Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hair today, gone tomorrow

When I was ten years old, my then-step-grandma gave me a home perm. Please imagine horror movie strings screeching in the background when reading those terrible words: home perm.

Frog watching the sunset

I had been begging my mom for months to allow me to get a perm. She got them regularly - why couldn't I? Finally she relented after my step-grandma offered to give me one herself. I had high hopes for my first perm ever. I imagined myself walking into class with gorgeous wavy locks and all the kids collectively inhaling in awe at my new look.

Finally, after much burning and waiting and rinsing and drying, the unveiling occurred. It was HIDEOUS! I looked like a brunette Lil' Orphan Annie! I didn't know whether I wanted to to cry or shave my head first. Instead, I mustered up a shaky grin for my step-grandma and thanked her. Then I went into my room and cried.

The next day at school I tried to keep my touque on in class, but my teacher (heartless witch that she was) made me take it off. In front of everyone! The snickers and snorts still haunt my dreams.

Bridge construction

Since the home perm , I've struggled to find a hair style I liked. I cut it short, I grew it out. I dyed it red, I bleached it with Sun-In and lemon juice. I got real, salon perms. And through it all I uttered my all-too-familiar mantra: I hate my hair!

About four years ago I gathered up all my courage and had a friend give me a haircut I'd been aching to try. Short in the back, long at the sides, bangs - you know the one. I immediately fell in love with the style. It was quick and simple (two MUSTS for me) and I received compliments on it daily.

Flock of seagulls

And then April 28, 2009 happened and I found myself sitting in a surgeon's office being told I have breast cancer. And do you know what made me cry the most during that appointment (and, in fact, for days and maybe even weeks after)? It was when he told me that I would almost certainly need chemotherapy and I would lose all my hair. In our society, hair and clothes are seen to be expressions of personality and since I'm mostly unable to do that with what I wear, my hair became the way I showed there was more to me than people first assumed. And now my wonderful hairstyle was going to fall out.

I tried to put on a brave front for people. "I've always wanted to see what I look like bald, anyway!" or "They say it could grow back different - maybe I'll have those curly locks I've always wanted!" But that was mostly me saying things to make other people feel better. I didn't really believe least at first.

A strange thing happened as I tried to placate others - I started to really buy in to what I was saying. Shortly after my aborted attempt at my first chemo treatment, I decided to get a kicky new pre-chemo hair cut. It was short and funky and I LOVED it! It made me stop dreading the whole growing-out process.

How many blackbirds can you see? I see 13.

Then a week and a half ago I noticed more hair in my hairbrush than usual. I decided that rather than going through the mess and the trauma of watching my fun new style go down the drain (and in the garbage and on my pillow and on the floor), I would have my friend Cake shave me. He couldn't do it until 4 days after the initial hair loss and by then my hair was falling off in clumps. There was a small section that was sticking out and I was trying to get it to lay flat and, instead, the whole bit came off in my hands. It was at that point that I realized that I was good and ready for what I was calling my Good Ol' Fashioned Shearing Party.

I went over to Cake's place, bottle of wine in hand. There were the obligatory before, during (complete with mohawk and fauxhauk), and after photos and to my utter delight, I didn't look terrible when he was all done! There were no weird lumps that were uncovered and my head isn't bizarrely misshapen or anything! I even walked home that evening without donning the funky head scarf I had brought with me in case of emergency.

Autumn sunset at the legislative building

Since then I've been embracing my new 'do, walking with my head high and scaring old people. But all of this doesn't mean I'm not looking forward to my hair growing back. I haven't spoken to my ex-step-grandma in 20 years. That should be a lesson to NOT MESS WITH MY HAIR AGAIN, cancer! I don't fool around about these things!


  1. You handled that with incredible grace.

    My mom wore a lot of really cute hats when she lost her hair. Of course, it was winter so she had a lot of toques too.

  2. I can so relate to when you are saying things to people more to make them feel better. It was like that for me too. Maybe that is good in a way - to keep us from focusing on our own fears too much and we find ways to deal with things along the way.

    Hope you are well. :)