I was born with a full head of hair and it just grew from there. When I was younger, I had the 80s bowl cut (among many others) and I think I’ve had every length of hair you can envision, including the length so long that I would accidentally sit on strands if I wasn’t careful. My hair has always been thick and unruly, with a wave that drove me nuts and kept me occupied much of my life — checking the weather was a necessity because my hair just got bigger and bigger with moisture in the air. I was forever asking whoever was cutting my hair to give me a cut that I didn’t have to spend time working on or fixing — spoiler alert, no one had that haircut I’ve been looking for!
And then I had chemo in 2017.
I cut my hair super short in anticipation of my hair falling out due to the “red devil) and then my mom helped me shave it off when my hair follicles started hurting and then small/short hairs falling out started to get annoying. We joked that it was the first time anyone had seen my scalp since I’d been born with hair and I discovered some moles on my scalp too. I hadn’t realized that I would lose my eyebrows and eyelashes too (something people often forget to remind us!) and so looking in the mirror was weird to say the least. I saw a person that I didn’t recognize when I looked in the mirror and that was frightening, at times.
Being a pretty concrete person and one that never truly got into makeup or hair, only out of necessity, I didn’t think that losing the hair on my head was going to be an issue for my own self-esteem. I did get a wig and went through several tutorials on how to draw on some eyebrows and apply the fake eyelashes. It’s probably not a surprise for anyone who has been through this, but I got the best suggestions and help from those organizations and individuals involved with drag queens. Also, again not surprising, I received the most empathy from those same organizations and individuals.
I ended up simply going bald because it was HOT while I was bald (summer of 2017 in Orlando, Florida) and I just couldn’t handle all of the makeup stuff due to a lack of energy and just needing to get to the important things of the day — couldn’t spare a spoon to dress up or camouflage my face (see a blog post I wrote about the Spoon Theory here). I totally understand that some people find it really important to dress up for treatments or to make up their face, that was just not a priority for me.
As much as dressing up or putting on makeup wasn’t a priority for me during chemo or other treatments (or really any time), when I was bald, I found for the first time that losing my hair was a bigger deal than I anticipated. I thought that would be a part of the experience that I’d breeze through, but that outward change due to the treatment of breast cancer scared me.
Perhaps it was because I could hide most of the other outward changes, could choose when I revealed to others what was going on, could go “incognito” when I was in public. Not having hair and not wanting to wear the hot itchy wig meant that anyone glancing at me had a pretty good idea what was going on, which is pretty much the definition of a nightmare to this introvert. For the first time since my diagnosis, the looks I received were nearly universally “pitying” and that affected me far more deeply than I’d anticipated.
My hair has grown back and despite the fact that it’s thinning a bit now, probably because of the 4 years of built up toxicity in my body, and I can “pass” for healthy. In fact, based on many of the responses I get now, many have forgotten that I’m still living with MBC. While there are definitely pros and cons to that, I do enjoy being able to stay beneath the radar about my diagnosis when I want to.
And yet, sometimes I perversely miss the obvious calling card of the cancer patient, a bald head.