Sunday, February 10, 2013

I blame my oncologist for my haircut

Delusions of Ponytails
Recently, while snuggling up on the couch, my husband leaned in close and murmured the words every chemo kid longs to hear. "You're going to need to wax your eyebrows soon."

"Really?" I replied, hopefully.

It's been months since my last dose of chemotherapy and after much coaxing, coercing and encouragement a dark, downy fuzz has finally descended upon my once shiny dome.  The long awaited arrival has brought about giddy laughter (from me) and eye rolling (from the spouse who enjoyed a reprieve from unclogging hair-filled shower drains).

I know there is probably a lesson to be learned through all of this.

I once complained about my bad hair day - until all my hair fell out.  And stayed that way for a long ass time.  ~ Confuscious (I may be misquoting here)

It goes without saying that I have not enjoyed the follicular challenges that accompany chemotherapy.

In early July, knowing that my particular chemo regime would cause my hair to fall out I decided to be proactive in the matter.  Accompanied by my best-ie and both kiddos I bravely trudged off to a local salon a few days before starting treatment to lop off the locks on my own terms.  Or at least that was the idea.  Here's what actually happened:  after finishing with her work, my hairdresser spun me around to give me my first glimpse of the new pixie-esque hairstyle.  But instead of giving myself a high-five in the mirror as I imagined - I instead burst into such hysterical sobbing I was soon ushered out the doors before concerned clients could rethink their choice of salon.  

Looking back, my reaction was probably not so much to the actual hair cut (it wasn't stellar but also not sob-inducing bad) but rather the fact that I really didn't WANT to go through with this.  I wasn't asserting feminine strength ala GI Jane or reveling in public displays of mental illness ala Britney Spears.  Instead, part of my identity was about to be stripped from me and I was merely attempting to beat the chemicals to the punch.

I admit, before this happened to me I didn't really understand what all the fuss was about.  It's just hair.  It grows back, right?  And little bald heads are cute.

But only when it's not your little bald head.

For the first month after my hair fell out in earnest (about two weeks after I started treatment) I refused to have my photo taken and avoided going out in public.  I dodged mirrors and would audibly gasp if I caught sight of my image by mistake.  (As a side note - it did FEEL better once it actually fell out. When my hair began to die I could feel every follicle acutely and it made my head feel as though I had been wearing a too-tight ponytail for days.)

This visceral reaction to something as superficial as hair was a surprise - especially considering I previously spent as little time as possible with flat iron in hand.  But as much as I didn't think I cared about hair - it was still part of how I saw myself.

Real life "cancer card"
I also began resenting strangers for being able to infer so much with a simple glance at my pale skin and scarf adorned head.  I knew the well-meaning look by heart - tight lipped smile, slight head tilt to the right.  The intrusive "poor dear"glance caused me to grit my teeth in many grocery lines - but it also made me stronger.  It reinforced my desire to never be seen as a victim despite whatever life circumstances I happened to be muddling through.   To never see myself as a victim.

And eventually, the loss of locks didn't bother me quite so much.  I learned how to tie a scarf in a zillion different ways, embraced hats and even rocked a blue wig when it was time to renew my drivers license.  I also bonded with my adorably bald dad and brother in a way I never had before as we commiserated over our shared hair style.  (I get it now, guys.  I get it.)  And though it took some time to get used to - I think the experience helped me become a much more confident person.

After all, it's only hair - right?  And - as I happily show to most anyone who crosses my path these days - it's finally growing back.