel positive, breathing in those things I learn from Thich Nhat Hanh about acceptance, impermanence, and letting go around dying. I ponder the idea that there is no coming and no going, and that we carry those we love in our heart. I believe this.

At the same time I know about duality.

I can have strong faith (which to me means confidence + trust) and therefore peace, while at the same time feel deeply sad and angry.

Clare tells how her doctors march her down to chemo after showing her the scans. No waiting. A new infusion drug must be administered. Time to treat. Now.

It’s hard news.

How to cope? Breathe, yell, laugh, cry. And text. Clare and I text.

We deal with the news by texting about losing our hair. Back and forth.

Clare: You know what’s ironic? I haven’t even liked my hair in the last 15 years, until just recently. Currently, I love my hair! The cut, the streaky color, the growing fullness from 4 months of using Aveda’s products. Last time I took the parent drug to this one, I lost my hair. With this new drug, it’s about 50/50 they say. So we’ll see. Do you agree it’s hard to be beautiful without hair? Other thing: it’s illness gone public.

Me: The hair loss thing is like a flaming flag flapping the news that cancer rang the bell, and who invited it anyway?

Clare: Right!

Me: I felt beautiful bald.

Clare: Really?

Me: And I miss that hair-just-coming-back look. But then, Clare, I was a slave to my long hair and without it, I got to say, “I’m not my hair.”

Clare: I get that.

Me: Now I want hair. But mostly for Terry and others who, I believe, don’t want to be reminded that someone they love has cancer. Because I feel that way about you, Clare. I hate that you might lose your hair. Or more. 

Clare: I HATE IT TOO!!

Me: I am angry Clare. And sick and tired of you having to get scans and bad news.

Me: And now this.

Me: I’ll get to the positive. But now. Look out. I want to kick the cat.

Me: I mean. What the F kind of Christmas present is that? Another port? F that

Clare: It’s helpful to me that you’re angry. It gives me permission to feel angry too.

Me: Yes. Tell Pio (her cat) to leave the room

Clare: F the port. Chemo on the December 23rd—screw that!!!

Me: Really? Well sh*#t.

Clare: I need 2 more MRIs this week too—they can’t do them on the same day—Tuesday and Thursday!

Me: That takes the cake. Just for that, you get to keep your hair.

Clare: Agreed

Me: I do love your hair

Clare: And I do have to drive by Culvers each time, where a vanilla ice cream with fresh frozen raspberries…”

Me: You do? Torture. Or, let’s see. Make that delight. Yes. Perfect. Have a Culvers! (People with cancer avoid sugar.)

Clare: Oh yeah!

Me: Clare, you are a saint. I’m serious now. You are walking this path with such bravery and tenderness. I love your anger. I love you.

Clare: Aw. I dunno about sainthood. I’m just doing what I have to do, with the support of lovely tender companions to journey with.

Me: It’s how you’re living with it. Your courage and humility.

Clare: I love you very much!

Me: Night sweetie. My first prayer is for you. xoxo

Clare: xoxo visualize the hair hanging tight! 

Me: Will do. xo

We stop texting.

Talking about our hair helps.

I understand and accept dying issues around my life. But with Clare, my grief swells.

Maybe it’s easier to leave than be left.

One of Clare’s favorite music pieces is The Servant Song by Richard Gillard. She's even asked her son Tim to learn it on his guitar. There’s a line in it that goes, “We are here to help each other, walk the mile and bear the load.” That fits her.

I know that thinking of Clare in a light of wellness is a way "to help each other” (the wisher/giver and the receiver). So I’m inviting you to join me in thinking of and holding her in your thoughts.