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.
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…