I just shaved my head.
The chemotherapy that I am ‘on’ will kill every living cell, the good and the bad. My hair WILL fall out. Yes I know not all chemotherapy makes your hair fall out and your neighbour kept hers, but Sheila at number 42 probably didn’t have the same cancer as me. For those who don’t know, every cancer has a different type of chemotherapy. Even within breast cancers you get different chemotherapies with different side effects. So trust me when I tell you that the type of chemotherapy that I am about to start will 99.9% certainly make my hair fall out. Yes - I have looked at cold capping. This is the pain staking, time consuming and uncomfortable process of freezing the hair follicles to prevent loss and damage. But I would rather not sit in the hospital chair for an additional four hours for the small chance that I will only lose most of my hair rather than all of it. For me, ploughing that much energy into minimising of the side effects only to have it fall out anyway seems nonsensical. I would also be probably be more distraught if it falls out anyway. I am not judging anyone who takes this path. There is no right or wrong. But it’s not for me. The reality is that my hair will fall out due to the poison pumped into my veins. My poison can not distinguish between healthy growing cells and unhealthy chameleon ones.
So how did I come to make the decision to shave my hair off.
It is about letting go and taking control. The two concepts are like bickering siblings. There can co-exist in perfect harmony but many a time their interactions result in conflict. Constantly competing for power because they are only concerned with the other one losing. But there is a time and place for both to shine, equally, in their own right, without threat from the other one.
Letting go of my hair. For years my hair, unbeknownst to me, was my shield. I believed it made me pretty. Or more specifically, stopped me from being ugly. I wrote that sentence not for your sympathy or compliments but so you would see that we all have slightly twisted narratives about our body image. No matter what we all show on social media. We are the same. I didn’t believe that to be true for others of course, I could see their radiance before their physical features but when it came to shaving my hair off, I just thought you would see my ugly. I chose to let go of my hair because it was inevitable. I had been growing my hair for the last three years and about a year ago my hairdresser Amanda told me that she had never seen my hair so dry and she should know, she has been part of my hair life since my late teens. Off came the bulk of dead lifeless locks. I tried to look after it more with intensive mask treatments and wraps but it wasn’t getting better. My hair was trying to tell me something. We put it down to recent stress. Then when I received the new diagnosis, it all made sense. I needed to let it go. To start again.
I needed to let go of my beliefs around external beauty. What makes us beautiful. Which is not the same as desirable. Beautiful is not the same as sexy, stunning, gorgeous, pretty, cute, hot. Beautiful comes from within. And radiates outwards. But those latter descriptive words are how we want to be perceived. It’s how I want to be perceived. And being in a visual career where looks rank up there with ability to actually do the job (and sometimes higher unfortunately) it has become so ingrained in my consciousness.
The last seven years as a mother has seen me place much more value on comfort and function you will be pleased to hear! And I have always had a secure sense of self that allows me to step outside the house without a full face of make. But now, shaving my head makes me feel that members of the opposite sex will no longer find me attractive. My girly feminine persona dropped to the floor along with the dry split ends of my shaggy blonde mop of locks. Letting go of those narratives is as powerful as letting go of my hair. It is what it represents for me.
Taking control! YES! I will do this my way without it happening TO me. Of course I am not in denial about this-chemotherapy will make my hair fall out among other unsightly things. But I didn’t want to wake one morning to clumps of hair on my pillow, take a shower and have handfuls come away in my hands, only to panic and call around to see if someone would come over and shave the remaining strands off while my children play. I’ll do it my way thank you. I didn’t want to prolong the agony of having another side effect wreak havoc in my system and then have to manage my emotions around that while trying to manage those of my children and others around me. This bit is done. I’ll get used to it and before I know it, the grade four buzz cut I am now sporting will also be gone.
This was as much for my children as it was for me. I wanted them to see me choosing to do this rather than it being another visual reminder of what cancer has done to mummy. If they can see me making a choice and not being afraid of what other people think then they will hopefully remember somewhere in their depths of understanding and experience that hair is just hair. It is no more or less. It holds the value you place on it. It doesn’t come with a RRP based on it’s worth. It doesn’t define you, make you a better person or happier. It is just hair. And we all come in different shapes and sizes. No one person should be defined by their physical features. Of course this theory is in stark conflict with our western media driven society but home is where the heart is. Many of my strongest values and beliefs were those I learnt when I was a child from my parents. At the end of the day who I am matters more than what I look like. And if that is the most basic understanding I can give to my children but one that will be challenged significantly as they grow then I will do my best.
I took my children to school today. The morning after the night before. With a shaved head and no headwear, at their request.
“Are you sure? Your friends might want to talk to you about it today. I am happy (ier) to wear something over my head if you want”
I waited in my daughter’s school playground and queued up in her class line, went to the school harvest assembly, had my pre chemo blood appointment at the hospital and did a food shop. Without a wig, hat or scarf. If I was going to be brave enough to show them it was OK then I needed to be brave enough to show them that the world would be OK.
I wish none of these were choices that I ever had to make. I wish my children didn’t have to see my crying at bedtime because of my grief, fear and sadness. I wish I could tell you this is easy and I feel confident. It’s not and I don’t. But I will get there. For me and for those who also are afraid of the world seeing their ‘ugly’. A day at a time.