Ho Ho Ho! HAIRY Christmas!
One of the most well-known, obvious, public, and dramatic side effects of cancer and chemotherapy is hair loss. Alopecia doesn’t occur with all types of chemo, but it frequently does with Adriamycin-Cytoxan, or AC, which is often used for breast cancer. That means women get a double-whammy: not only can we lose our breasts, we can also lose our hair. Both are, or can be, big players in our external identities.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep my breast, although it is a bit misshapen. I can’t say the same for my hair. It’s gone, and it won’t be back for many, many months.
My hair has always been my most identifiable physical trait. I’ve heard “I’d recognize that hair anywhere” and “I knew that was you immediately – I saw your hair” so many times it’s expected.
It took me a while to truly embrace my locks. As a curly-haired child, I wanted straight hair, even after my Dorothy Hamill and Princess Diana haircut disasters. As a frustrated teen, I never quite figured out that bangs would always be my bane. Finally, sometime in my late twenties I settled on long and curly. In my thirties, I figured out the best way to style it was not to style it at all: judiciously apply product in the shower, comb it through and leave it alone, and get raves for days.
I’ve had the same hairstyle, with a few minor forays into straightening and hot rolling, for the better part of twenty-five years. Now, it’s gone. It’s all gone.
I’m fortunate in that right now I don’t have to go anywhere. My bald head and I can hide in my home and nobody but my husband will be the wiser. He loved my hair, but he loves me more, so I can deal with it.
But. But, I still see my reflection and my shadow. No matter how good I physically feel, I am confronted multiple times daily with the impact of my disease.
I can be sad. I can be angry. Or I can have some fun.
For the first time in my life, I have a blank canvas. A bald palette. I have freedom to try a different look every day of the week, if I want. If I don’t like it, I can switch it up tomorrow. I don’t even have to wait for tomorrow. I can change it immediately.
It is a freedom I never would have considered. Would I choose how it came about? No. But I have it. Why not make the most of it?
12 Wigs of Christmas!
Through Sherman Advocate Cancer Institute, a gift from my good friend Cara, and loans from another good friend Meryl, I now am in possession of twelve wigs. Some are wigs I could wear as a temporary replacement for my own hair. Others – the borrowed wigs – are just plain fun. Beginning today and through January 5, the traditional 12 Days of Christmas, each wig will make an appearance.
If I’m going to have fun with the hair, why not have fun with the rest? Mom helped me choose outfits, jewelry, and makeup and I’m going to glam this up like a drag queen. Last night as I sat in front of my mirror applying glitter and placing lush magnetic eyelashes while wearing a mesh wig liner, I felt like I was donning a persona.
And, truthfully, I was, even though the first photo shoot was difficult. I kept saying “This isn’t me. It’s not me.” But as I looked at the pictures, I realized that it is me. It’s a part of me. I’m not so much putting on personas as I am revealing them.
Like so many other aspects of this experience, I’m finding that even this apparent loss is a gift. I have the freedom to discover and expose who I am inside without that enduring external definition of my hair. Each costume change can be an expression of another aspect of what makes me, me.
I decided to share these metamorphoses publicly because this is hard and I know I’m not the only one. It’s OK to thumb our noses at the expected reaction to loss and to flip it on its follicles. Turn it into something joyful. Turn it into something merry.
Today, on Christmas, I begin with an insouciant, whimsical look that is something I never would have previously attempted. Short hair? Black hair? That’s not me!
Yes. Yes it is.
I’m wearing my grandmother’s jewelry, the same set I wore when Jim and I got married. Speaking of Mr. Goodrich, he’s decided to join in on this escapade. Not only did he shave his head in solidarity with me back in November, now he’s donning wigs as well.
Now that is a gift!
I hope you enjoy these next twelve days. I hope to hear which looks are your favorite, and maybe you could play along with your own persona explorations.
Hairy – I mean Merry – Christmas!