When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I immediately began reading almost everything I could get my hands on about the disease. Cancer medical books, cancer survivor books, funny cancer books, sad cancer books, everything. And the one topic that was prominently discussed in all of the books was the loss of hair due to chemotherapy, or more importantly, the fear of the loss of hair from chemotherapy. I was so surprised to read that for many women the first question they asked after being diagnosed with cancer was, “Am I going to lose my hair?” It’s been such an interesting journey, this breast cancer thing, because there are so many obvious physical indications that you are sick, or have been sick, and the parts of the body most affected are those that are intrinsically associated with female beauty. I mean, the amount of time I have spent in my relatively short life worrying about how either my boobs or hair looked is incalculable. And right now I’m walking around and almost everybody knows there’s something off about them both. It’s a hard, hard thing. It is very difficult right now to look at a Victoria’s Secret catalog with all the cleavage and long, thick mains of hair and not feel a little deflated.
So when I found out that I was definitely going to have chemotherapy, I decided to try and maintain some control over the situation. I began proactively researching wigs, buying pretty scarves and hats, and making a game plan for how I was going to cut my hair before it fell out and donate it to a charity. My first course of action was shopping for and buying a wig. Wigs are tricky. If you get it right you just look like you’re having an excellent hair day all the time and no one is the wiser, but if you get it wrong, you end up looking like a reject from the Hair Club for Men (“I’m not just the President, I’m a client!”). Wigs come in an amazing variety of shades, shapes, and textures, and can be made from either human hair or synthetic hair. For a good wig I had been prepared to spend anywhere from $200-800, and generally insurance companies are reluctant to help cover any or all of the cost of the wig for patients. With a budget and rough idea in mind of what I wanted, I set out with my friend (and fellow atCarmel writer) Mindy to purchase a wig. I did a lot of asking around and found a wig specialist who came highly recommended. We headed over to her home-based salon and began the weird task of picking out my wig. I was a little nervous about the whole situation, but having a good friend with me made all the difference. Mindy asked questions I was too distracted to think about, and helped keep the mood light and fun. The first model I tried on was called “Maple Sugar”, and I have decided that if I ever take up exotic dancing (which I may have to in order to pay some of these medical bills), I’m adopting “Maple Sugar” as my stage name. This wig had a certain rocker vibe, and was several shades lighter than my own hair, and I was shocked to find how quickly the completely different look grew on me, and I began to consider the possibility that I was a groupie for the Rolling Stones in a past life. However, since the ultimate goal was to find a wig that closely resembled my natural hair, we moved on. I ended up choosing a synthetic wig, for both budget and aesthetic reasons, one shade lighter than my own hair and a bit longer and thicker. I figured since this was probably a one-in-a-lifetime purchase, I should have a little fun with it.
After buying my wig and starting chemo, I knew the next item on the agenda was cutting my hair. According to statistics, almost 100% of people receiving the chemotherapy drugs I am getting will lose their hair. Typically, the hair starts falling out about 14 days after the first treatment with the rest of it falling out over the next 7-9 days. A few days before the two-week mark, I decided to beat the chemo to the punch and cut it off myself. Again, this gave me some additional control over an inevitable situation, and it also allowed me to cut my hair while it was still in good shape so that I could donate it to Locks of Love. Locks of Love is an organization that collects hair donations and uses the hair to make wigs for children who have lost their hair due to a medical condition or treatment for an illness. I hated the thought of my perfectly good hair going in the trashcan, and I felt like this was another opportunity to take a negative and flip it to a positive. The whole family gathered in our bathroom, and everyone pitched in and helped cut my hair then shave my head. I have to say, if you have never had the chance or need to shave your head, it is a very liberating experience. We experimented along the way. I let my husband shave a horseshoe in the side of my head for the Colts, and then we shaved both sides and shaped the top into a Mohawk, and then I cut down the Mohawk and sported a spiky punk look for a few minutes. Again, the rocker chic look felt strangely comfortable, reinforcing my growing suspicion that perhaps I am the reincarnation of Janis Joplin or there is some sort of dark family secret I don’t know about involving my Mom and a backstage visit with Mick Jagger. Finally, we shaved all my hair off, and I was thankful to find my head had a nice round shape and not at all bumpy or pointy as I feared.
So, when the latest Victoria’s Secret catalog arrived the mail the other day, did I feel momentarily depressed by the images staring back at me, reminding me of what I do not look like right now? Yes. But I realized I didn’t look like a Victoria’s Secret model before cancer, so no reason to get worked up about it now. Do I sometimes catch a glimpse of my chrome dome in the mirror and wince? Absolutely. But I understand this is all temporary. My ultimate goal through all of this is to keep moving forward with as little lasting impact on my family as possible, and I am so proud of my husband and kids for hanging in there and supporting me through all these weird changes cancer has brought on. My hair will grow back, and in the not too distant future my reconstruction will be complete and I will more closely resemble my old self. Although, after all my new discoveries with the head shaving and the wig shopping, it may be a slightly more “rocked out” version of me.
For more information about Locks of Love, please go to www.locksoflove.org.