How I lost my hair but kept my identity
Many cancer survivors have to deal with hair loss from chemotherapy. To me, this is truly a case of adding insult to injury!
In 2013, I was told that I had advanced endometrial cancer. Just a few weeks after diagnosis, I had major surgery. One month later, I had minor surgery. And then about 2 weeks after that, I had to start chemo. Before the chemotherapy began, my doctor told me that my hair would definitely fall out from the chemo drugs. Good grief. First cancer, then two surgeries, and now I was facing 3-1/2 months of chemo, during which time I’d lose my beautiful hair. Quite frankly, it didn’t seem fair.
At first, I thought that the whole hair-loss issue was pure vanity. I came to understand that it was about how I looked, but it was about so much more than that. Everyone’s hair is part of their identity. You stand out because you’re a redhead or because you’ve got awesome dreadlocks or because you’ve got the cutest pixie cut around. In my case, my hair had always been a source of pride for me. It was thick and wavy, and even when I was a little girl, people remarked on it. Hair stylists love me. Just in the couple of weeks leading up to the start of chemo, complete strangers complimented me on my hair, which at the time was just above my shoulders. I hadn’t had it cut in several months, and it was kind of a wild mess, but it was still great hair. And now, here I was, about to lose all of it.
I knew I had to develop some sort of head-covering strategy, because I had no intention of walking around bald. I considered hats, scarves, wigs, and more. What I finally decided upon was a combination of a little knit turban that I got from the American Cancer website, coupled with a colorful scarf that I tied around it. Luckily, I owned a collection of vintage scarves, and I must say it was fun to have a use for them since they’d been languishing on a closet shelf for years. I purchased turbans in 3 basic colors that would coordinate with my clothes, and I was ready to wrap ‘n roll.
I got my hair cut short before it started falling out so it wouldn’t be so hard to deal with. It was still difficult. My hair was brown with silver streaks, and I began finding dark and light hairs all over my apartment. I felt like a cat that was shedding.
Once a good portion of my hair was gone, I began wearing my turban-and-scarf combo. I got a lot of stares, and I realized that losing my hair marked me as a cancer patient. All I wanted to be was anonymous – but that was impossible now.
Another thing I realized: You really find out how much you love your face when your hair is gone. And as my eye lashes and eye brows began to disappear, this became even truer. One step I took to feel better about myself was to wear bigger, bolder earrings and more make-up. This helped me feel more feminine and – dare I say it – pretty.
I got a lot of compliments on my scarves. Were they pity compliments? Perhaps some were, but I think in most cases, my printed scarves caught people’s eyes and made them smile. I had a look of my own. As I said to my friend, it wasn’t a look I had chosen. But it was a look. And it was mine.
I was fortunate because the chemo treatments worked for me, and today I am in remission. My hair has recently grown back, and I had what I call “the big reveal” on Thanksgiving, when I showed up at my cousin’s house with no head-covering. My hair is extremely short, wavy, and is now completely gray. It is sort of odd to go gray more or less overnight, but I am just so thrilled to have hair! It was tough being without hair for 6 months, but I got through it – just like all the other cancer survivors out there who are strong enough to handle cancer, surgery, chemo, radiation, and yes, even the loss of their hair. They find out what I did: Even if you are bald, you are the same person inside. Cancer can’t take that away from you.