It has been one doozy of a week. I decided to take the very unsettling step of having my hair shaved completely off before my first chemo treatment yesterday.
When I learned I would need chemo, I cried buckets of tears thinking about losing hair. Who embraces that scenario, especially one who is not daring or characterized by making fashion stylista decisions for attention? I was already quaking in the tremors of a cancer diagnosis, and losing my hair was absolutely a gut-wrenching consequence ahead that for me would be tantamount to streaking across a field during Super Bowl.
But chemo was the given, and bald was the fact. And somehow a miraculous fortitude eventually was born inside me, mainly because I had no other choice.
I am a very strong-willed and practical individual who thrives on predictability in my life. That was the curse of a cancer diagnosis which suddenly threw me into a realm of no control, of stepping off the edge of Columbus’s flat earth into an emotionally dark free-fall. After weeks of flailing, reacting, and panicking, it was finally time to return to what I do best.
I had to take the first step to ward doom off at the pass because I really hate surprises.
Other women choose to wait until the undeniable hunks of locks fall out in bed or in the shower, at work, or shopping. Still others decide to negotiate taking baby-steps towards shorter haircuts. But, if it’s going to fall out a week or two following chemo, that was just too short-sighted for me. Practicality is my mantra.
Then the HOW emerges as to pursuing such a course. I had never seen myself without any hair before so there was a paralyzing level of surreal embarrassment ahead. I wanted to be in an anonymous setting for the quick and dirty deed and, initially, I didn’t even want Tom along for the ride. It was going to be terribly shocking enough to me, and foolishly, after 45 years of marriage, I didn’t want to be that shockingly naked for him.
But I finally needed him to be part of my emotional equation. I made an online appointment for a local chain salon on Monday morning with the hopes that few if any other patrons would be present. We walked in and there were two stylists, and another woman patron.
We sat as we waited for Sophie to clean up after her male client. Tom was getting emotional but I had to remind him to help me maintain my steel. When it was my turn, he sat in the empty chair next to me. I told Sophie I wanted it all totally gone. She clarified my decision and then she started in the back.
Tears dripped quietly down Tom’s face as he watched. He could see the jolt before I could.
I tried to maintain my composure as I asked Sophie about former customers she had serviced before chemo. She had just buzzed a young cancer-victim mother with three children the week before. Sophie’s experience has been that women typically choose to lose their hair while their men emotionally melt as they watch. And then the emotional-melt part hit me as she moved to my sides and top.
I sat frozen in the chair as chunks of kitten hair fell on the floor. Who was this person looking back at me? I stared as I tried to process this reintroduction to myself. I felt seismic fissures in the fault line of my persona.
I did not cry as I watched. But as Sophie finished, she said I had a beautifully shaped head and that I was brave. She asked if she could give me a hug. My tears came forth.
I threw on my hat as Tom and I held hands and walked to our car, silently. I felt so foreign to myself and unsure how I would be able to see myself in the mirror again. Thankfully, we had already made dinner plans for that evening as celebration of the courage that it took to get to that milestone. So the next step for me was to focus upon how to reveal the new me to myself and my life.
Thanks to a stash of pre-purchased hats and bling, I felt better that night. And I have to say that a day later was even easier and that now, it’s no big deal. I am more than my hair and it will all come back. The cancer is not invited.
What strikes me most in the five days since I departed my hair are the artifacts that have been left behind. They seem so strangely odd right now. They are tools of historical interest to my recent past, and I am now their curator.
My blue hair pick on the bathroom counter.
The headbands that I use to hold back my hair as I apply facial cream morning and night.
The bottles of shampoo and conditioner that are waiting in the shower. My hair caught in the tendrils of my shower mat.
The hairs that I pick off the shoulders of my sweatshirts.
My cooking baseball cap that I keep in a kitchen drawer when I prepare food for others. I made a batch of deviled eggs to take for lunch with friends, but no cap was needed and no errant hairs were found.
The archeological dig that is a reality of chemo. Thankfully, the historical past for all of my artifacts will someday again be alive and thriving.