Naked (Or, coming to terms with oiling my scalp)

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.



11 thoughts on “Naked (Or, coming to terms with oiling my scalp)

  1. Wow…..I think you should whatever the hell you want and whatever makes you fell better…but that’s just my unsolicited opinion..because I think that is exactly what you will do… :0)
    And shit…you look good bald **notjustsayingthatcausethatswhatI’msupposedtosay**…you rock Tanya! xxoo

  2. I repeat- You have a perfectly shaped head for baldness! It just makes those beautiful eyes even more pronounced. You ARE gutsy, brilliant, empowered and well-loved!

  3. I can’t get over how profoundly connected your writing makes me feel to you throughout all of this. The strength and awareness of self that I always knew you had is just magnified in the context of your blog. You are uplifting, poignant and real all the way. You are strong and unwavering in your unfiltered sharing with all of us. Think about you everyday….the Moorhouse clan.

  4. Your strength and eloquence touch me. This instalment made me think of another writer I admire when he wrote”….the beauty of your spirit, flesh, / And smile had made day break at night and spring/Burst beauty in the wasting winter’s place.”. Your words and honesty are a light in a dark place, for you surely, but for us as well who are on the sidelines of this journey of yours. Love, love, love.

  5. coincidentally,as I sat there too, Saturday night, 800 miles elsewhere- a little before 10 , a neighbor with new wahl clippers,- shaving locks away…..mostly thinking about what you may be going through….know one thing- you are not isolated……I think everyone would be there holding your hand through this if it were physically possible. I believe it’s your writing though, that is likely bringing the most comfort to everyone around you…. the pink wig brings a laugh, the thoughts bring a tear, …the unadorned reflection still brings a smile.

  6. Hi Tanya. Well, you managed to bring me to tears and laughter at the same time once again. Thank you for writing for as I have told you, we know that you are writing for you, as a sense of sharing your journey, but you are also writing for us… to help us understand what you are going through, for those of us who can’t be with you physically to still be involved, to let us know that you are still Tanya.

    Here were my thoughts as I read and looked at your photos scrolling down this blog:

    Pink Wig – adorable, fun, so happy! That super big Tanya smile that I love.
    Fun Tanya!

    Hat and Glasses – pensive, shielded (or maybe shielding for our sake). A hint of a smile.
    Cautious Tanya.

    Bare Head – a strength in your eyes but such softness as well. A try at a smile… this is it…. ‘I have cancer’.
    Reflective Tanya.

    The last picture took me by surprise. I don’t know why as you have been so raw and true through this all that I guess I should have expected a bald shot. The thing is, it wasn’t shocking at all. I sat looking at your picture for a long time. You are amazingly beautiful. I knew that already but I think that the vulnerability in your eyes, your stare, just made you more beautiful. It took me a minute to realize that I think that you did this more for us than for you. Now we have all had the chance to see you bald so those possible awkward moments that you were anticipating are already over. You are amazing….. and I know that you must already know that.

    Hugs (from Mike and Barb), wishes (from Adam), prayers (from Emma), fairy dust (from Maeve… because everyone needs a little bit a fairy dust from time to time)

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