Many of my breast cancer buddies have told me that their immediate reaction to being diagnosed was “Am I going to lose my hair?” first, and “Am I going to die?” second. It’s totally normal because, I mean, the movies taught us that chemotherapy = baldness and a never ending pukefest, right? I’m a real life nurse and a possible over-reactor, so I was all like, “I’m dying! I’m dying! Am I going to die today?!” Then about an hour into my parade of fear, my hair stylist-slash-aunt said, “I can get you some good shampoo and conditioner that might help you keep your hair.”
My immediate response – which stayed with me until I actually started losing my hair – was “Who cares?” You guys, I just wanted to make it out of this thing alive, and if my hair had to pay the price, so be it. I basically broke up with my long, lovely, thick hair that very moment. “It’s not you; it’s me,” I told it with flip of the wrist. “Oh, and BTW, you mean nothing to me! And you never did!”
Here’s the thing. When you tell people you have cancer, especially as a youngish woman, they go straight for the hair loss talk, never mind what chemo may do to your entire body or the cancer that’s trying to kill you. You get a lot of: “You might not lose your hair. You know not everyone does. My sister’s neighbor’s babysitter’s mom didn’t,” and “I’ve heard that if you use this special shampoo and only brush your hair at midnight on the night of a full moon when the tides are high and you’re wearing red nail polish, you won’t lose your hair.”
I was diagnosed with cancer in April, started chemo in June, and lost my hair in July. But in early May, a full two months before I lost my hair, I invited my cousin over and gave her all of my hair supplies. When I first handed her my bottle of expensive thermal styling serum, she looked at me, horrified. “Take it,” I laughed. “It’s not like I’ll be needing it anymore.”
“I don’t think I can take this,” she said. “This is weird.” But I was still breaking up with my hair, and as a punishment of sorts, for the next two months, I treated my hair like crap.
I told myself that I could make losing my hair fun by trying all the haircuts I was always afraid to try. So, first, I got bangs. Nope, not the look for me. Then I cut it shorter. Yeah, I didn’t really like that, either. After I really started thinning, I went for the pixie cut. Oh, so bad. Not fun at all. There’s a reason I kept my hair long and straight. It looked good on me.
I will never forget the moment that my hair started bailing on me. It was just as I was about to read a bedtime book to my three-year-old. I took my ponytail holder out so I could lay with her, and about 25 hairs came with it. I went to throw them away and gave my hair another pass, and more hair jumped ship. I had to turn back around to read that book, but I felt nothing but sad that night.
I can’t tell you how hilarious it is to pull out fistfuls of hair and let the wind take it away, like it would dandelion fuzz, whilst on a walk with your best friend. Like, it truly made me laugh. It’s also super fun to lint roll your head. Or to have your infant daughter playfully pull out chunks of hair while drinking a bottle in your arms. To finally see that you need to shave your head, lest she drown in a sea of your fallen hair, while she crawls around on the living room floor.
This stage started the minute I realized it was time to shave my head (after an especially drain clogging shower) and lasted a little less than a week. This stage is akin to when your ex gets a new mate. It’s, like, over over. For reals. Its highlights were crying, mean-quipping my husband, sobbing into the mirror, refusing to leave the house, and – probably mostly because I was also in the throes of an early, chemotherapy-induced menopause – oh-so-much more crying over my fallen hair.
Your head gets, like, really, really cold without hair. You will literally need some nightcaps. Who knew? Well, my grandpa probably knew…
One day, about a week after I lost my hair, I looked in the mirror and realized that I kind of looked like Voldemort – bald and half dead – and it was hilarious. I kept coming back to the mirror and finding new people. Britney Spears, circa 2007. Dr. Evil. G.I. Jane. This, eventually and often, led to me creeping up on my husband and freaking him out by doing my best Gollum impression. If you can’t laugh at your bald head, who can?
There comes a point when the chemo drugs are finally out of your system, and your hair starts coming back. You welcome the awful little buzz cut, and is that an eyelash I spy? But then you realize, the rest of your body hair is growing back, too. You mean, I have to shave my legs again??
And that’s when you know you have come through this thing and made it to the other side. So you pat yourself on the back, refuse to shave your armpits for far too long, and eventually surrender and cry softly into your razor while relearning the precarious sport that is shaving your knees.