Although I have spent the past few months preparing myself for the prospect of being completely bald, this new stage has still managed to necessitate some mental hurdle-jumping and therapeutic processing. And maybe some frenzied midnight cupcake-eating.
First of all, when the proverbial ‘they’ tell you about the ‘gradual shed’ that will eventually take place, let’s just say they don’t necessarily tell you in what order this will happen. So there’s that. And I must say that when I was on about Day 15 post-chemotherapy-start, I was amazed by my loved ones’ capacity to hold on to the belief that maybe I would be that one exception to the rule, and that my hair wouldn’t actually fall out, and wouldn’t that be ironic, etc, etc.
I assured them it was coming. The night that it actually started to come out of my head in clumps I had actually had a friend pull on it earlier – completely convinced it wasn’t happening. Two hours later, just after tucking my boys in on a Saturday night, I decided to give it a little test tug and there it was. One minute to the next, it would seem.
Decision time. Do I wait and hope that the ‘gradual shed’ will take a week, or do I dig deep, get the boys up and bust out the razor with no ‘inch’ designation on it? That’s the one. No cameras, please. With the help of two very excited boys, I worked on it for what seemed like forever, and did a rather patchy job (this is one of those activities requiring another adult – NOT as easy as one would think).
I am not going to pretend I went into this one feeling empowered and gutsy. There is something incredibly isolating about shaving one’s head at 10:00 at night alone while your friends and family are largely unaware, sipping wine and deciding which late-night appetizer in which to indulge downtown. I went to bad feeling more than a little sorry for myself, I’m not proud to admit. Sometimes you just have to let the ugly in.
Enlisting the aid of a good friend with a sharp razor and a strong constitution the following morning, I went from patchy-bald to shiny, smooth, not-unlike-hairless-cat bald, which was not without its trauma. This was quickly followed by a panic-driven trip to anywhere-they-sell-accessories, and the disconcerting realization that I didn’t want to go out by myself. Here’s where it gets difficult. Now, people are forced to acknowledge this sickness. And, as much as I love to accessorize, I find myself almost resentful of all of the options being made available to me to cover this shameful little secret up. ‘Oh, you’ll look lovely in scarves.’. ‘You’ve always worn hats really well.’
There are compelling arguments for all of the accoutrements. Some of them have to do with saving my pride, others have much more to do with making other people more comfortable. For making this disease more palatable for those who are forced to bear witness to this journey. A dark pair of sunglasses allows us to avoid eye contact. The brim of a hat can shelter me from the sun, and bystanders from my reality. A pink wig can confuse and entertain people just enough so that their minds are suspended above the reality of what lurks underneath said wig. I will, undoubtedly, play with all of these and rely on some smoke and mirrors to get all of us through, and I will endeavour to make appropriate choices where the props are concerned. Most of the time.
That said, though, be forewarned. What seems to be emerging from this journey is a pretty unshakeable sense of self. It is difficult to hide from one’s completely unadorned reflection, whether it be in the mirror or in someone else’s eyes.
I like to think there is value in all of this. I wouldn’t choose for anyone of my friends to have to gain this insight in this particular way – it is not by any far stretch easy. But I am also keenly aware that I have been given a fairly unique opportunity to learn something monumentally important for a woman in her 40s. Cancer changes you. We know this. Maybe part of that change isn’t because of how gut-wrenchingly difficult the passage from sickness to health can be. Maybe part of that change comes from being forced to drop one’s crutches and props and stare at oneself naked in the mirror, and realizing that we haven’t fallen down.