originally published September 12, 2009
My friend Andrea found out she needs to have chemo. I cried a lot the day I found that out. Last night she emailed me that she was thinking about the whole “losing her hair” thing. She has gorgeous hair. Thick. Straight. Reddish-brown, in the sun I’d say it has a honey shine in it. She usually wears it back in a ponytail, as she says, “taking it for granted.”
I started writing her back to tell her that focusing on her hair wasn’t silly. There are many things about cancer that are real worries. One of them is going bald. Especially for a woman. And as I typed to her I realized the words were flowing fast and furious.
I realized all the things people had said to me when I was worried about losing my hair and all of the things people had said to me after it eventually happened.
Everyone wants to reassure you that it isn’t as bad as you think it is.
Some days you convince yourself it isn’t that bad.
Some days you are sure they are all lying to you.
Either way, you get through the days.
The day you take that hat or wig or scarf off and wear your newly-grown stubble or “mouse fur” out in public is a great day (My first hair was so fine and soft and thin that it didn’t resemble hair at all… I called it mouse fur because while it blissfully covered my head and was dark, it couldn’t be cut or styled).
So, for my friend, and for other women who are getting ready to start chemo (and those who bravely walk through the world every day without hair because of alopecia and other conditions), no matter what, it matters.
No matter what anyone says…
all the things they will say:
It’s only hair.
It’ll grow back.
You’ll look so pretty anyway.
With a face like yours it won’t matter.
We’ll get you a cute wig.
We’ll get great scarves.
It’ll grow back in no time.
Maybe it’ll be better after it grows in.
It might be curly.
It might be straight.
I know someone whose hair came in gray.
I know someone whose hair came in red.
I know someone whose hair came in black.
I know someone whose hair came in white.
Hers came in curly.
Hers came in straight.
Did you see hers?
It looks great.
Did you see hers?
It looks awful.
I like her better with short hair.
I liked her better with long hair.
You’re gonna look great.
I don’t know what I’d do.
I don’t know how you do it.
I don’t know how you’re gonna do it.
You are so brave.
You are so strong.
You can do it.
You can beat this.
No matter what anyone says–
It is just going to suck.
You may shed many tears over this one.
It may be harder than you thought.
I’ve heard brave women say it was harder than the actual chemo.
Reports show women actually turn down the chemotherapy they need because they don’t want to go bald.
If it weren’t,
Women wouldn’t cover their heads.
They would just walk around bald.
They wouldn’t care.
But hair matters.
To our kids,
To our husbands,
To our friends.
My hair has never been the same since chemo.
I’m not alone in that.
My hair now grows “the other way”…
My part is on the opposite side of my head than it used to be.
I think that’s kind of neat.
There’s the way my hair was B.C. (before cancer)
And the way it is now.
It is a big deal.
Don’t let anyone minimize it.
If they do, make them go shave their heads.
Not just clipper cut.
Straight razor shave it until there’s nothing left.
Then the eyebrows.
Then the eyelashes.
And then the stuff they might not think about.
Every piece of body hair.
Of course there are jokes.
The Brazilian wax done for you.
But not so funny.
Then when your nose hairs fall out you suddenly realize how
Much you needed them.
Your nose runs constantly.
And it’s embarrassing.
Mine dripped clear liquid constantly.
I was so embarrassed.
No one had told me about that part.
I had a tissue stuffed in every pocket.
Because there were no hairs to stop the drip.
You try to imagine what it will be like.
You try to picture what you will look like bald.
You pull your hair back,
Slick it back,
Try a wig on to see what it might look like.
But nothing can prepare you.
For that crappy day,
Two weeks in.
When you scratch an itch
Or touch your head
And take away a handful of hair
Or find it on your pillow.
And the sight of it is so sad,
But so disgusting
That you need it gone.
And then if you need me
You will call me.
And I will come.
And I will cut it.
Or maybe I will just come and cry with you.
And remember what it felt like.
No matter what anyone says,
It isn’t nothing.
It is something.
And even in the scheme of all of the things to be afraid of with cancer,
How you feel about losing your hair is real.
And I remember.