Bald in the Land of Big Hair: A True Story.

Joni Rodgers is a comedian.

Portrait of Jane Austen, from the memoir by J....

Portrait of Jane Austen, from the memoir by J. E. Austen-Leigh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But, cancer is not funny.

Except, if you’ve had it.

Then, you can appreciate the dark humor that helps lighten the load for those not as far along on their journey and help those who care about you.

“Luckily, everyone with cancer is issued a Brave Sick Person face.

“It comes with the wig.”

Joni Rodgers was the mother of a five-year-old and seven-year-old when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1994.

She found her voice and wrote two novels while she was coming back from chemotherapy.

Joni’s savior in her cancer journey was her husband.

Several doctors, over a period of months, had dismissed her questions and put her on antibiotics to treat a nearly-constant low-grade fever, fatigue and crippling back pain.

Her husband, nuzzling her neck one day, drew back in high-action mode when he found an unexplainable lump.

He demanded that she get it checked.

Then, after still another course of antibiotics, demanded that the doctor do a biopsy.

“…diffuse large-cell lymphoma, a high-grade, swiftly spreading cancer of the lymphatic system.”

“metastasized from the original site to both sides of the neck, spreading downward toward the chest.”

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Thank goodness for fierce advocates.

Rodgers describes her reaction to the biopsy.

“Once you say the word biopsy, you’ve passed out of the nothing realm into something territory, whether that something is malignant or benign.”

What Helped?

An advocate on her own behalf, Rodgers asked medical personnel to explain each procedure as they were about to do it, including what medications they were giving her.

“What’s that? I asked a nurse who was pushing a syringe of something into my IV.

“’Just a little Demerol to help –.’”

“Oh no! I’m allergic to Demerol!”

“’What! Are you sure?’”

“Well, yes, I’m sure! Look – it’s on my chart. I made sure they put it on there.”

“She seized my chart from a nearby table, bit back an expletive and rushed out of the room.”

How Do You Handle People’s Reactions?

Rodgers eventually came to accept that people were genuinely concerned for her, however awkwardly they showed it.

“People asked me point-blank about my ‘prognosis’ (translation, ‘So, are you gonna die?’)”

An oncologist framed this for her.

“Nobody wants to be a statistic, but everyone wants to know what their chances are.”

Rodgers adds,  “And, so does everyone else.”

“…if I answered with the actual statistics, which were not overwhelmingly in my favor, there’d be a strained moment of silence, followed by ‘But you know, anyone of us could be crossing the street tomorrow and get hit by a bus!’”

“I know this was a genuine effort to make me feel better…but I’m pretty sure that until Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles gives up singing and starts driving a bus, cancer will still be significantly more perilous than crossing the street.”

Better reactions were offers of specific help:

  • Bring supper over in disposable containers
  • Pick up kids from school or take them to the movies
  • Mow the lawn; weed the flowerbed.

“Or, just say, ‘I’m sorry this is happening to you. I care.’”

“And, then let the conversation move on to something other than cancer.”

What Helped?

During chemotherapy, meditation helped with the nausea.

“In fact, I became so good at this method of deep relaxation, I can now cure myself of hiccups in about fifteen seconds.”

After chemotherapy, Rodgers:

  • Exercised daily to a Richard Simmons DVD; learned tai chi
  • Changed her diet, eliminating meat, chocolate, soda, coffee, processed flour, junk food
  • Visited a naturopath, nutritionist, shaman, therapist
  • Embraced her faith and daily prayers.

What Does Rodgers Recommend?

“Like any of life’s refining fires, cancer is a potentially profound learning experience.”

“So what did I learn?”

“I learned that profound learning experiences are vastly overrated.”

“I advocate life. I recommend joy.”

“I endorse forgiveness, and I suggest you seek until you find whatever it is you need.”

“…oh, yeah – straw hats go with everything.”

Where Is She Now?

Rodgers specializes in ghost-writing memoirs, especially for entertainers.

She started her own publishing house, Stella Link Books.

She speaks on writing and survivorship.

She’s now written six novels and two non-fiction books.

Read about what Rodgers is up to at her blog.

New Vocabulary


“…alopecia. It sounded like something you’d find growing in an English country garden.”

“The alopecia are in bloom again.”

“Or like a character in a Jane Austen novel.”

“Miss Alopecia Pinsford has invited us to tea at Vincristine Manor.”

“As soon as I heard the word, it started going through my head to the tune of ‘Alouette’, that little French song.”

A common side effect of chemotherapy, and sometimes radiation, alopecia is the loss of your hair, including eyelashes and eyebrows.

Most chemotherapy drugs work by killing the fastest growing cells in your body.

These are the cancer cells.

But, also the cells that grow your hair.

Hair generally grows back, though possibly with a different texture, like curly instead of straight, after the chemo ends.

Order Rodger’s book about how she faced non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma by clicking on the title Bald in the Land of Big Hair: A True Story.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers”


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