It’s been 11 months after chemotherapy and stem-cell transplant, My hair is growing back, thinner and finer, and I am 60 pounds lighter. I go from feeling energetic and wanting to start re-creating my life to feeling tired and just wanting to lie down. I spent the last year home, recuperating, staying safe from COVID, and ordering new clothes online. There are not many things I can save from my closet, stuffed with clothes from my old life, which ended at the onset of Cancer and Covid. My new clothes are hung outside my closet, my old clothes inside. I want to get rid of what doesn’t fit anymore but I seem to be holding on. Maybe I will gain weight, however, I like being skinny. It’s all a dilemma.
I think of life before and after cancer. Now, I look in the mirror and see a thin but finally proportioned figure that is unrecognizable, and an exposed face along with very short hair that barely frames it. My beautiful curly hair is a distant memory as I stare at this stranger in the mirror. So much is simply gone.
Occasionally I open my closet and look at all my oversized clothes, then shut it again, not ready to face all the dilemmas these clothes represent. Recently, however, I decided that I will just look at my clothes, and pulled out an old favorite pink knit cowl-neck sweater that made me feel cheery on freezing cold days. The knit was soft against my skin, but now it’s so big, I can barely feel the softness of the sweater on my body — it used to make me feel nurtured but now I feel lost in it. I’m tired of feeling lost, and that inspires me to start a give-away bag.
As I am going through my clothes, I see that just about everything has to go, regardless of how I feel about my favorite shirts and sweaters. Suddenly, I start to remember clearing out my mother’s closet after her death, and I realize that the grief I felt then is surprisingly similar to the feelings I have now. So much ended with cancer — my health, career, future plans — I simply survived through the ordeal of treatment, just waiting to get to the other side.
I’m ambivalent about holding on to or letting go of my clothes — so many emotional attachments. I pick up a favorite jacket with colorful designs that I wore when I organized a memorial gathering at the hospice agency I worked for. I remember the gratitude I felt on that day that touched so many hearts. Into the give-away bag it went, but my fond memory remained. The striped shirt I loved wearing in Greece with my sisters, what an amazing experience that was, but I didn’t need the shirt to remember.
My reluctance to separate from my clothes is because the unique designs and choice of style represent different parts of my identity but I see that remains with me regardless of what is in my closet. There is still sadness at my losses but endings are followed by beginnings. I now have clothes that fit properly, I have ideas for my future and I have a lot to write about.