1 : arranged in a series, or forming parts of a series
2 : responsible for a series of usually criminal acts over a period of time; a serial arsonist
3 : serial killings and/or attacks are a series of killings/attacks committed by the same person
1 : one that kills
The sun is shining and it’s a warm day as I walk into the barber shop. It’s my day off and I’m trying out a new shop as I just moved to this area. It’s always hard to find a new place to get my hair cut. You’d think a flat-top would be a simple haircut, yet not too many people can do it well.
Sitting in the chairs, waiting for the next available person, I see an old man get up after getting his haircut. He stands and takes a step then starts to crumple to the floor. The woman who was cutting his hair and I both grab an arm and helped him to sit down in a chair. I instinctively went into paramedic mode – asking all the questions and running a differential before calling the man’s son to come and drive him home.
That’s how I first met Barbara. She’s younger than me with a bubbly personality. She gave me a free haircut after that because I helped the man out. Turns out, she did a good job so I’ve gone back to her about every three weeks for the last three years. We have the cordial familiarity that grows over time with a barber. We talk about work, the dogs, vacations, family, etc.
Three visits ago Barbara told me she found a lump in her breast. She’s comfortable talking with me about medical issues. We discussed the possibilities and possible treatments for a lump in the breast. When I left she said she had a doctor’s appointment the next day.
I often find that people are more comfortable talking with paramedics than with doctors or nurses. We are approachable – we speak plain English, yet we can translate the cryptic medical language. More importantly, we actually make house calls – no one else does that in the US anymore.
Two visits ago she tells me that the doctor confirmed that it is breast cancer. It’s an early catch but it’s also an aggressive presentation. He recommended a double mastectomy and a double round of chemotherapy. She tells me that she just had the first trip to chemotherapy a week ago and it knocked her on her but for five days. She’d scheduled the surgeries for the following week. We talk about what to expect for the next six months as she gets a dose of chemo every other week. The hair falling out, the nausea, the weakness. I’ve had patients tell me it feels like the worst flu they ever had – only worse.
On my last visit I see Barbara finishing up on a customer while I wait my turn. She has a little cap that covers her head. Both of her breasts are gone and her blouse is still a little baggy on the top after having been stretched out and tailored to fit her old shape. I see a little bit of a dressing and tape peek through the v-neck of the blouse. She’s still doing wound care after the surgery. I see the subtly rounded lump on the chest where she has a port-a-cath implanted under the skin. It’s a device that allows access to the veinous system for repeated treatments. Barbara is still her bubbly self yet I see the underlying sadness and uncertainty.
In the course of one month her life has completely changed. The two physical attributes that both men and women identify as the superficial expression of femininity have been taken away from her: her breasts and hair. The healthy woman who went to the doctor for a routine annual checkup has now become a frequent flyer of the medical community. It’s still too early to know if the cancer has been eradicated. Basically it’s a situation where she will be re-examined for years to come to see if the treatment worked.
In time her hair will grow back and the scars will heal. She tells me she’s considering getting implants but it’s a long and painful process where they insert a balloon and slowly inflate it over time. This allows the skin to stretch out to accommodate the implants. Whatever she decides I suspect I’ll see the progress at every visit – in order to check that my flat-top is flat, she always positions my head to where I have no choice but to stare her straight in the chest as she trims my hair with the clippers.
My blog has the word fiction in the title but this is a very true story that happened just one month ago. Breast cancer is something that affects us all and this month is breast cancer awareness month. Please get involved, donate, and spread the word. Maybe together we can make a difference.