“You’ll probably lose your hair after your first chemo,” my doctor bluntly stated.
As I rushed down the steps from my doctor’s office, I wondered what it’s like to be bald. My first introduction to baldness was when I met the principal of my elementary school. The students adored him because he was a cool guy with a polished head. Maybe baldness isn’t that bad, I thought, as I headed to the parking garage.
While driving home, I put the radio on to distract myself from thinking too much about my impending hair loss. I couldn’t help but catch fleeting glimpses of hair when I stopped at the red lights. I noticed hair like I never had before, sunlit hair, Mohawks, and tresses that swept naturally across a young woman’s face in the brisk breeze.
I knew that there were more important factors to consider than hair loss because my life was on the edge; yet going bald would certainly affect me. I had already been stripped of my uterus and ovaries and was feeling rather unwomanly. It seemed that losing my hair would only add to my loss of femininity.
As soon as I got home, I raced to the bathroom mirror. I wanted to mentally prepare myself for baldness and accept it. I bunched up my hair and put it atop my head. That didn’t give me a realistic view of baldness, though, so I darted to my bedroom and searched my dresser drawer for a beige stocking. Frantically, I dug through my piles of socks until I found the stocking. Anxiously, I grabbed it and ran back to the bathroom. While glancing down, I put the stocking on top of my head. Gradually, I looked up and into the mirror. I startled myself as I stared back at the stranger before me, quickly yanked the stocking off, and cried.
A few days later, I walked into a salon to inquire about wigs. The stylist suggested I go with a completely new style. Within an hour, I transformed myself into a bold redhead, fun blond, and a playful gal with bountiful curls. Being rather conservative though, I opted for a simple bob with a color close to mine. I left the salon feeling upbeat about my new adventure with my very first wig.
As my chemotherapy grew closer, I gradually had my hair cut shorter and shorter to lessen the shock of seeing my hair fall out. Each day, in private, I donned my wig to get used to my new look. This helped me become more accepting of the situation and less fearful of it.
Right before I left for chemo, I gently ran a comb through my hair one more time. I sympathized with every strand knowing that each would soon be gone. My mind drifted back to childhood. Images of my mother combing my hair before school flew through my mind–a time of ponytails and braids. I saw myself as a young teenager flipping my long hair and feeling sexy and cool when the boys walked by. I saw myself anxiously twisting my hair before a difficult test in school. I chuckled as I recalled the day bubblegum got stuck in my head when my best friend spit it over my head in a dare. Most disastrous was the time I put gobs of petroleum jelly on my hair to make it shiny. I was already deeply missing my hair.
While showering a few weeks after my first chemotherapy treatment, I discovered that I could easily pull my hair out in large clumps. I tried to savor what little was left but realized I’d probably look better without any hair, so I bravely yanked out the rest. Clump by clump, my hair fell to the floor of the tub. I stared down at the pile of hair and gasped. I had seen lots of my hair on the floor at my hairdresser but never on the floor of my tub.
I bravely stepped over the piles of hair, stepped out of the tub, and walked over to the mirror. I was about to face the new me. I shut my eyes and slowly peeked out at the bald woman staring back at me. I didn’t cry this time. Overall, I looked kind of cute. My rather large ears stood out for attention after having been hidden beneath my hair for so many years.
Eventually, my eyebrows and pubic hair felt out. It was like stepping back in time, and I felt like I was ten again.
I was surprised by how itchy my scalp was without hair. It felt like a million ants had made my head their home, and I could not stop scratching my head. My bare head also felt very cold and sore when I lay upon my pillow. I didn’t realize how much my hair had cushioned my head.
I later explored turbans because I was warned that a wig might be uncomfortable in the summer’s heat. I graciously received many turbans for free from a local cancer society and even had one custom made to give it a personal flair. I loved the different looks I could create with turbans, and with that flair, my femininity returned.
One thing I knew was that I would save a lot of money because I didn’t need a haircut. I also didn’t have to worry about messing my hair up after a good night’s sleep or if I carried a comb or brush with me. There are benefits to being bald. I didn’t even have to shave my legs!
The next step was revealing my bald head to my family. They were curious, of course, what the new me looked like. Without hesitation, I pulled off my turban. They handled it graciously, and we all laughed in a loving way.
My next challenge was to present myself to the outside world. I felt a bit raw around the edges and knew I’d probably stand out in a crowd. Occasionally, strangers approached me when I was shopping and told me that they too had gone through chemotherapy. I suppose the turban and my ghostly face was a giveaway of the cancer treatments. They generously shared their journeys and offered me support. One day, a postal employee I had never met before asked me out while I was standing in line at the post office. He said he I looked hot in my funky turban.
A few months after the chemo ended, my hair slowly grew back. The initial color was salt and pepper. Eventually, though, my normal hair color returned and with a beautiful wave. It was awesome!
Months later, I had to go back to post office. I was surprised to see the same employee who had previously asked me out. I said hi to him, but I could tell he didn’t know who I was. He showed no interest in me this time. I had the urge to tell him I was the same person who wore the funky turban but decided against it, chuckling on my way out the door.
All in all, losing my hair wasn’t so bad. I had lots of fun with the experience. Just as my hair was reborn, so was my spirit. My new hair was full of life and vigor, and so was I.