Tag Archives: baldness

The Invisi-Brow? Been There, Done That

Yesterday’s Globe and Mail featured a preview of the upcoming trends for 2001 in its Style section.  Generally – not being of the mind that style and trendiness are synonymous – I could give two flying hoots about the latest trends. In fact, as I read about the “…cheeky bras over t-shirts…” gracing the runways, all I could think was, Will you please give me a break? Do I want to look like I have underwear dyslexia?

But I was reading the Style page for a reason: because when I picked up the paper, something caught my eye.  Or my eyebrow, I should say.  The banner on the front page encouraged me to check out the Style section to “get set for the year of the invisi-brow.”  Yes, the invisi-brow. As in, no eyebrows.  Models, apparently, are bleaching or otherwise disappearing the fuzzy little caterpillars that reside above each eye in what is giddily billed as “surely the edgiest make-up trend of the season.”  Yeah, okay… or, Surely the most inane, pointless and desperate trend of the season.  (Followed closely by those cheeky bras over t-shirts.)

What to expect next from these daring denizens of the fashion world? The year of the plucked-out eyelashes? Perhaps a celebration of the bikini-ready chemo-zillian, just in time for beach season? (Actually I confess: that one I did count as a cancer perk…saved so much money on waxing!) I feel like writing to the Style reporters to inform them that, avante garde trend-setter that I clearly am, last year was my own personal “year of the invisi-brow” and frankly, it completely sucked.

Or, maybe I’m looking at this all wrong; maybe I’m just bitter because last year when I was bald and blinking dust out of my lash-less, brow-less eyes, nobody thought it was particularly chic. Perhaps I should cut this little clip out of the paper and pass it around the chemo ward on Thursday for all my browless chemo compadres and see what they think. After all, having the fashion world declare a common chemo side effect edgy and desirable might make people feel better about hair loss, if only in that one localized area.  

And anyway, I should be looking for silver linings: it’s entirely possible I’ll be joining the hairless ranks once again – I’m shedding like a husky in July. Though I cringe and get a little teary-eyed at the mere prospect of losing my hair and having that bald cancer-face stare back at me from the mirror again (telling me every day how sick I am) if it must be, so be it.  Time will tell.  If I go bald, at least I know I’ll endure it.  Hell, I may even figure out a way to own it this time – anything to avoid it owning me again. 

Encouragingly, my oncologist says it’s unlikely I’ll lose my hair completely, but she’s not cleaning my hairbrush every day, or seeing my pillow every morning… Mind you, I’ve got lots of it, so I count myself lucky; with what I’ve lost so far, some people would already be dealing with rather barren cranial terrain.  

At least I’ve still got my thick, sumptuous, decidedly visible eyebrows – and trendy or not, I want them to stay exactly where they are.

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Bad Blogger, Bad Dream

Sorry I have been a delinquent blogger, but there have been some developments, ah, developing, and since they’re not yet fully developed I thought it better to wait before I blogged about them. 

How’s that for crypto-babble?

Anyway, in the mean time, allow me to exorcise this demon dream I had last night about losing my hair again.  I went through each step – the knowledge that it was going to fall out, the buzz cut, waking up to a pillow full of hair, and finally, rubbing out the last vestiges of it and turning to face the mirror, seeing myself bald again. It was so real and so devastating that I woke up choking back tears. 

Sometimes people say “it’s only hair!” and that losing it is a small price to pay for saving your life.  I think they should perhaps shave their heads and their eyebrows and pluck out their eyelashes and acquire a life-threatening disease before they say that.  Because when you’re sick and fighting it, looking in the mirror and seeing cancer staring back at you is a hard thing to face, day after day.  That vision of a you that isn’t really you — the hairlessness that is cancer, not choice — can be a devastating and powerful psychological force.  And yet somehow we face it, millions of us.  It’s not the worst thing in the world, I admit, but it’s a horror all the same.

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My Happy Birthday

I had a fabulous birthday that began with Georgia singing Happy Birthday very beautifully and very off-key while she was sitting on the toilet.  Then, at her rather inspired suggestion we all wore party hats leftover from her birthday while we had breakfast together. A little later my mom picked me up and we went to the spa (facial for me, massage for her – today is her birthday! Happy Birthday mummy!!  I love you!) followed by a lovely lunch complete with laughter, tears, and really nice chablis.  

My e-mail inbox was full of birthday wishes and I received calls from several different time zones, including various birthday serenades (in both official languages – impressive!) After a nap and a hot bath, my husband and Georgia came home – she carrying a big bunch of bright orange flowers, and he bringing me gorgeous lingerie & champagne (which, I think we can all agree, go extremely well together.) 

This husband of mine.  He still manages to find me attractive and make me feel beautiful even after I lost all my hair, grew back someone else’s, had a large port implanted in my chest (it looks like I lost a coat button under my skin) and got all carved up and scarred.  The fact that he brings me lingerie makes me want to cry with gratitude: it means he doesn’t see the cancer first — he sees me as a woman first – a whole, and hopefully totally foxy, woman. 

But instead of crying with gratitude I jumped up and down like a hopped-up jack russell terrier and kissed him about 100 times. Then I played with Georgia while he cooked me dinner and we drank champagne. 

Totally dreamy birthday.  Keep ’em coming, I say.

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Grey Hairs and Cockroaches

So my hair is coming back with a vengeance.  Everywhere, if you catch my drift.  Loss of body hair was one of those rare things, The Cancer Perk. (Actually I can’t think of any others, except the kindness of strangers and maybe the disabled parking pass you can get for the duration of treatment.*) 

 

When all my hair disappeared I was too busy feeling like crap to fully appreciate not having to shave/wax/pluck/laser… And anyway, I don’t think the chemo-zilian ever really compensated for going bowling-ball bald up top.  Not that I’m complaining – I am absolutely thrilled that my hair is growing and especially that my eyelashes are back. I just forgot how much work it is clear-cutting forests and keeping stray eyebrows away from the chin area.

 

And while being not bald is in itself truly fantastic, I do kind of feel like I’m wearing someone else’s haircut now. Someone with dark, really short hair. Someone with a few GREY hairs.  

 

I don’t know if the grey has materialized due to the stress of having cancer or just because I’m no longer 22, but it is not welcome. The effrontery!  Like I haven’t endured enough.  In retaliation I’ve dyed my hair and when those pesky little greys reappear, I’ll pluck ‘em out one by one and show ‘em not the slightest mercy. 

 

And yes, I have been warned (repeatedly) that “if you pluck one grey hair out, six more show up in its place,” but I refuse to buy in.  I gave up believing in myths like that after a lifetime of blindly accepting my mother’s famous Cockroach Theory, which goes like this: Even if you separate its disgusting little body into several pieces, a cockroach has the ability to regenerate, or somehow drag itself back into one piece.  I truly believed this, and as a result lived in more-than-average fear of roaches, thinking them not just gross but supernaturally evil.  That is, until one day in a quite nasty Moroccan hotel, when my then-boyfriend and I could not succeed in whacking to death a particularly terrifying cockroach.  The thing was almost as big as the shoe we were trying to use as the murder weapon. We would stun it, assume it was dead and stare at it in horror and disgust, deliberating about how to dispose of the body – when suddenly it would begin to twitch again. Before we knew it, la cucaracha was straightening out its crunched up little legs and speeding across the floor again, with then-boyfriend and shoe in hot pursuit. Obviously we had no choice: we had to hack it up.  Suffice to say the memory haunts me still, but at least once hacked up the thing stayed hacked up, and my mom’s famous Cockroach Theory was forever debunked.

 

And so it shall be with the grey hairs: I’ll get them out and they will not be instantly replaced with six grieving relatives. No mercy!  I mean business, just ask the Moroccan cockroaches.

 

*How to get the Parking Permit:  You go pick up the temporary disability permit forms at your local vehicle licensing office.  Your doctor signs them, and a temporary permit is issued immediately.  You will no longer have to pay for metered parking every single time you go to the hospital.  You will save a fortune. This tip came from Erella Ganon – and if it helps you, please join me in saying a little prayer for her every time you park for free. She has a tumour in her brain.

 

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Miracle Grow

Behold the growth! Seriously, I feel like a well-watered chia pet.

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Losing It

Back when I was told that I would have chemo, the idea of losing my hair terrified me. Not constant nausea or exhaustion or even premature menopause – baldness was the most daunting of all the side effects. 

Apparently a lot of women feel this way.  Hair can be a primary part of our self-image.  It can communicate things about our identity (“Professional,”  “Soccer Mom,” “Vixen,” “Hockey Fan”); it can complement our outfits or reflect our moods; it can even be a kind of camouflage.

For me, there was the notion that once I lost my hair, my cancer would become public knowledge.  Bald head = cancer.  It was a symbolic of loss of control, and I dreaded it deeply.

As it turned out the process of losing it was harder than the loss of it.  It went from long to gone in a relatively short time, and with it finally gone, there was some genuine relief.  Herewith, the illustrated play-by-play:

1. I had long hair.  It was July and normally my hair falls out like crazy in the summer anyway, but this time my shedding surpassed that of the average golden retriever. And it was changing in texture, becoming a frizzy, tangled mess. (That’s me on the left, obviously) 

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2. One evening a friend came over to chop it down to size. It was a gorgeous evening, and my husband opened a nice bottle of wine for liquid courage while we sat out on the back deck.  Glasses were emptied, the deck was strewn with hair, the sun set — and in the end I really liked this cute, super-short haircut that I would only have for a few days.  

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3. But oh, the infernal itching… the coming out in clumps.  It was driving me mad. Just days after my short haircut, friends and their clippers were enlisted to give me a buzz cut. They draped me in a sheet in their kitchen and I was transformed again, more radically this time.  I actually found it liberating – it wasn’t a look that had fallen into my lexicon of “sexy” but I took it as a big compliment later in the week when a gay woman I know warned me to stay away from lesbian bars if I didn’t want to attract unwanted attention.

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4. Even buzzed, the shedding continued at an alarming rate.  I carried a lint roller around with me and kept one by the bed for my pillows.  Adding injury to insult, the roots hurt a little as the hair came out.  I knew it had to go completely.  A brave friend offered a head massage to get rid of the remaining hair. 

This was the final step between looking like someone who has perhaps chosen a radically short haircut, and someone who is bald because she has cancer. When I showered the last of the hair away, there was nothing left but blond fuzz and a bizarre tan line where my part used to be.  I will never forget looking in the mirror that first time.  No more denying it: I was bald, because of cancer.

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5. These days I wear scarves a lot and sometimes go al fresco, depending on who’s around.  I really like turbans – I call myself The Turbanator.

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Our daughter doesn’t seem to care about my new look, probably because we had repeatedly told her I was going to cut all my hair off “to look like Grandpa”, and to a two year old there’s nothing weird about that.  As for the rest of the world, I’ve learned that most of the time I don’t care if strangers realize that I’m bald because of cancer under my scarves.  I do have cancer.  That’s just the reality. 

When it grows back I wonder if I’ll treasure my hair more or take it less seriously than I did before? (If nothing else, cancer can do wonders for vanity.) Either way, there are worse things than having cancer strip you of your hair, scarier demons to face with this illness.  It’s not that cancer isn’t terrifying, but that baldness doesn’t have to be. 

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