I think about loss from time to time, as you probably know if you’re a regular reader over here. I’ve discussed recovery from loss of a baby and other people’s reactions. But, we don’t only struggle or grieve over the loss of a person – whether they were fully-formed or not. Sometimes loss is part of growing into the person we have become, sometimes it leaves us feeling like something’s fundamentally missing, sometimes we can’t remember what it was like before we lost whatever it was. In this series of posts, I’ve asked some of my favourite blogging colleagues to write about a loss that they’ve experienced and how it affected them. You can find the full list here.
Today’s post comes from the wonderful Michelle at Boomer Eco Crusader. Her blog is a beautiful combination of sage advice, contemplations on health and wellbeing, and touching lessons learned from personal experience.
Losing my hair
First, a big thank you to Smelly Socks and Garden Peas for asking me to be part of this series. I love her blog and the conversations we share on our blog posts.
I have to admit, when she first asked me to participate, I wasn’t sure. So many people have suffered devastating losses. I didn’t feel qualified to write a post about loss. But when Smell suggested it didn’t have to be about the loss of a person, I put my thinking cap on. An idea started to take shape.
What losing my hair taught me about myself
In 2021, I’ll celebrate my 10year “cancerversary” – the anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis.
After surgery, my treatment plan involved chemotherapy and radiation treatments. When I met with the oncologist to discuss my upcoming chemotherapy, she told me I would start to lose my hair about two weeks after my first treatment.
It’s no big deal…
I’ve never been obsessed with appearance, so my first reaction was “It’s no big deal. It’s only hair. It will grow back.” In my online cancer discussion group, much of the conversation centred on hair loss. I was surprised that, for many of these women, losing their hair was one of the most distressing aspects of their cancer diagnosis.
Wondering what all the fuss was about, I decided to get ready. First, I went to a local wig store and bought a wig. Being the practical type, I also went to my hairdresser and asked her to cut my thick, curly, shoulder-length, hair short. I couldn’t stand the thought of all that hair falling out and the mess it would make.
Feeling like I was prepared and still thinking it was no big deal, I went to my first chemotherapy appointment.
Then it happened…
Sure enough, right on schedule, I started to lose my hair two weeks after my first chemotherapy treatment. At first it was a few strands, then it was big clumps. After a few days, I was pretty much bald.
Still no big deal.
Putting on the wig…
One of the worst days of my cancer journey was the day I put that horrible brown wig on for the first time. I was home alone one morning while my husband was at work and the girls were at school. I had arranged to meet some friends for lunch. As I looked at my bald head in the mirror, I decided it was time.
After putting on the wig I had bought, I looked in the mirror and burst into tears. Then, I sat on my bed and had a really good cry.
Why was I crying? Funnily enough, it had nothing to do with being bald. I was okay with being bald. I was crying because that person looking back at me from the mirror wasn’t me. Putting on the wig turned me into an imposter. In a strange way, it was like cancer had taken away my identity.
After a while, I pulled myself together. Then, the horrible brown wig and I went off to meet my friends for lunch.
Those were the last tears I would shed during my cancer journey.
From tears to laughter
After wearing the horrible brown wig for a few days, I decided it would never be my friend. It was itchy and gave me a headache. It also didn’t look anything like me, or anyone I wanted to be.
Soon after, I enjoyed a fun afternoon with my dear friend Pat who had been through breast cancer treatment about 15 years earlier. Having spent years in local theatre, Pat had a collection of props and wigs. We drank tea while I tried on her wigs. We laughed and laughed. I went home from her house with a blonde wig and a red wig so I could decide which one was “me”.
After trying both, I decided that blondes don’t have more fun. The red wig was definitely me.
From some research, I also learned that I have an extra large head. That explained the headaches! I ordered a cute red wig with an extra large cap. I also bought a selection of colourful scarves. Problem solved.
For the rest of my treatment period, I mostly wore the scarves. For bigger outings like church or events at my kids’ school, I rocked that awesome large-cap red wig.
It did grow back
About eight months after losing my hair, it had grown back enough that I could ditch the wigs and scarves. I had fun wearing the red wig, but I was happy to turn the page on a new chapter.
Although I didn’t need them any more, I hung onto that cute red wig (and the horrible brown wig) for a couple of years after I finished treatment. It was mostly a superstitious thing. I worried that, if I got rid of them, the cancer would return and I’d need them again. Eventually, I donated the wigs to our local cancer support centre.
P.S. It really was no big deal
Reflecting on my experience, I realize I was right all along. In the grand scheme of a cancer diagnosis and everything that comes with it, losing my hair really was no big deal.
I learned that my appearance doesn’t define me. For me, being real and authentic is more important than how I look.
After my hair grew back, I embraced the grey. These days, I wear my hair “au naturel” – short, grey and curly. It’s so freeing not to spend time and money on hair dyes and long salon appointments.
Although I will carry the emotional legacy of a cancer diagnosis for the rest of my life, that day that I put on the horrible brown wig feels like a lifetime ago.
I survived cancer.
And… losing my hair was no big deal!