by Dottie Menkhaus
One day, a small lump appeared in the middle of the living room carpet. It was about the size of a golf ball. We had to be careful to not trip over it as we walked through the house. As the days passed it grew larger and larger. A small annoyance became a large problem. After months of stepping around and climbing over the lump, it grew too large to manage. Then we discovered that the lump was a volcano that was forming in the middle of the house! The volcano was beginning to overtake everything, so we left and went miles away to a friend’s house. We could see the volcano from there. There was a loud boom in the distance as the volcano exploded. It was then that I remembered that I had left my cat, George, behind. George was dead. I startled awake as George jumped on the bed. I hugged him. It was all just another nightmare.
I was 12 when I had this dream. At the time, my mother had found a small lump in her breast. It turned out to be Breast Cancer. I didn’t quite know how to handle her diagnosis, so I just brushed it under the rug and tried to pretend that everything was fine, normal. I stepped around the lump that was disrupting the household. That worked until Mom lost her hair. It then became real. As the reality of Mom’s diagnosis became more difficult, I further tried to push the lump under the rug by telling Mom that I didn’t want any pictures taken of her without hair. In my 12-year-old mind, if there were no pictures, it didn’t happen. Maybe then the painful memories would be erased.
My Mother respected my wishes, but she was also strong and defiant. She would not let her hair define her. She had a wig, but only wore it occasionally. It was hot, itchy and uncomfortable. While most women would wear a head scarf, that wasn’t Mom’s style. She preferred to wear a ball cap.
My Mother worked backstage at my dance recitals. That year, a boy was roaming around where he shouldn’t be. My Mom, who worked at the school library, recognized him as one of the school troublemakers. When she told him to move along, he tried to get smart with her and look under her ball cap. She said, “You want to see what’s under my hat? Well here ya go!” and with that, she whipped off her hat revealing her bald head. The boy, wide-eyed, moved along. He never gave her any trouble in the library ever again. My Mother couldn’t be bothered by what people thought of her bald head, but I think my feelings about it hurt her.
As an adult, I regret the way that I dealt with my mother’s diagnosis. I know now that my words to her were hurtful. I remember a time at my grandparent’s house, when pictures were being taken in the living room. I saw my Mom get up and go into the hallway. When someone asked what she was doing, she said “Dottie doesn’t want pictures of me without hair” I remember the pain in her eyes. Brushing the issue under the rug and avoiding it didn’t solve anything. It didn’t make it better. Mom still had cancer. Now that she is gone, I wish I had more pictures of her even if they would be of her without hair.
At various times I think of the volcano dream and how it relates to life. I have been thinking of it a lot lately with the current events happening in this country. Had I made more of an effort to understand what my Mother was going through, maybe I would have understood her pain and responded better. Honest conversations with my Mother about her diagnosis, dying, and her fears, would have been healing to us both. We could have helped each other instead of avoiding the issue. If we don’t address the growing volcanoes in our lives, they will explode.
*The blog picture is the only picture of my Mom without hair. It was her birthday. I am grateful to have this picture of her.