My mom’s cancer continued to spread. Early on in her diagnosis, I felt that nothing was shared with me. There was no explanation of what was happening other than cancer, chemo, radiation, with snippets of information that I would pick up randomly through my own observations.
As a self-professed student of Charlie’s Angels, Nancy Drew, and Jonathan and Jennifer Hart, I felt like I did okay with my sleuthing. However, it was hard for me to not understand what was happening. It made me feel juvenile and untrusted.
As we neared the summer of ’88, her illness and its side effects were obvious. She did wear a special cooling chemo cap that helped her keep her hair for a longer period of time. Oh, she loved her hair and having it done on a regular basis.
As a young girl in the ‘70s, I would often accompany my mom to her beauty salon. It was a short walk from our house on Lenox St. and I loved everything about the place.
Her stylist looked like icon Tony Orlando to me and the atmosphere was epic. Thick rugs, velvety couches in bright, warm colors, all enveloped in the haze of cigarette smoke. My mom would give me some change for the vending machines and I would sit on a couch, in a cloud of smoke, sipping on a bottle of orange pop absolutely mesmerized by it all.
I cherished those trips with my mom. This was the era of women going to salons for a wash, set, and all of the gossip. I’ll bet she went weekly. I remember the warmth of the place with lots of laughter. There were all kinds of smells, muted of course, by the Benson & Hedges my mom smoked combined with all of the other brands swirling and condensing into certainly toxic clouds. I loved it.
As time passed, my mom switched salons and in the early ‘80s found herself with a stylist in downtown Oak Park. My mom had beautiful blue eyes and blonde hair. Like many women of a certain age, that blonde was enhanced. I’ll never forget coming home one day to a very distraught mom sitting at our kitchen table. Her hair was jet black.
Her fancy new stylist had made an error and it couldn’t be rectified for a few days. After a short period of mourning, she did call our backyard neighbor over for a laugh. They laughed and cried and smoked and likely had a drink or two as my mom lamented her situation.
In just a few days, she was back to her signature blonde look. In just a few months, that stylist was found dead of a drug overdose on the sidewalk in front of his salon. It seemed clear to me why he made such an error on her color.
Flash forward to the summer of 1988. I remember my mom being in the hospital beginning the week of my graduation. I don’t think she ever came home again. The hospital was a large teaching hospital in Chicago. It was about a thirty-minute drive from our house and I would go to visit her almost daily.
She was often asleep. Watching her deteriorate physically was painful to witness. As the days went on, the cancer had spread to her eyes and to her bones. She was losing her hair at this point. That was really hard for her.
Going to visit her was painful because it was now fully evident that she was incredibly ill. Her sense of humor was waning and her spirit was fading. I both treasured and dreaded these almost daily visits.