The Hair Follies

I’m really torn about this whole process—I hate using the word ‘survivor’ re: cancer. So many other people have to endure debilitating conditions every day, year after year, and their lives are such a struggle!!  We endure short-term treatment, and for the most part continue to live on relatively carefree. Those people would gladly sacrifice their hair if they could trade with us! Does our perspective make us all seem incredibly vain?

We live in a society in which a mole, crooked teeth or reddened skin is embarrassing and affects our self-esteem. Don’t we try to teach girls that self-esteem comes from what we do and who we are, rather than how we look? Are we just “talking the talk”? Do we not have more important issues to concentrate on? What happened to “beauty is only skin deep”?

That being said, I know we all worry about how this very obvious sign of health and beauty affects how we are perceived within old and new relationships—platonic and otherwise. Women accept me as I am—I have made several new friends since treatment—but am/are I/we worried about how men look at us?

To be perfectly honest, as a newly single woman, the answer would be a resounding “YES”!! If I wear a wig, I wonder, how do I tell someone I don’t have hair? If I don’t wear it, will I ever get a date again?

Does this angst surface because this breast cancer thing usually happens at a time when our bodies and faces are degenerating naturally and we feel vulnerable to our lost youth and the comparison to those younger, firmer, prettier and, well—more intact?

The cancer treatment speeds up that process tenfold and the medications we must take results in side effects our grandmothers may never have experienced!! How would we feel now if nature had just been allowed to take its course without a cancer detour?

I am still not sure—even if it was widely known that some patients’ hair would not grow back—that it should be a deciding factor for treatment. The body-altering surgery we endured is accepted without question. I guess the difference is that no one can see it.

I had such a dire diagnosis, I’m not sure I would go back and change anything. If sacrificing some hair keeps me alive, then so be it. I guess the big question is, “The chemo made me bald, but is it working?”

I’m 54, but look older thanks to the ravages of chemo, have little hair and can hardly move some days due to my medication. It’s difficult to realize that all this might be for naught. I am trying to live what could be the last few years of my life concentrating on important, rather than superficial things. Where is the hair issue on that spectrum…..???

Carol

Cynthia: The Bald Facts

RBB-B06144I always loved doing crazy things with my hair: red, black, asymmetric. Streaked. Short. Shorn. My hairstylist loved me. He’d give me a massage and a glass of wine and he’d get happy with the scissors. He could have shaved “Up Yours” on the back of my head and I would have laughed.

“After all,” I said. “It’s only hair. If I don’t like it, it’ll grow.”

That was before breast cancer. If I’d known what I know now, I would have gathered up those last scraps of hair from the salon floor like strands of gold.  As a lifelong athlete, I decided to approach treatment like training for a race—with perseverance, patience and a sense of humour. My new “training schedule”, was clearly explained to me: a partial mastectomy, six rounds of chemotherapy, plus 31 doses of radiation.

The chemo—a powerful cocktail of Taxotere, Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide—would make me feel nauseous, my white blood cell count would plummet… and I would lose my hair. But my hair would grow back, they promised. And I would go back to normal—or at least a new normal.

Eight months after my chemo finished, I am as bald as a bean.
My doctors are perplexed. People try not to stare. I hide in the house on a sunny day.

“It’ll grow back,” console well-meaning friends. “Wear a wig,” others suggest dismissively. Finally, my oncologist—obviously a mad scientist—told me to rub garlic on my head. My sense of humour is running out.

“Do you have nose hair?” asked a curious friend.

“Let me check,” I said. Then he stared in disbelief while I, a well-mannered middle-aged woman, stuck my finger up my nose.

“No,” I said, after considerable excavation. “Nada—no ear hair, no eyelashes, no eyebrows.”

I used to want so much in life—so much stuff—but now I would settle for the simple gift of eyelashes. Hair is so much more than vanity. It’s protection. It’s warmth. It’s the very essence of femininity. My head, once a form of whimsical self-expression, is now a scar—a daily reminder of my disease.

So, love your hair… “long, straight, curly, fuzzy, snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty,” as the musical “Hair” celebrates. “There ain’t no words
for the beauty, the splendor, the wonder of my… hair.”