Touch: The Journal of Healing



What to Expect in the Shower

    by Nancy Smiler Levinson


After my second chemotherapy session,

I knew what to expect in the shower.

But first I read every section of the Sunday newspaper,

emptied all the wastebaskets in the house,

played solitaire on the computer,

rearranged a bookshelf, and watered the garden.

Came afternoon I could no longer avoid the shower.

I tested the water temperature, stepped in, and washed slowly.

Finally I squeezed shampoo onto my head and began rubbing.

My hair!  It pulled out and pulled out — gobs of it,

pasted to my wet hands, shoulders, chest, back. . .

thick strands in my mouth, across my tongue, my teeth.

I screamed to my husband, a retired physician,

now suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

He came running and took command as a doctor once more.

“Get out of that shower,” he ordered over my sobs. “Now!”

He wrapped a towel and his arms around me,

then grabbed a scrub brush from under the sink

and stooped to sweep hair from the tile floor.

The next day, wearing a straw hat to cover

unsightly tufts of gray hair peppered on my scalp,

I drove to Supercuts.  A young Armenian woman

led me to her chair.  When I removed my hat,

she blurted, “Oh, you are losing hair!”

“Breast cancer.”

“Ach, I am so sorry.”

“Buzz it all off,” I told her and shut my eyes.

In a minute, the deed was done.

When I looked I sobbed from my depths.

The woman brought me a tissue box and a paper cup of water.

“Don’t look too much in mirror,” she advised.

“Go home and poot on nice vig.”


One winter evening after my chemo had ended,

my husband and I were preparing

to meet friends for dinner in a restaurant.

While he searched for his wallet and watch,

I dressed in a black skirt and sweater,

heels, and silver hoop earrings —

ready to go except for my wig.

I happened to see out the front window

a U-Haul truck blocking our driveway

and dashed out to ask the driver to move it.

“No problem.”  We noticed that we are both wearing

yellow LiveSTRONG bracelets.

Was he a survivor?  No, an uncle had died of colon cancer.

“Me?” I shrugged, pointing to my head.

“I’d never have guessed,” he said

“I took you for a chic, artsy lady.”

Really?  Could I?  Would I?  Dare I?

venture out in public with only

the first feathery wisps of gray grow-back?

At the restaurant our friends exclaimed

“Wow!  Fabulous.  Sassy looking!”

Yeah, I was doing it!

Artsy.  Chic.  Sassy.  Why not?

I tossed back my near-naked head,

sat down to dinner and opened the menu.

© 2013  Nancy Smiler Levinson

Nancy Smiler Levinson is an author of numerous books of fiction and nonfiction for young readers.  She is currently completing a book for adults following her journey as caregiver to her husband who has Alzheimer’s disease and as a breast cancer patient herself.  This is her first prose/poem published in a literary journal.

Copyright © 2013

Touch: The Journal of Healing

All rights reserved.