I’ve done henna a few times. Once, at an Indian wedding where the artist stayed during the reception and painted hands in a booth. Another time, Telegraph Avenue, teenage years. Casual henna. Nothing serious. I’ve always thought the curls and scrolls and dots were intriguing, whimsical, fun.
And so, Friday night after my BFF arrived I limped into the henna shop, sat myself down in a chair, and chatted with two sisters while they freehanded my head, promising me the whole time it would make my hair grow. I was limping because, well, you know, there’s so many things they don’t know about my diagnosis, my medicine, my treatment, my outcome, and this time, my side effects. To look at the bottom of my feet, you’d think nothing was wrong. They look entirely normal.
Five or so six days ago, I thought I was developing some kind of painful-ish callus on the bottom of my foot. So, of course, I set up a foot spa. I used a bubbly soap specifically for feet, soaking for a while before I went at that callus with an industrial strength pummice stone. I scrubbed and scrubbed, and my feet became oh so very soft, but the weird pain was absolutely not going to be scrubbed off. I probably made it worse in my quest to pummice-stone the pain away, but really, who would think chemotherapy, injected into my veins and traveling through my blood stream, would cause painful spots on the bottom of my feet?
By the day we went to get the two sisters in their red henna and brow bar to paint my scalp with curly cues and squiggles reminiscent of of peacocks and spring flowers, the pain was becoming really significant all over the right foot, and starting up on the left foot. What’s a girl to do? Obviously, strap industrial strength ice-packs to the bottom of my feet and curl up in bed. It was becoming so bad that I could only walk with thick fuzzy socks and slippers on my feet, even inside.
The next morning, worse. I went everywhere in the slippers and fuzzy socks- outside, grocery store, yoga, even out to dinner with my jeans tucked into my slippers and my hot pink extra-fuzzy socks peeping out over the side. It was classy. When I called to report this ailment to the nurses’ line, they had the on-call oncologist call me back. She was baffled. Totally confused. The kind of chemo I’ll receive after I finish the AC is Taxol, and Taxol can cause numbness in the hands and feet, but right now I’m on AC. And AC never causes numbness, which is the most common symptom of taxol-caused-neuropathy, though occasionally there can also be some pain. Nevermind the fact that my feet are absolutely not numb, but rather, intensely tender and painful. She called another oncologist, inquiring about possible causes. Nothing. No one knows why my feet decided to freak out and put a halt to walking for a few days. No one knows why they look kind of like they are the wrong color and are still tender to the touch. Simply, no one knows. Most people around me seem horrified that they could not know what is going on, or at least, that they couldn’t figure it out or venture a guess. To me, it seems par for the course. There’s so many unknowns, so much uncertainty. Cancer is, precisely, not knowing.
An hour after the sisters started my henna, they finished. I left the henna on all night, but still, it didn’t set very well, leaving only a pale orange-ish print all over my scalp. Still, it was fun. I like it the curlies and the dots and the little designs they painted. I’ve not really worn it this way in public, still wearing a wig or a hat, but I did wear it this way in yoga, which was entirely anti-climatic and totally fine despite the fact that it seemed like a big deal I was going to yoga with a bald head. I do wear it this way at home, admiring the designs in my reflection in the mirrors and windows. It’s much too cold to go out with a bald head, anyway.