I am More Than My Hair…
For many women, our hair is our pride and joy. It’s our comfort blanket, our security. Some hair changes can be fun, a new style, a new color, a new look. But hair loss, now that was not a change I was excited for. I was terrified. My fear came in the form of those nightmares where you wake up naked in a parking lot with no clothes or cover in sight. I was fearful that without my hair I would feel naked and that I would be ugly. Aside from a few bad haircuts in middle school, I haven’t worn my hair short. I love my long locks and despite my many bad hair days, I would not have traded my hair for anything. Take a finger or a toe, before you take my hair. I guess in my case they decided to take a breast first, so I did get a slight delay.
When it comes to chemo drugs, almost all of them cause hair loss. There is one elusive chemo drug that does not cause hair loss, but I was not lucky enough to have that one in my chemo cocktail. My doctors told me that my hair would begin to thin and fall out between the first and second chemo sessions, so I knew I had to make a plan. I did not want to experience that traumatic shower scene where you cry in horror as giant chunks of long hair fall out in your hands. After searching for a few places in Raleigh that specialized in head shaving for cancer patients, I found Joule Salon. I felt at ease the minute I spoke with the owner, Lisa. She holds a monthly event at the salon called Mondays at Joule, where she and her stylists provide services to cancer patients free of charge. They provide hair cutting, scalp massage, makeup application, false lashes, and wig styling. They also offer shampoo and blow dry services to patients healing from mastectomy surgery who still have limited range of motion. Having a place experienced in this process made me so much more comfortable. I booked an appointment for two weeks after my first chemo session and invited my closest girlfriends to make it a party, something to look forward to.
Leading up to the appointment I was strong, I was happy and I felt in control of the process. I knew when it was happening and I had time to buy scarves, wigs and other hair paraphernalia including a creepy wig stand which I am still trying to scare my husband with. The night before the appointment, I discovered an awful acne rash all over my face, neck and back–yet another side effect of the chemo. I couldn’t keep it together any longer. A major meltdown ensued. I didn’t know how I could go into that hair appointment and have them strip me of my one last security at a time when I felt so insecure. With the help of my amazing husband and some strong medication, I gained some perspective and went to bed ready for the big day ahead. The next day I went back to work for the first time in five weeks, another huge hurdle. I was able to have one last day of hair glory around my colleagues. I was also able to share with people my plans to shave my head, which made me feel more comfortable and prepared.
The day flew by and finally the time had arrived for my big hair moment. As we pulled up to the salon my stomach was in knots. I had been calm all day and the reality suddenly sunk in. I was imaging the worst. I imagined I would sit down, they’d chop my ponytail; buzz the rest of my hair off, leaving me bald and afraid. My fears could not have been further from the reality. The women at Joule Salon, my husband, and my girlfriends made the process amazing. We started with food and drinks and an awesome playlist to set the mood for a fun evening. My husband got to help measure and cut my ponytail, which I will be donating to Pantene to be used to make a wig for another cancer patient. When we finally began, Lisa went very slowly. She cut my hair in stages. It was exciting to see all the fun short hair styles I can rock when my hair grows back after chemo. It brought me hope and showed me the light at the end of the tunnel. Little by little my hair fell away, but I did not feel naked. I felt a new person emerging. It was my face, but the person staring back at me was different. I wasn’t scared of this new person as I had been when I saw my body after surgery. This different woman staring back at me was, better, stronger, braver and more confident. Sure, I miss my long hair and the way it made me look, but I could not have been happier with the process and how I feel now. Before my haircut all the changes that cancer brought on caused me to feel inadequate. I compared the new me in the mirror to the pre-cancer me and felt less than. After my hair was gone, I saw this new person, one that didn’t have to be compared to the pre-cancer me and that was liberating.
I feel unbelievably loved and cared for by everyone around me and I am learning to love myself more than I ever did before. This new hairstyle surprises me every morning when I look in the mirror, but I am figuring out how to rock the no-hair look with lots of makeup and pretty earrings. It took losing my hair to realize I am more than my hair and more than my looks. I am me, no matter what cancer does to my appearance, and the people that matter in my life know that. I was never strong enough to accept that reality before and I lived with a lot of insecurity about my appearance.
As the remaining hair falls out, I imagine I will experience sadness and loss, but I am prepared. I have an arsenal of beauty tools, wigs, and headscarves that will help me express my femininity throughout this stage. I may even end up feeling confident enough to bare my bald head for the world to see.
Thank you for following my journey, allowing me to open up to you and showing me your unwavering love and compassion. It is your support that makes this journey bearable.