On being a bald woman

I am bald. Virtually no hair on my head or body. I do have a couple of strays left on my forearms but not anywhere else. I lost my hair because I have cancer and the chemotherapy treatment I am receiving has killed all my hair follicles. Adriamycin, Cytoxin and Taxol, oh my… Not having any hair anywhere is actually quite convenient. No shaving of the legs or underarms. Not having hair on my head is something else altogether. Men can rock the look but for most women it is quite a different story.

I had a very serious relationship with my hair. My daughter is a fantastic stylist and you better believe I was in her chair every six weeks or so. I got my hair colored and highlighted and cut and trimmed and styled. It was the one thing I got complimented on most often. It was great hair. I loved it so much. Maybe too much. I often wonder about when we covet anything so deeply, the reality of losing my breasts was not as upsetting as the thought of losing my hair. But then came breast cancer. It hit me and my hair like an out of control freight train. I was told I would lose my hair very quickly, within the first week of chemo. When I retained most of my hair well into my second round, I thought I might be in the tiny five percent who never lose their hair.

I was so very wrong. I was delusional. My hair did come out slowly and painfully. I didn’t want the short hairdo recommended by the oncologist, didn’t want the stupid weird, itchy wig, hated every hat and scarf I was given or purchased for myself. I brushed and stroked every hair off my head, and did I mention it was extremely painful? I finally allowed my daughter to give me the shorty hairdo and on that same day my hair was still falling out one strand at a time. The pain was unbearable. I suffered with this process for another two weeks, then finally I allowed my daughters boyfriend to shave my head. She was cooking us dinner at that moment and he was willing and is very tall and I’m very short so we stood on their deck and he just undid the remaining mess of hair.

Oh man it felt so good to finally not feel the agony of losing hair one fiber at a time. I felt the breeze on my naked head and actually smiled and laughed for the first time in weeks. There was one more hurdle to this loss and again I did not see it coming. It happened when I went into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. I burst into tears. I almost fell over. I ran behind the door and hid from my reflection. I put a towel over my head, looked again in the mirror and tried to remove it little by little. but the shock and awe of the bald head was overwhelming. The only reason I didn’t lose my mind right then and there was that it felt so good. My patient and extremely sensible daughter told me to get a grip. It took almost a month for me to find the grip, let alone get it.

For weeks up to this point my head felt as though it were on fire. I had a raging headache the entire time. I became afraid of the hair brush, because every time I stubbornly pulled it through my beloved hair, out came a giant clump. There was hair everywhere, in my bed, all over my house, on my patio, in my car, in my cats’ litter box, on my cat… I mean everywhere. I watched the birds in my yard gather it up for their nests. But now, there’s no hair anywhere.

I still have several more rounds of chemo to go and it is the single hardest thing I have ever had to do. Even though the treatment makes me feel like death walking and I know it’s not going to get any easier, I still mourn the loss of my beloved hair. I have quite a while to go before there’s even a shadow on the horizon of my bald head. So right now I look like an alien. My skin is gray, I’ve lost much weight, my fingernails are fallen out and the tips of my fingers are black, I have huge black circles under my eyes which are constantly running with tears, my chest if full of lumpy painful tissue expanders. All of this seems to pale in comparison to my vacant scalp. Anyone who has seen me in person says I have a wonderfully perfectly round head and that I look pretty good bald. To which I silently reply, really??I do own a mirror you know.. I can’t stand any type of covering on my head so if I have to go outside my house I just wear it bald. I keep the little blue do rag with me in case I get really cold all of a sudden which happens when you are hairless. Just think of one of those little hairless dogs, they are always shivering.

Going out in this current debilitated condition is a real trip. I can’t get out often but some days I feel as if the fog has lifted somewhat and I take the opportunity to pretend that I am normal and I will go into the grocery store. When people see me coming they look real fast then cast their glance away or to the floor or become intensely interested in reading a label as I wander by.   If I turn around real fast I catch them taking in the sight of me. It’s a bit depressing. Not that I need any help whatsoever in the depression department. I just try to ignore the stares and mouths hanging open and hold myself as uprightly as I can and go about the business of trying to feel normal.

I’ve learned a lot of things as I travel this cancer road but the major thing is that most regular people will look at me and think oh my god what would I do if that happened to me? It makes everyone take stock of their own lives instantly. Oh sure they have some form of empathy or sympathy for me, but mostly my bald head and sunken eyes and gray skin just freak people out.  At least I know I will recover from this unfortunate event in my life..or not..but if I do I will go forth with a new and solid understanding of how to react to anyone I happen to encounter who has an apparent problem or dis-ability. A big smile and a hearty hello and a direct look in the eye. No averted look, no sad smile with the dreaded head tilt will ever come out of me again.


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