Day 19: The woman in the ivory knit cap

January 19th, 2013 § 8 comments

I wrote this back in 2010. Just like in this week’s “I think so too” I decided to think about the history of an object.


I took my friend Brenda out to lunch for her birthday today. While we were sharing an appetizer, a group of four people entered the restaurant: three men dressed in business attire accompanied a woman with a knit cap on. I realized in an instant she was bald underneath that covering and postulated that the hat would not be coming off.

They took off their coats and sat down at the table. I watched them for a while, from a distance, across the restaurant. Indeed, the hat did not come off. She was bald, most certainly, and likely undergoing chemotherapy.1 My mind started to wander, and I started to wonder. Was she at a business lunch and able to keep working during this crisis? Was she done with treatment and waiting for her hair to grow back in or was she on an “off week” of chemo when food might be somewhat appealing?

I kept looking at her hat. It was freezing cold out today, so it wasn’t particularly out of place. But I kept staring at it. It looked handknit. Had someone she knew made it for her? Had she gotten it from the basket at the cancer center where people knit and donate hats for patients?

I wonder what she’ll do with the hat when her hair grows back in: will she throw it away? Burn it? Give it to someone else who needs it? After wearing those head coverings day after day, you don’t want to lay eyes on them again. After my hair grew back, I saved my scarves for a friend’s sister who was set to start chemo shortly after I finished. I recently saw pictures of her wearing them. It’s odd to see them, associated with so many memories for me, on her head too. Now I have the scarves back, and some have already been lent to another member of the club.

My wig, worn twice, is packed away in the basement. I will soon donate it to a charity that provides wigs to women who can’t afford them. I hate that wig. I hate what it looks like. I hate how it feels. I hate how I looked in it. Twice I wore it, and I had to keep from tearing it off every second it was on my head. It wasn’t me; I felt like someone else in it. But I just can’t get rid of it yet. It’s like a trophy for walking through the fire.

I wonder if that woman I saw at lunch today feels like that. She and her group finished their meals and left before I did. I was really sorry I didn’t get to tell her that her hat looked great on her.


  1. of course, it may have been from alopecia instead []

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§ 8 Responses to Day 19: The woman in the ivory knit cap"

  • Mary says:

    I also had a wig that I wore TWICE. I paid over $1,000 for it. I wore it at my son’s wedding and my daughter’s graduation from college. I HATED IT. I never felt like me in that wig. Sadly, I am keeping it since I am Stage IV. I imagine down the road I will have to wear it again.

    I liked my knit caps. I didn’t like scarves. I had 100% cotton knit caps in several colors. I remember when I bought them, the salesperson said, “Oh honey, these are only for wearing in the house and answering the door.” I disagreed and those knit caps became my signature. I wore them everywhere. I am keeping those too!

    I always make an effort to compliment a woman on her cap or scarf. My hair is coming in silver right now and is about 3 inches long. (I kinda look like Don King!). I never know how to respond to someone who compliments me on the color or cut. Do I explain I colored my hair brown for years, I didn’t choose this style and this is a result of 4 months of chemotherapy? Or do I smile and say, “Thank you.” I don’t know why I feel an explanation is necessary. In all honesty, I like my hair this color and style. I am beyond worrying about my hair anymore.

    Be well, all day and every day, Lisa. Thank you for sharing this excellent post.

  • Amy Coulter says:

    I have been debating the whole “wig” thing and I just can’t do it. My nurse says by my second treatment I will probably be losing my hair. I just don’t feel the need to try to hide it. I don’t doubt it will be distressing, and I know I am no Sinead O’Connor who can rock the whole bald thing. But it is my choice. More and more I notice the choices I make now are to make those who care about me feel better and I just can’t do that now. I imagine the more “normal” I look the more comfortable they feel. Less worried. But I need to feel comfortable and I am ready for sleep caps and beautiful scarves and hats to keep warm. My husband bought clippers so he could shave my head when it’s time. I like that. He says he wants to shave his too. Solidarity.
    I’m so grateful for the beautiful scarves and cap you sent me. I am washing them like you said so they will be nice and soft! Love you!

  • I’m three and a half years past my diagnosis of stage IVb cervical cancer – I’m a little ashamed that I was disappointed when my oncologist said I would not lose my hair from the chemo. How would people know I was sick – very sick and fighting for my life? My hair, which I’ve always worn short, thinned some – but not enough to be a telltale sign. I’ve also always been on the very large size so the weight loss while rapid and extreme (for me) was not a give away either. My color was off, my frailty was up and my usual hilarity and energy was down – friends and family knew I had cancer but out in the world I had no badge of courage.

  • Tamara Rice says:

    Four years after I last wore it, my favorite chemo wig is still around here … most recently on the living room floor after my husband wore it to make the kids laugh. My wig has been on nearly everyone I know. One day I looked outside when my kids were younger and half the neighborhood kiddos were trying it on. I’m not sure I can ever part with it, as strange as that sounds.

    I had two wigs. The more expensive of the two I gave to friend in need. Like many, I thought they itched like crazy, so I rarely wore them. It was summer. I was hot and sick and couldn’t be bothered.

    I appreciate when women can rock the scarf or a little hat, not just because it’s what I did, but because in the same way that wearing black used to signify that a family was in mourning, that little scrap of fabric on your head can tell others that you are in a season of pain. Some like to keep that private. And I understand. But I appreciated the bits of kindness that were shown to me when I went out wigless, especially from other survivors, who might never have spoken to me otherwise, and as a result encouraged me greatly. I make it a point to talk to women who appear to be in chemo. Usually I am so glad–and more importantly THEY seem glad–that I did. Only once did it backfire. (No, she really DID like her hair that short and that color, and, yes, it was a bit like asking a round-bellied woman if she’s pregnant and being wrong.) I was a bit gun shy after that one and have worked harder on my opening line … I can tell you that!

    • I mostly wore hats, but sometimes wore a wig at work to look “normal” for new clients. Yes, I worked part-time during chemo due to necessity and thanks to a very flexible employer. As for the wig, I mentioned to someone that I’d be donating my wig to a nearby cancer support organization. She said, “But the wig is a part of you.” What?! If chemo brain was at work in this conversation, it wasn’t on my end!

  • Stephanie Bosch says:

    My mother-in-law made a beautifull patchwork piece from all the bandanna,s I wore.

  • Jennifer says:

    My Mother in Law cut my hair before it fell out and then attached it to velcro. She put velcro inside a soft hat I bought so I could attach my hair to it. I then could wear my very own hair during my chemo journey. Words can’t express my gratitude for that gift.

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