“Breast cancer and chemotherapy, took away her crowning glory. She promised God if she was to survive, she would enjoy everyday of her life”
-India.Arie “I Am Not My Hair”
As I was watching the HBO premiere of the Oscar nominated short documentary, Mondays at Racine, it reminded me that for many women, is it almost more painful to hear you will lose your hair than it is to hear you have cancer.
Mondays At Racine follows the story of two sisters who run a salon on Long Island, which treats cancer patients to a day of beauty and emotional support one Monday each month. After I wiped away the tears that had flowed freely for the entirety of the film I thought about my book, Does This Outfit Make Me Look Bald? and I found it fascinating that the very same catalyst that inspired me to write might have also inspired Cynthia Wade to make her documentary; the profound effect of hair loss on women going through cancer treatments.
For me, the first time I lost my hair it felt like a complete loss of identity. I felt like half a person. I wanted to hide. I believed that I had to always explain my situation to anyone who saw me just to put it out there…so there wasn’t any misconception or misunderstanding. I needed to put it on the record. I had to maintain some control over an out of control situation. Hair loss is such a difficult thing because even if you want to keep your pain private…you can’t. Everyone knows, or suspects. In retrospect it probably helped me become the outspoken Tamoxi-babe that I am today.
When my hair finally began coming in I refused to cut it. I went two full years without so much as a trim. I wanted to go back to who I was. But I never felt the same. I never looked the same. I always felt like I was pretending to be someone I was not. My hair was different. My body was different. My life was different. Everything about me, the person that I was before May 21st 2007, had changed. I refused to acknowledge that. To acknowledge that would make it so, and I wasn’t having any of that….
…until the second time I was diagnosed. I was ready to shave my head about ten minutes after I hung up the phone with the doctor. I was still numb and in shock from hearing the words, “you have cancer” again but this time I was determined to control it. I now knew what to expect. I knew twenty days after my first chemo my hair would start coming out in clumps and I had no time for that drama. My husband convinced me to hold off doing anything drastic until we at least met with my oncologist and had some understanding of the course of treatment.
So I got my head together, focused on tying up loose ends at work, planning my surgery and medical leave. When I finally met with my oncologist and found out that yes, indeed I would be taking another ride in the dreaded chemo chair I knew what I had to do. I booked myself an appointment at a very chi-chi salon in Red Bank and had about twelve inches of my hair cut off.
I loved it!
In the five and a half years since my first diagnosis I refused to look past who I was and see who I really am, who I became. That haircut did just that. I was finally looking in the mirror at the real Jenn, or Jenn 2.0, as I like to call myself now.
I enjoyed that haircut for two full months before it all went spiraling down the drain. It was so damn hard…I won’t lie and say it wasn’t, but in that time I glimpsed at my true self and I liked what I saw. My hair finally matched my personality. It was bold, it was fierce, and it highlighted my best features…plus my hubby said it made me look ten years younger. That in itself is a win!
Whenever I get a little despondent about my hair situation, my husband always reminds me that for a little while, I traded my hair for my life – and when you put it that way it’s a no brainer. If given the choice to live bald or die with stunning locks I’ll choose life any day. But it is a bitter pill to swallow because it is at that point, when you are bald and staring at your own eyebrow-less face and lash-less eyes you become a cancer patient. No turning back. No running away. YOU HAVE ARRIVED!
And I know that, “I am not my hair” but that doesn’t mean that I don’t miss it. This time though I’m not so eager to put it all behind me and move forward as I had the first time. I am enjoying my life, every day. I am counting my blessings and embracing each stage of hair re-growth. Surviving and thriving, baby. Surviving and thriving!