Yesterday’s Globe and Mail featured a preview of the upcoming trends for 2001 in its Style section. Generally – not being of the mind that style and trendiness are synonymous – I could give two flying hoots about the latest trends. In fact, as I read about the “…cheeky bras over t-shirts…” gracing the runways, all I could think was, Will you please give me a break? Do I want to look like I have underwear dyslexia?
But I was reading the Style page for a reason: because when I picked up the paper, something caught my eye. Or my eyebrow, I should say. The banner on the front page encouraged me to check out the Style section to “get set for the year of the invisi-brow.” Yes, the invisi-brow. As in, no eyebrows. Models, apparently, are bleaching or otherwise disappearing the fuzzy little caterpillars that reside above each eye in what is giddily billed as “surely the edgiest make-up trend of the season.” Yeah, okay… or, Surely the most inane, pointless and desperate trend of the season. (Followed closely by those cheeky bras over t-shirts.)
What to expect next from these daring denizens of the fashion world? The year of the plucked-out eyelashes? Perhaps a celebration of the bikini-ready chemo-zillian, just in time for beach season? (Actually I confess: that one I did count as a cancer perk…saved so much money on waxing!) I feel like writing to the Style reporters to inform them that, avante garde trend-setter that I clearly am, last year was my own personal “year of the invisi-brow” and frankly, it completely sucked.
Or, maybe I’m looking at this all wrong; maybe I’m just bitter because last year when I was bald and blinking dust out of my lash-less, brow-less eyes, nobody thought it was particularly chic. Perhaps I should cut this little clip out of the paper and pass it around the chemo ward on Thursday for all my browless chemo compadres and see what they think. After all, having the fashion world declare a common chemo side effect edgy and desirable might make people feel better about hair loss, if only in that one localized area.
And anyway, I should be looking for silver linings: it’s entirely possible I’ll be joining the hairless ranks once again – I’m shedding like a husky in July. Though I cringe and get a little teary-eyed at the mere prospect of losing my hair and having that bald cancer-face stare back at me from the mirror again (telling me every day how sick I am) if it must be, so be it. Time will tell. If I go bald, at least I know I’ll endure it. Hell, I may even figure out a way to own it this time – anything to avoid it owning me again.
Encouragingly, my oncologist says it’s unlikely I’ll lose my hair completely, but she’s not cleaning my hairbrush every day, or seeing my pillow every morning… Mind you, I’ve got lots of it, so I count myself lucky; with what I’ve lost so far, some people would already be dealing with rather barren cranial terrain.
At least I’ve still got my thick, sumptuous, decidedly visible eyebrows – and trendy or not, I want them to stay exactly where they are.
Sorry I have been a delinquent blogger, but there have been some developments, ah, developing, and since they’re not yet fully developed I thought it better to wait before I blogged about them.
How’s that for crypto-babble?
Anyway, in the mean time, allow me to exorcise this demon dream I had last night about losing my hair again. I went through each step – the knowledge that it was going to fall out, the buzz cut, waking up to a pillow full of hair, and finally, rubbing out the last vestiges of it and turning to face the mirror, seeing myself bald again. It was so real and so devastating that I woke up choking back tears.
Sometimes people say “it’s only hair!” and that losing it is a small price to pay for saving your life. I think they should perhaps shave their heads and their eyebrows and pluck out their eyelashes and acquire a life-threatening disease before they say that. Because when you’re sick and fighting it, looking in the mirror and seeing cancer staring back at you is a hard thing to face, day after day. That vision of a you that isn’t really you — the hairlessness that is cancer, not choice – can be a devastating and powerful psychological force. And yet somehow we face it, millions of us. It’s not the worst thing in the world, I admit, but it’s a horror all the same.
Okay, so my hair is apparently falling out. Again. (Or still, I’m not sure.)
I first noticed it because there was hair on my pillow the other morning – it looked like a cat had been sleeping there, but we don’t have a cat. So now I’m back to using the lint roller, rolling the little hairs off my pillows, wondering why the @!#* it’s falling out again/still. And why more in certain places than others? The only thing worse than losing your hair, is losing it in patches; my head looks like a moth-eaten chia pet.
Then I got really frustrated and lint-rollered my head. Next time you’re in a frustrated rage I recommend you try it – the absurdity of what you’re doing should snap you out of your hissy fit pretty quickly. It actually kind of worked, though it wasn’t quite as effective as rubbing out the hair in the shower.
In any case, it’s one step forward, one step back. (Which is to say, no steps.)
Patience. Among other things, cancer is trying to teach me patience.
Since you’ve been gone, I hardly recognize myself. Oh, sure, with a little effort and the right make-up I can put on a brave face – but it’s just not the same without you. Where once you used to be – helping me to emphasize my points, communicating my confusion, surprise or displeasure – now there is nothing but a shadow of your former presence.
Listen, I know things weren’t ideal when you left and, yes, you did hang on as long as you could. I really appreciated that. But now even the hair on my head is starting to come back and I really think its time you thought about doing the same.
I’m even willing to forgive you for running off with my lashes like that. Seriously, do you have any idea how dry and irritated my eyes are without them? Luckily about 8 of them stuck around when the rest disappeared – my last line of defense against dust particles and wind. As for the rest, I just want them back where they belong (and if possible maybe a little darker and fuller to make up for their absence.) And Brows, I think if you do some soul-searching you’ll realize where you truly belong, too.
Please, come back to me. I promise to do everything in my power to never drive you away again.
Back when I was told that I would have chemo, the idea of losing my hair terrified me. Not constant nausea or exhaustion or even premature menopause – baldness was the most daunting of all the side effects.
Apparently a lot of women feel this way. Hair can be a primary part of our self-image. It can communicate things about our identity (“Professional,” “Soccer Mom,” “Vixen,” “Hockey Fan”); it can complement our outfits or reflect our moods; it can even be a kind of camouflage.
For me, there was the notion that once I lost my hair, my cancer would become public knowledge. Bald head = cancer. It was a symbolic of loss of control, and I dreaded it deeply.
As it turned out the process of losing it was harder than the loss of it. It went from long to gone in a relatively short time, and with it finally gone, there was some genuine relief. Herewith, the illustrated play-by-play:
1. I had long hair. It was July and normally my hair falls out like crazy in the summer anyway, but this time my shedding surpassed that of the average golden retriever. And it was changing in texture, becoming a frizzy, tangled mess. (That’s me on the left, obviously)
2. One evening a friend came over to chop it down to size. It was a gorgeous evening, and my husband opened a nice bottle of wine for liquid courage while we sat out on the back deck. Glasses were emptied, the deck was strewn with hair, the sun set — and in the end I really liked this cute, super-short haircut that I would only have for a few days.
3. But oh, the infernal itching… the coming out in clumps. It was driving me mad. Just days after my short haircut, friends and their clippers were enlisted to give me a buzz cut. They draped me in a sheet in their kitchen and I was transformed again, more radically this time. I actually found it liberating – it wasn’t a look that had fallen into my lexicon of “sexy” but I took it as a big compliment later in the week when a gay woman I know warned me to stay away from lesbian bars if I didn’t want to attract unwanted attention.
4. Even buzzed, the shedding continued at an alarming rate. I carried a lint roller around with me and kept one by the bed for my pillows. Adding injury to insult, the roots hurt a little as the hair came out. I knew it had to go completely. A brave friend offered a head massage to get rid of the remaining hair.
This was the final step between looking like someone who has perhaps chosen a radically short haircut, and someone who is bald because she has cancer. When I showered the last of the hair away, there was nothing left but blond fuzz and a bizarre tan line where my part used to be. I will never forget looking in the mirror that first time. No more denying it: I was bald, because of cancer.
5. These days I wear scarves a lot and sometimes go al fresco, depending on who’s around. I really like turbans – I call myself The Turbanator.
Our daughter doesn’t seem to care about my new look, probably because we had repeatedly told her I was going to cut all my hair off “to look like Grandpa”, and to a two year old there’s nothing weird about that. As for the rest of the world, I’ve learned that most of the time I don’t care if strangers realize that I’m bald because of cancer under my scarves. I do have cancer. That’s just the reality.
When it grows back I wonder if I’ll treasure my hair more or take it less seriously than I did before? (If nothing else, cancer can do wonders for vanity.) Either way, there are worse things than having cancer strip you of your hair, scarier demons to face with this illness. It’s not that cancer isn’t terrifying, but that baldness doesn’t have to be.