• Baljit Khamba, ND, M.PH

All Aboard! An Exhilarating Journey Through the Mystical Continent of 'What Ifs'


Growing up an hour from the Niagara Falls Canada-USA border, meant frequent picnics and trips to visit the Falls. Any family member or friend visiting was immediately shuttled to take in the splendour of this 8th Natural Wonder of the World. Aside from the massive tons of roaring water propelling over 2 million litres per second down into Lake Ontario, this natural wonder also had the ability of drawing in equally large hoards of spectators. It always amazed me how it would be a collecting spot for people from all over the world. As children, while everyone gathered to take pictures and revel in the awe of the Falls, my brother and I would note all the different license plates that passed by or ones we saw parked in the lots. These license plates represented mysterious people from different places around Canada and the US. We couldn't possibly imagine what people outside of the Greater Toronto Area could be like. We would see a particular license plate and try to think of what the main characteristics of that province or state may be, so as to imagine a glimpse of what their lives might be like.

Further, we would beg our parents to give us a quarter so that we could use it for the binoculars located alongside the Niagara river, mainly intended for people to catch a closer glimpse of the rushing water. However, we used them so that we could view across the border to the US. We were so curious of the people, what they did, and how they would be so different from two suburban Indian kids from Mississauga. My brother and I would imagine of all sorts of scenarios and 'What ifs' regarding these mysterious visitors, 'Do people from Buffalo eat the same foods we do?' or 'What if that building is a secret US military base watching us?'. These were the days before our imaginations were influenced by video games and internet, so the active creation of fantasies ruled our pass time.

We were also fortunate in our lives to have travelled extensively at young ages. I had seen various parts of the US, UK, Asia and South Asia all within the first decade of my life. As an adult, I've lived in Edmonton and most recently in San Diego. So, the curiosity of creating stories of how people lived remained an ongoing wonder, and has continued to fuel my love of travelling. As a traveller, when I visit a new place, I've noticed that there are a few behavioural patterns I follow to take in and absorb my new destination: Firstly, I'll breathe in the air the moment I land at the location. I want to fill my lungs and my insides with this foreign air, take in the fresh new aromas and scents to see what mysteries they may reveal. Second, I would look down and try to feel the ground beneath my feet, so as to appreciate what soil these people have come from. I love seeing the ease of how people walk through different terrains than what I'm familiar with. Lastly, I take in the plants, I'm forever at awe with the variations in the trees and plants in each location I go to. Once, I've taken in those areas, I feel that I can start mentally harmonizing with my new destination.

In many ways, I've been feeling like this cancer diagnosis has also been a new land that I'm exploring. I find myself using some of the same tools from all my travels to grasp and understand this diagnosis. I've landed in a new destination, where I'm trying to see how I would breathe, walk and take in the scenery around me. I create many 'What ifs', much like when my brother and I were children, however, these days my questions are around my diagnosis: 'What if I don't get better?', 'What if I die?', 'Will my children grow up without a mother?'. I definitely came into this new cancer-land, set up a place to stay and pitched up a distress flag, however, I decided that I didn't want to live here permanently. I would venture through the emotions, going into the space questioning my mortality, but I very much wanted to discover the tools within me to grow from there.

All this came about a few days after my second chemotherapy treatment. I had a terrible night's sleep where I kept dreaming that the chemotherapy didn't work and that there was nothing more that could be done for me. This dream coincided with having markedly more clumps of hair falling out. My hair loss was becoming particularly distressful for me, as it felt like my cancer diagnosis is real. I have cancer. This is happening and there's no escaping it.

The next morning, I told James about how my rapidly thinning hair was difficult for me to deal with alone. I had been hiding under scarves and toques so that I wouldn't be able to discern all the hair that had come out. He listened, reassured his love for me no matter how much hair was on my head and suggested that I go to my aunt's salon today and get my hair shaved down. Anticipating my distress over the hair loss, James had gently mentioned cutting my hair short a couple times since my cancer diagnosis. He would smile and confidently state that he thinks it would actually suit me. However, it wasn't something I was ready to deal with or accept. I had initially cut it shorter to help ease the transition, but not completely short.

I immediately phoned my aunt, who we call Booji (which means father's sister, in Punjabi) for an appointment at her salon. She has played a large hand in raising me. In fact, as an infant, 'Booji' was my first word, further, she was the one who I first told about my cancer diagnosis, and who held me when I fell apart. Now, I'm to go to her again and ask her to shave my head.

I call Booji and we arrange for me to come at the end of the day. It's Saturday, her busiest day and she's just a month into her new location. James and I sat and patiently waited while we watched Booji and my cousin, Kanchan, tirelessly tag-team a steady stream of clients coming through. Perfectly timed hair dye treatments with blow drying and cuts, all with an excited fever of conversations regarding how their hair will look once complete. I couldn't help but feel a slight twinge of jealousy. How lucky they are to be making joyous decisions around their hair colour and style. That's something I won't be able to do for a long while. As the salon started to calm down and I knew my turn was coming up soon, I began to tear up. I couldn't help the thoughts of losing my hair, of why did this cancer have to happen to me, how unfair it was that my whole life has changed, and how upsetting it would be for Booji to be in a situation where she has to shave my head. James held my hand, and tried to reassure me, but I was too far gone. Booji came up to me, I stood up, and just collapsed into her arms. I sobbed tears of sadness, anger and just needing to be held. My forever cheerleader reminded me that this is tough but that I can do it, I'll get through this just like anything else that's come my way. She reminded me that I'm strong and capable. Her advice was simple, but it was exactly what I needed to hear, coming from just the only person I needed to hear if from. I thought that if Booji felt that I could get through this, then I can. She was the anchor that brought me back. With that I brushed my tears aside, sat down in the barber chair and threw off my wig. I was ready for this.

As the No. 3 trimmer took off the remaining bits of my hair, I reflected that my students would be walking across the stage at this very moment becoming Naturopathic Doctors. So, I silently cheered them on on their accomplishment and also feeling like I graduated myself.

Truly once my hair had been shaved, I did feel a lot better. I felt much more comfortable physically and mentally. Often I would forget that I had shaved it at all. Also, my dear friend Holly had knitted me beautiful caps to wear and my wig fit much better. My mood lifted immediately after getting it done. It seemed that since I was comfortable with it, so was everyone else around me. In fact, I kept getting compliments on how a short pixie cut would actually suit me. Something to consider when my hair returns.

So, I did venture into this new land of uncertainty and fear, but I didn't want to remain a citizen of it. Rather, I felt like I visited, took in the sites, surrounding and even got a taste of what it would be like to live there. However, I preferred the comforts of my hometown friends and family, so I returned home to tell the tale.

#triplenegative #NaturopathicDoctor #ductalcarcinomainsitu #invasivecarcinomainsitu #hairloss #headshaved

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