The hardest part..

People often ask me what the hardest part of having cancer is. Is it the chemo and how sick it makes you? Is it the radiation and how terribly burnt your skin gets?

I imagine that for every cancer patient it is different, yet ironically the same. Cancer effects all of its victims, ultimately, in the same way, just with different side effects, but the sting is equally hard on us. It digs its fingernails in and doesn’t want to let go of its merciless grip.

If I were to be honest with that question, it would be losing my hair. I had been told by many people, including the radiation techs, that I should shave my head before treatment… it would be so much less traumatic for me. I smiled and thought “I can handle it, its only hair”. Then when it started to come out in clumps, I watched as it went down the drain in the shower. I saw it in the morning when I woke up on my pillow. I saw it on the shower walls and on the floor.

The site of that made me indescribably sad.

Chemo effects me only 5 days a month, and radiation effected me for a mere 6 weeks. Everytime I look in the mirror, and stare at my reflection, I am reminded daily that I have cancer. It took me a long time to go out in public “sans hair”. I spent so much money on wigs and scarves, I am embarrassed to admit that. Then one morning, I had to go to Target and stop by my husbands office. I was putting on my wig, and started to cry. It just felt fake to me, like I was trying to “not have cancer” when in reality I did. It was itchy and hot, and I just didnt want to wear it anymore. I got out my scarves and tried one on.. the funny thing with scarves is that I had so many clothes that I couldnt wear with my scarves, clothes that made me feel beautiful and strong… but I had no scarves to match them. So I went to my closet and pulled out the one outfit that I had been longing to wear, but had told my self that I couldn’t wear it until my hair grew back…. I put that outfit on, put my make up on, and boldly faced the world without my hair.

I often say that I wore my wig more for the people around me than I did myself, and that is true to a point. I was afraid that I would pull up to a car with out my wig and the driver of that car, after seeing me, would prematurely go through the light! But I can honestly say that when I took my wig off, I did it for me. I wore my bald head and my scar proudly and faced my fear… the fear of people staring and gawking. The fear of people knowing that I had cancer. The fear of losing my pride and control.

Fear in general.

I have gotten many stares, many gawks, many sympathy smiles… but I have gotten the same amount of strangers walking up to me and asking me if I have cancer, and telling me about their sister who had breast cancer or the father who had a brain tumor. I see their faces light up when they remember their loved ones. I hear so many success stories to, people who are cancer survivors, who have lived long and strong lives despite the cancer that has invaded their bodies.

I have learned that it really isn’t about the hair, but what it represents in each one of our lives. In my life, it represented pride. I was my hair, I paid so much money to have it cut just the right way every 3 weeks, and colored the perfect shades of red and blond.

markandme21.jpg

Now…. I don’t think about it much anymore, other than when my husband rubs my bald head and tells me he thinks I am beautiful. Or a stranger tells me how beautiful my eyes are. I cant tell you the relief that I feel knowing that my hair doesn’t define me as a person any longer. It doesn’t represent my self esteem any longer.

And it has given me an excuse to buy bigger bolder jewelry… :)

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Comments

  1. Heather, this is a great post. My sister-in-law has leukemia, and losing her hair has been very hard on her. I had noticed you have boldly displayed your bald head, and wondered how you had arrived at being comfortable with it. Thank you for sharing.

    I know I don’t comment on your blog very often, but I have been reading and praying for you since you found out you had cancer.

  2. You are beautiful Heather, both inside and out!! The beauty of Jesus is all over you and especially in your eyes. Praying for you daily dear friend that each day holds new blessings for you and your family.:) :roll:
    Love you dearly, Laurie in Ca.

  3. I started to stay low for a while, But… Have I told you guys that I love my daughter. I really, really do. If someone has a hard time with that, go sit on a tack! :roll: I hope that’s not to mean.

    Daddy to the best daughter in the world!!!

    Me

  4. What beautiful, beautiful words! I have thought so many times that you have gorgeous eyes.

    We don’t know each other at all, but I must say you have continued to inspire me for nearly a year now. God bless you, Heather.

  5. Heather…for your Dad—-YOU GO DAD! I love it when my dad shares how proud he is of me and how much he loves me with others! You keep on sharing!! Don’t ya think that is truly the Father heart of God?!…That’s how He feels about us…He loves to BRAG on US, His kids!!!

    And Heather, you are a knockout…hold your head up high because you are an inspiration to us all, girl!

    Keep rocking it, beauty!! xoxox

  6. Perfect…this is a perfect post and cheers to DAD…God bless you all!

    donna

  7. Heather, I don’t comment often, but this post really touched my heart. A few years ago a very dear friend of mine had breast cancer. She went through all of the treatments and lost her hair. Her hair had always been very thin and very straight, and she spent hours fixing it to look the way she wanted to. When her hair did finally start growing in it was very, very thick, and had kinky curls, just as if she had had a perm. Caroline was so excited!! She said that it was worth all of the pain and sickness, to come out with really good hair for the first time in her life.

  8. What an excellent post. It is amazing what we let define ourselves. I have always been proud of my hair I do admit that easily. But you are so right in that it is not who I am.

    I do keep you in my prayers. My father’s tumor (pancreatic cancer) has started to grow again. So, if you think about him, Allen, please say a little prayer for him.

    God Bless you! :smile:

  9. Heather, you are remarkably beautiful sans hair! When you once posted a picture of yourself with a wig on, I wondered why you didn’t see how beautiful your head was without it! I am so glad that God opened your eyes to the beauty that is you just as you are.

    And Heather’s Daddy: You are remarkably cool. 😎

  10. You are very striking. I love that you accept yourself, knowing that God thinks you look absolutely perfect. You are an inspiration, and a very pretty one at that.

    Go Dad! I think telling someone who is clearly influenced by the enemy to sit on a tack to be exceptionally appropriate. I am going to hum the song for the rest of the day! “If the devil doesn’t like it he can sit on a tack…WHERE?!”

  11. Heather’s DAD: There you go! You have a remarkable daughter! She has shown love and grace when most of us would have probably shot off an angry response. You have every right to be proud of her!

    Heather: my sister in law has had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for about 3 years, been in remission a couple times, and is now. It came back the 2nd time the worse she could have, but she’s lived through that, too. She lost her hair 3 times, wore caps and wigs some, but soon gave them up and went to her teaching job minus hair. It is now growing in. Until yours comes back, you are still a beautiful Heather.

  12. way to go heather! and your dad!
    my dad lost his hair a week ago today (going through a stem cell transplant for multiple myeloma) but it really hasn’t bothered him…surely it’s different for a man though! but for the first time he looks as if he has “cancer”…it never showed until now.
    AND his bald spot is gone!

  13. You are beautiful, with or without hair! and I just love your daddy!!!

  14. This is such an important post. Thank you.

    Your words speak very directly to the “physical” ideologies that we must assimilate when our body identities are challenged by disease. My friend at http://www.diynotdie.com and I have both had mastectomies- she a bi-lateral and I a single. We have both decided to be in the world without reconstruction or the use of a protheses. Going out in public with a body that has been transformed by cancer is not an easy thing to do in our critical and judgmental world. Much like a woman with a bald head we are made to feel like we should be hiding our experience. Historically and naturally it is important to appear as a thriving healthy person in the world- not to appear inferior or easy prey. But because we are evolved civilized beings we have the power to transcend this primitive idea and simply be in the world as we are. It is indeed difficult to rise above the myths, the traditional/shallow “ideas of beauty” pressure and the feeling that we are “advertising” a weakness. My friend and I have discussed the idea that some people may even think that we have chosen to be walking billboards for cancer and its aftermath- like warriors. While I have always questioned mainstream thinking and traditional norms the idea that I am walking the earth with one breast because I’m advertising ANYTHING is FALSE. I am merely in the world in this physical form because it is comfortable and I have spared myself of painful reconstruction and the annoying discomfort of a prosthesis. It is as simple as that.

    Leaving the house without you wig says one thing for sure- you are one cool woman.

  15. Heather, I know you don’t “know” me but I just passed along an award to you. Please come check it out. I don’t know if you do these but I HAD to pass it to you!!!!!!
    Susan

  16. :mrgreen:
    You go, girl!!! What an awesome,and thought-provoking post! I needed that!

  17. Yes, your husband is right. You are beautiful. Very much so!

    And everytime I see your picture I think, “Wow, she’s a beautiful girl inside and out.”

    I am glad to see you face your fear and yet challenged by facing my own fears. I wonder sometimes, what would I do and how would I live if I left fear behind?

    What has walking past your fears allowed you to do, Heather? I would love to know.

  18. My hubby just looked over my shoulder and said “tell her she’s prettier bald.” LOL Spoken like a man who is bald himself! *wink*

  19. AMEN…I agree with you totally…loss of hair was hard! I ditched the wig and wore baseball caps…it worked for me!

    And to your dad…WOOHOO YOU GO DAD!
    Laurie

  20. You look great with no hair! I had a craniotomy a few years ago and they shaved off a lot of my long hair on just one side. I decided to just shave off the rest. I thought it would be no big deal. I was surprised by how much it bothered me and I wasn’t even bald! I didn’t want to be stared at because of my hair and scars. I wore wigs and hats but they were just too hot! After awhile I just didn’t care. I realized that those scars are a part of who I am now. I now think that they are cool and I wished they showed more. You look beautiful with no hair!

    Ann

  21. Heather. Great Post. Its amazing the lessons that come with this disease. I really think what’s inside of you shines on your face.
    Having lost my hair three times, I can say that yes its a strange feeling..wearing a wig. I felt so unnatural. I figured I walked around the house with out it so why keep on worrying what others thought about it. I to decided it did not define who I am. There is so much more to us then our hair. But no doubt its hard at first.
    After a while it became a very empowering expirence. And heck bolder jewelery works.
    :smile:
    The other thing I come and read your blog and I don’t see a cancer victim at all. I see a strong amazing woman. That is fighting like many of us are. I also see a woman who is proud and has a lot of pride in herself and her family. Thats awsome.
    I take a lot away from reading here as do others. Hugs.

  22. Whoops Ps: I see a survivor!! Forgot to say that!!

  23. One of my sona at 10, shaved his head completely bald, BIC and all to support a friend with cancer. It was a really crazy experience for a couple of weeks walking around with my bald son. It never crossed my mind people would think he had cancer.

    You are stunning and do have beautiful eyes. Who wouldn’t want more fun jewelry?!

  24. I just love reading your blog…it is all so well written with such love and conviction.

    When my hubby lost his hair it was really hard on him, I think most people felt it would be easy for him because he is a man. It has more to it that just losing hair, for Ron it was dealing with an obvious physical sign of his illness.

    Christ’s love is so great in your writing, you are such a powerful witness.

  25. hoosier homemaker says:

    Hooray for Heather……AND her Dad!!

    We love you Heather – hair or no hair!

  26. Teresa from SC says:

    You are wonderful !

  27. Carolynn from Western Australia. says:

    I have to say I feel really good walking down the street without my hair, my husband says he is proud of me and how much it suits me. I had already made the decision not to have a wig as I had heard from a friend that they were hot and itchy. I wore headscarves for awhile until one day I was admitting a very preterm baby and it was under a warmer that was putting out so much heat I felt like my head was on fore so I took it off and have never worn another one since, and that must have been about 4 monhs ago.

    I have to say I quite like my bald head now that I am used to it and just think how much it is saving us on hairdressers and shampoo and conditioner.:-)

    Take Care and hold your head up proudly.
    Love Carolynn xxxxxx :-)

  28. You are so far more “grown” in this area than I am…and I’m so proud of you. I don’t think I ever got over losing my hair. I couldn’t “do” wigs, but bare never felt right either (but I can totally relate to keeping back outfits b/c of no matching head covering). I wore lots and lots of cheap scarves (ran them on the sewing machine) and baseball caps galore (but I steered away from hats that I deemed too “Cancer girl”, LOL!.

    I finally got my hair done this week…and it felt sooo good.

    Know anyone who wants a closet full of hats??

    Keep on keepin’ on, girl!

    Heather

  29. Heather,
    This was a great post and I can so relate..the loss of hair was the hardest for me too as I had thick, long hair!
    Your eyes truly are beautiful and they speak volumes! They are the first thing I noticed about you!
    Blessings,
    Gina

  30. You totally inspire me.

    And…you ARE beautiful.

    Hugs and blessings,
    Susan

  31. I love this post…. my dad had brain cancer and he loved his scar. He always told people that, it was the scar that saved his life. Meaning that if God did not reveal to him through many ways that he had cancer, he would have never had brain surgery to remove the tumor and in turn would not have lived the life he did. That God for Scars!!!

  32. I have never had cancer, but I have thought about what would bother me the most if I did. Strange, but I have, and you know, it would be my hair too. You have put that in perspective for those who fight with cancer and those of us who casually think about it. Casually, meaning, if you don’t have it, it is not a very consuming thought. Boy, I hope that makes sense. :roll:

    Thanks! Much love and hugs!

    Kay

  33. You really are beautiful.

  34. You are so beautiful… 😉

    I understand the hair thing.. and often have thought how I would feel.. but I know I would never understand unless I walked that road… I am a Hospice nurse and I hear my patients talk to me about this very thing…

    We makes hats for them but I tell them, you are just so pretty like you are..

    and that is what I saw in you.. Plus that is the style now, you know!!

    but it is very interesting to hear your perspective on it… that was very heartfelt and honest.

    In Him,
    Connie

  35. You are amazing. And so brave. God continues to use you to bless others.

  36. Hi Heather!

    I came stumbled upon your blog a few months ago and I have to say one of the first things I thought was she’s so pretty! I don’t know what you looked like before but I can def say you look great without hair! 😀

    I think hairloss seems to be a big issue for anyone with cancer. One of my best friends died from it 3 yrs ago and I remember when she first got sick and lost her hair I made some jokes about it, trying to make her feel better but I knew straight away from the pain in her eyes that it was a bigger deal than she was letting on. I still feel a bit sad that I was so insensitive.

    Another one of my friends lost her hair from chemo (not for cancer) about 3yrs ago as well, since its grown back she’s always had it as long as possible – like shes compensating. Hers was curly at first too but it straightened out as it got longer so you never know what it’ll be like when it grows back! Something to look forward to!

  37. You are indeed beautiful, hair or no hair. You are beautiful inside as well.

  38. You rock! You truly do.

    Hugs to sweet beautiful YOU!
    Kat

  39. I think it’s so awesome that people come and tell you their stories, just because you have been brave enough to go out without anything on your head. So great!

  40. “You are so beautiful…to me…”

    That song was running through my head over and over while reading your post. You’re such an amazing, strong, inspirational woman.

    And…I decided you deserved an award for it, so I gave you one on my blog today :) Keep on keeping on…you inspire so many of us *hugs*

  41. Sorry, this has nothing to do with your post, but when I heard this news I thought of you and Emma Grace right away. There is a new Mitochondrial Syndrome center at the UT Medical Center in Houston. The woman setting up the clinic is a friend of mine. Her name is Gayla Roberson ph 713-500-7032. It’s part of the med center genetics center. They are pushing for breakthrough treatments for mito diseases. I told Gayla to give you special treatment if you call!

  42. Heather,
    You are so beautiful and amazing. I know that I have the same pride that you mentioned having. I too easily get caught up in my appearance, and God has really been teaching me to focus more on what He says a beautiful women is. Thank you for sharing your life with your readers, I am one who is touched by your life. Many blessings to you!

  43. You are beautiful and have taught me so much.
    Thank you,
    Sue

  44. You are very encouraging, I don’t have cancer but other things in life that are very painful and when I read your blog, sometimes I cry because it has touched something in me, I release my fears and face how I really feel, things that I have bottled up inside that tear me apart, it brings me to the “now” and the OK to cry and most of the time it is here that I “let go”. I become “real” again and know that and allow myself to mourn.

    I blogged about my painful “walk” but I think it would scare people away so I stopped

    Thank you again Heather for sharing, it has changed some of my thinking.

    Always praying for you,

    blessings

  45. My Mom hated her wig. hate, hate, HATED it. You are so right… it just felt fake to her and she mostly did it to ward off shocking others. But, to be honest, what shock is there in a beautiful bald head? It’s not as if you’re covering up a pair of horns…you lost your hair. It will come back. I think you are beautiful either way…but, the irony is, you might miss not having to mess with it when it DOES come back in! :-)

  46. I just came across your blog and what a blessing! I haven’t read through it all yet, but I plan to. When I read about the cancer and your process before surgery, I went right back to September last year when my precious Christina had brain surgery. You guys should talk! Her website is http://www.christinaahmann.com. Her brain tumor was a grade III astroglioma. And she is now bald too. She is 25 years old and God is being glorified through her story. I am now going to read more of your website, but I had to stop and post this first. :)

  47. Losing my hair was right up there on my list of things that bothered me, but so far it has not happened.

    Radiation went well and Chemo is seems going well also. I have a yucky cold but mostly feel good.

    I just hate the whole uncertainty of everything that is going on. My moods are so up and down. I go from elation to despair over and over all day long.

    I am a wreak!

  48. Just when I thought I admired you a ton…. you go and say more things that make me admire you more…. you are something else!!!
    You are the richest woman alive. Full of wisdom, raw and real, and I love you, though I have never met you.
    YOU – are awesome!!

    Sending love and admiration. 😛

  49. Heather,I have been reading your blog for awhile off and on I just wanted to let you know that when I first saw you with your hair I thought how beauitful you are and now with out your hair you are just the same I see you Heather you are beauitful and wonderfuly made with or with out hair don’t you worry your pretty head about these you are a very pretty women .Blessing always, marina

  50. Heather,
    I’ve been reading your blog since before you were diagnosed. If I was as beautiful as you without hair, I’d be one happy camper.

    My friend, Ilene, had leukemia and was comotose for about 3 months. Of course, the chemo left her hairless but she fixated on her tummy. She was much, much lighter than she had been but her muscle tone was gone from being bed ridden for so long.

    Hair grows, tummies tighten (unless you are my age and there are no muscles left) and you and Ilene are both such a testimony how to remain faithful in horrible circumstances and to God’s faithfulness at all times.

    May God Bless you and keep you and your family

    Terrillyn