Saturday, March 10, 2012

hair today, gone tomorrow

yesterday i got my hair cut and colored. it is still so surreal for me to sit in that chair with short hair. i am still not used to it, not sure that i ever will be.

this picture was taken right after my surgery, you can see my scars healing, and right before i started my treatments.

when i started my treatments, i knew that my hair could thin but was reminded that every patient is different so it wasn't a given. but as was the case with many of my side effects, i tended towards the more extreme end of the spectrum. i clearly remember when i knew that my hair was falling out. it was the week after i finished the high dose treatments. i was in the shower and washing my hair. i took my hands down from my head and i was holding a huge clump of my hair in my hands. i knew in my heart then i was going to lose most of it, if not all of it. i was totally and completely devastated. there were a lot of tears shed in that shower.

my hair continued to fall out until i was left with hardly any hair at all and what i did have was basically dead. so i wore hats every single day. in january, i finally worked myself up to what i knew i needed to do. i went to uw medical and they have an awesome volunteer center where they help cancer patients pick out and try on wigs. they provide the wigs free of cost because they are paid for by the profits of the coffee center at the hospital. so generous.

when my name was called in the waiting room, the volunteer took me back into a private room where they have the wigs. it was such a strange experience to see myself with different wigs on. i felt like i was moving in slow motion and looking at myself in the mirror thinking "yes, you have cancer, you have lost your hair, you feel like hell, you are now doing something you never thought you would have to do, you want to ball your eyes out, but i know you can do this." i chose a straight brown wig. it was different, anyone who knew me was going to know i had a wig. so why not just go totally different and make it obvious that i wasn't trying to make it look like my normal hair?

this pic was taken in the room when i had decided on the wig, you can still see the tags hanging off of it.

so one of the things you never think about until you have to try on a wig is that they come one size fit all. so if you need the bangs cut, or some other alteration, you have to get that done. i never even realized that until i had the wig's bangs in my eyes and realized that wasn't going work. the woman who was helping me told me that there was a hairdresser who volunteered his time and cuts wigs for cancer patients. she said that his name was jeremy and that he worked at the napolitano salon. i decided in that moment that i should try to get an appointment with him that afternoon if possible because otherwise i might not ever get my courage up again to do it and would therefore never actually wear the wig. so after i left uw i called and by a miracle he had an opening 30 minutes later. 

cue my wig angel jeremy.

jeremy was so nice. he told me that two women in his life had been affected by cancer and they had to wear wigs. when he realized that they needed their wigs altered, he decided to get training in how to alter wigs (cutting wigs takes special skills since they are synthetic so they need to be cut differently than real hair - one of the other facts you learn along the way) so that he could donate his time to help cancer patients. so kind. he was so nice and patient working with me, didn't question me as to why i didn't just shave off the few remaining hairs that i had, and was kind about my wig choice. he worked his magic and you would never have known that the wig hadn't been made just to fit me. i knew that he donated his time, but as i left i gave him some money to buy himself a cup of coffee as a small token of thanks, and could barely even say thank you through the tears streaming down my face. i knew that he knew. being in that chair, having a wig fitted, was one of the hardest things (and being in that room at uw an hour before was one of the other hardest things) i had ever done.

i wore the wig around the house a few times for short periods of time to see if malena would adjust to it and to make sure she didn't have a totally adverse reaction. the day i wore the wig to work for the first time was the next hardest thing that i had to do. but i work with a lot of sweet people so they either didn't say anything (i assume either because they didn't know what to say or because they figured there was no need to state the obvious - either way i was ok with nothing being said) or had positive things to say. i didn't wear it every day because it was not comfortable to wear and i was really anxious about it moving or being lopsided so it was stressful for me to have it on. my dad drove me around to different hair places because i had to find a cover to place over my head in order to be able to get the wig to stay on. the cover gave me something for the bobby pins to attach to so the wig would stay on. those errands were ones my dad and i never thought we would do together.

i never really wore the wig at home because i took it off as soon as i could for the reasons i noted above. when i was home i either wore a hat or nothing at all - and so only barrett and malena and a few family members ever saw how i really looked when my hair had fallen out. one day i decided to wear the wig at home to try and get malena more used to it. we were up in my room and i took it off the wig stand (another thing that you don't know until you have one is that a wig sits on a stand so that it doesn't lose form - seeing the wig sit on that form in your bedroom is also a strange and surreal experience). i put it on and said "look malena, mommy is wearing her brown hair" and she immediately started bawling and begging me to take it off. bawling and begging. it seemed like an eternity, it was probably not more than a minute. i was also now bawling and i immediately took it off.

a moment that she will never remember, one that i will never forget. i never recovered.

i don't think that i ever wore the wig again.

malena would usually pull my hat off when i was home. i think that even though my hair looked different, having anything on my head seemed even more different to her.

as summer approached, i knew that i needed to do what i had put off for too long. the truth is that i just could not emotionally get myself prepared to the point to say goodbye to the remaining strands of dead hair. i had thought about it time and time again, and always ended up a crying mess and couldn't bring myself to make the appointment. i finally did it. i booked an appointment with jeremy and asked him to cut off the dead hair. surprisingly, there was just enough hair for me to have a very short pixie cut with a new color. i never thought i would have short hair as an adult. ever. but, i also now know that you never say never.

jeremy took this picture right after he finished cutting and coloring my hair.

in some ways, it felt like relief because i had carried the weight of that move around with me for a long time and it was painful. in some ways, i was so sad because it signaled the harsh reality that i would never have my same hair again. in some ways, i was scared of how people would think that it looked. in some ways, i didn't really care how people thought it looked. in some ways, i wanted to show it off. in some ways, i wanted to curl up in a little ball and pretend that this wasn't one more thing that would remind me daily that i had cancer.

when i walked in the house that day, my parents and barrett and malena were waiting for me. as soon as i saw my parents, they had tears in their eyes and gave me big hugs and said they loved it. i know it was one of those moments for them too when the reality of their little girl having cancer hit them again. but they had seen what my my hair looked like, so they too knew this was coming. i had cried over this decision with my mom more than once. barrett was of course very supportive too, and malena looked at me and said "mommy got new haircut" and kept going on with her business of playing in her pretend kitchen which was a huge relief to me. i don't think i could have taken it if she hated it. the next day i saw a lot of friends and family when we did the shore walk and everyone was super positive as i knew they would be.

my hair has started to actually grow now, though it isn't the same texture or curly or the same color. but i could let it grow and see what would happen. but i am not sure what i want to do so i will keep it short until i know what to do next. i don't really like it short, but long hair belongs to the person that existed on july 15th 2010. not the person who is writing these words for you to read. i like my hair when i look in the mirror, i really hate it in pictures. i think that maybe the pictures bring the focused reality of looking different than i do in the other 35 years worth of pictures that i have. there are now the pre-cancer and post-cancer pics that are easy to tell the difference between because of how long/short my hair is. that doesn't mean i don't like the pictures, i do since they document a moment i am present in, but i really hate how my hair looks in them.

when someone compliments my hair now, my right hand automatically goes up to the back of my neck. i can't help it. i think that it is just my way of reminding myself that my hair is short, and that i feel the back of my neck, instead of my long curly hair.

i  recently donated my wig back to the cancer care facility since i hadn't used it much and so it can be cleaned and used for other patients. i wanted it to help others, i had no use for it anymore, and i couldn't have it in the house anymore. even when it was put away, i thought about it when i walked by the closet and it was hard on me.

there are still times that i cry because i really miss my hair. there are still times that i have flashbacks of those moments with malena crying. there are still times in the shower that i think about the grueling endless days of holding my hair in my hands in the shower. there are still times that i get sad because of how my hair looks on my camera screen right after i take a picture. there are still times that i wish that i didn't get upset as much as i do sometimes about my hair.

but there are also times that i remind myself that i held my hair in my hands and bawled my eyes out in the shower, i tried on wigs, i put on and got a wig trimmed in public in front of others, i wore a wig in front of people i knew, i wore a wig in front of people i didn't know - and knowing that they could tell i was wearing a wig was not easy because you want to tell them how damn hard it is and that yes you know they can tell you are wearing a wig, i had the remaining dead hair on my end cut off in public in front of others, i have tried my very best to embrace a new haircut that symbolizes a ton of hurt.

but there are also many times that just like my scars - both the physical and emotional ones - my short hair reminds me that i have survived. 

and during those times, i don't think my hair has ever looked better.


  1. Doesn't the story go that Samson got his strength back as his hair started to grow in? Just saying.

  2. I like the short hair.....and I am not just saying that....:)

  3. Thanks for sharing all of that Alli.
    xoxo Em

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