This episode's Kristina storyline moves you along a number of high peaks and low dips before ending on a high note. One minute she's having a booze-filled and carefree time with the girls, the next minute she sweeps her hair aside and a clump comes out in her hand. "That is...something," she says as they all look at the hair on the table. The kind of party buster unique to a cancer patient. They all decide to go home then. But Kristina has a mission.
As I predicted in a previous blog, she tries to wrest some control by shaving her head that same night--in a wordless scene. She is compelled to do it, yet hesitant, a multitude of emotions cross her face ranging from deep fear to utter exhiliration. She is still in her reverie when she stirs Adam awake, not even considering her new look might come as a shock. His stunned and startled reaction sets her off on an emotional tailspin that to some viewers might seem extreme, selfish, whiny. But if you're in Kristina's head, you know that she was at a most vulnerable state. Her port, scars, bruises which she mentions in one of her rants had set the stage for a defining moment: her husband's reaction to her baldness.
When she ventures out, her defenses are up. If her beloved of twenty years can't stand the way she looks, she expects very little of others. She is exposed and self-conscious. She feels that people are staring at her as if she is a freak show or has leprosy.
When issues of body image arise during breast cancer, a spouse or partner's role takes on a new dimension. More than physical caretaker, more than emotional supporter, they are a litmus test on which our self-esteem precariously hangs. As much as we must garner our own inner strength, a small gesture from our husbands which might seem insignificant to others has magnified importance.
At first Kristina misunderstands Adam's reaction which then leads to each of them coming to wrong conclusions. Adam buys her a wig because he thinks she's too embarrassed to leave the house. She covers up when Adam is around because she thinks he doesn't want to see her baldness, her illness. Her attitude quickly turns around when the misunderstanding gets resolved, when they spend a night out that she plans where they can be|"husband and wife", not "husband and patient." She can confidently face the world when she is reassured by her husband's true feelings. He's all greased up and ready to go to "Funkytown." The fact that they never get there, because the fatigue of cancer abruptly interrupts, isn't the point. (It also didn't hurt that she was hit on by a 27-year-old, but her husband's reassurance I'm sure gave her the greater, lasting confidence.)
I didn't have chemo or hair loss -- I had a double mastectomy. Tissue expanders were put inside breasts newly formed from my latissimus muscle and skin on my back. Saline was injected into the expanders over the course of weeks in order to stretch the skin to prepare it for the insertion of the implants.
My left breast, which had scar tissue from previous biopsies, could not be expanded initially so it was not filled with saline at the hospital. So I returned home with one side flat and the other side inflated. I did not look at myself for quite some time, even after the sides evened out. Not while it was raw--so I closed my eyes when dressing and showering until I felt ready.
But my husband looked at me right away. That moment is one I will never forget. I stood there, vulnerable, exposed, like Kristina.
Not a flinch, not a tear, not even a sigh.
He told me I looked good, that it looked even better than he had expected. That huge moment would carry me far. To my first social outing, an engagement party two weeks after surgery--dressed up, makeup on, the remaining drains hanging from underneath my lopsided breasts. In March, to a formal dinner, my breasts huge because they had to be stretched beyond the size of the eventual implants, and they were hard as rocks. It was like walking around with a shelf extending from my chest (when my youngest sat on my lap to read a book, it felt like I was pushing her away). My body was in flux, ever-changing, not yet my own. People notice. But it doesn't matter, when you are emboldened.
During the closing scene...you must have noticed the confident stride and the battle-ready look of Kristina...you must have noticed that Adam and Kristina were smiling as they grasped hands and headed out together. But did you notice any stunned or awkward stares? For sure, Kristina did not.
Only a handful of new episodes this season. Watch Tuesdays at 10 on NBC.