I’ve been puzzling over why losing my hair is so traumatic … and I think I have figured out why. I’ve never been bald. I was born with a full head of dark hair. I wasn’t born with breasts … they came later. I was pretty much fully developed by age twelve. And also at that age, I had long (to my bum) wavy brunette hair, which curled into ringlets at the ends.
Breasts – for the most part – stay covered from the world, but our hair is our crowning glory. A vital part of our personae and the world’s perception of who we are.
Please don’t ever say “It’s only hair. It will grow back.” It is a deeply personal and profound loss. It’s only cancer. For many women, it IS harder to deal with than our breasts! This isn’t just a haircut. My hair won’t grow for a year. A YEAR. And I still may lose my eyebrows and eyelashes. You truly can’t understand the trauma unless you have lived it, but I am hoping my writing helps you experience the loss without having to travel this difficult road.
My hair began to fall out in the hospital … eleven days after my first chemo treatment. If you read this morning’s blog entry, it was coming out in clumps. But, I wasn’t stressed. I figured it would get worse over time. By nine o’clock in the morning, it was coming out at an alarming rate. I wasn’t ready for how fast and furious it was falling. My oncologist said it would come out in 5 weeks? My oncology nurse said by the second treatment (which would have been tomorrow). So, I assumed it would begin around day 10 – 14 and slowly fall out over the span of 5 weeks.
I was completely unprepared for all of it to come out in one day.
So I gave myself a pixie cut with small scissors just like a three-year-old would.
I had planned a “Shave Party” with my A-Team, but the plans were put on hold due to my hospitalization. I was hoping to reschedule for Tuesday, but dates and times weren’t gelling for everyone. I really wanted Megan, my hairdresser, to do the honours.
By 9:15 AM I realized that I was out of time.
And my worst nightmare came true. I showered, and large chunks were coming out in fistfuls. I sank to the bottom of the tub – alone – and cried. You have no idea how Godforsaken and degraded it made me feel. Anguish. Sorrow. I finally surrendered to my cancer. I am completely helpless to stop the destruction of chemotherapy. I felt like I was losing part of my spirit down that drain … Losing your hair is the hallmark “face” of cancer. The outward Lisa I knew was gone. And that control I mentioned was taken out of my hands. It’s a milestone in your cancer journey.
Why do you lose your hair from chemo treatment? Chemo takes you to the brink of death without dying, and pulls you back. Chemo kills any and all cells in the process of dividing. Hair follicles, blood cells (which is why I ended up in the hospital), mouth cells (and really the entire digestive tract) are fast dividing cells, so the chemo kills them alongside the cancerous cells. No new cells survive. It feels like I am living a scifi where my body stops in time, then restarts in the future. I’m not sure if I feel like I died or was reincarnated. I certainly don’t feel like a butterfly.
I called my Angel – Sherri – and asked her to come over with the trimmers to take the rest of my hair off … but she went a step further – as always – and called the owners of Valentino’s Grande Salon in Whitby to see if they could help. “Of course!” they said. Although not open to the public today – Monday is a teaching day – they would be honoured to help me through this difficult time.
Have I told you how much I love Sherri? She is my heart sister.
She picked me up and held my hand while I wept. Realizing we were early for our appointment, we had lunch at the lovely Antonio’s Italian Deli.
Back at the salon – tucked into a second floor corner window seat of my choice – my stylist handled me with grace and dignity … the utmost of professionalism. She eased me into the chair and – having dealt with this situation with other clients – she took control. Made me feel at home. Allowed me to cry. Made me laugh. Smiles through the tears. And told me I had a beautifully shaped head. My mother heard those exact words when I was born. The attending nurse said “It’s too bad she is a girl, because her head is just beautiful.”
Birth and Death in a day.
Sherri too, marveled at how beautifully I carried off my baldness. I guess it’s pretty close to badass. Which I do well.
My stylist made me promise to name my wigs. Sherri and I looked at each other in fits of giggles when my stylist called my wig “she” and “her”.
“She needs a name!”
“Can I place her over here?”
And she began to shave my head.
It wasn’t so bad. I felt like I was back in control. My way or the highway, cancer.
As my hair fell, it became harder to contain the tears. Puddles of teardrops splashed to the floor beside my shaven tresses. My dignity gone.
Once done, I needed a moment. I’ve pictured this moment and knew I wanted to remember it. Not just the pain. But the love Sherri has shown for me. She’s been either by my side, leading the way, or pushing my stubborn ass into tomorrow the entire journey. I literally owe her my life. Thank you Sherri. The Rescuer has been rescued.
With my head held high, I walked across the salon uncovered with that grace, grit and sense of humour I found along the journey. She washed away the final traces of my hair and massaged my aching head.
It’s actually quite painful to lose your hair. Ladies, you know how your hair hurts when in a pony tail too long? Magnify that by ten and you get the idea.
Back at the cutting station, she brushed and styled my wigs. We couldn’t settle on names.
This was all done free of charge. Everyone hugged me and wished me well in my journey. My stylist – whose name I missed in my emotional state – gave me her card and I asked her name. Heather.
And I named my favourite wig right then. Heather.
I will return for cutting and styling of my other wigs so they are personalized for me.
I will tell the stories of each wig as I introduce her, but would like to add a heartfelt thank you for Karen and the Jon Reneau team for the beautiful and lifelike wigs. Their stories each deserve a blog post of its own. Roxanne … “Merci ma chère”.
Sherri, Heather & all the people at Valentino’s Grande Salon turned a horrible experience into a happy one.
You can’t make out what is written on my tshirt … it says “Until there is nothing left”.
My son embraced me once I was home. I cried once more while he hugged me in silence. I don’t recognize the person in the mirror. I catch my breath in shock when I see my reflection. Who is she?
Introducing the new me. This takes a tremendous amount of courage. It’s like walking out into a crowded townhall center completely naked and HATING your body. It’s ugly and old. It’s raw and cut. But I will survive.
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© Lisa Jobson 2017