Cancer is hard, no doubt about it. Once the term ‘cancer’ is associated with YOU, your life is immediately changed and and your sense of control is lost. If your treatment plan includes chemotherapy, that loss of control is amplified by the crazy long list of potential side effects that you may or may not have to contend with.
For many women (and men), chemo is made even more challenging if you experience hair loss. Now not only have you lost control over your life, but you are forced to adapt to a change in self-image and trying to make this new “look” fit within society’s beauty standards.
Within minutes of being told I had cancer I was informed I would require chemo (to start within two weeks) and that I would be losing my hair. I got choked up–not because of losing my hair–I truly believed that “it’s just hair and it would grow back”– but when my surgeon phrased it as “your beautiful curly hair” and said it at the very same time as Steve did (and he was stroking my hair when he said it), I found it hard. I felt pressure, but from what, I wasn’t clear of at the time.
Now I’ve never been a glam girl. If I’m going to work or to somewhere fancy, the extent of my cosmetics ritual is eyeshadow and mascara. On my day off? no brainer: no makeup. However I loved my low maintenance-wash-and-go curly hair. But since I was informed it was going to fall out, in an act of defiance I took control of the situation and took it off myself.
I went into this whole “no hair” business with an attitude of ‘I’m going to rock my bald head’. But when the time came I found the ‘rocking’ a lot harder than I expected it to be. I would catch myself in the mirror and be reminded that I had cancer (yes, I’d often forget this important fact). So showing off my bald head in public? That only brought sad eyes from strangers – that’s if they didn’t look away first. The exception was if they had been through this themselves, in which case they give you a steely look of recognition for being part of this shitty club.
But there is support out there…
The hospital offers a free Look Good Feel Better workshop for women with cancer. It covers skin care, makeup application, and different ways to deal with hair loss (wigs, scarves and hats). I signed up and was told to bring a friend, and since my daughter Katie was flying in that afternoon she came with me. Katie ended up sitting across from me against the wall and she would give me feedback via facial expressions, hand gestures and the occasional text message. And OH.MY.GOD. we laughed.
The highlight: I still had a few eyebrow hairs left so I knew where to draw the eyebrows on (sort of). Since I’m left-handed I was able to get my left brow down perfectly (though when I put the pencil to it a brow hair fell out and I was PISSED). However when I came to do my right brow I completely blew it. Katie was killing herself laughing and the cosmeticians immediately gave her dirty looks then rushed to help me fix it, but all the other cancer ladies around the table started laughing with me because IT WAS FUNNY! And then Katie forwarded me a page from College Humor (below is the video version):
I of course laughed out loud at each baby with crazy eyebrows, as did the ladies around me! Except for the cosmeticians. I’d like to think they were outwardly respectful but inwardly laughing.
I left with more makeup on my face than I’d ever worn in my life, but I actually didn’t look overly done up, and it made me appear less wan and tired. I did try to go through the makeup regime a few times in the days that followed but honestly it seemed to require far more work and energy than I had. And once my eyelashes and eyebrows were completely gone and I looked like a frog, I pretty much gave up trying to ‘improve’ my look. I’d already decided that the wigs and scarves weren’t for me, so I made the decision to rock the frog in a hat look.
I felt some guilt for not being as brave about my baldness as I thought I was going to be. Truthfully, having no hair means my head is always cold…until I have a hot flash and then I’m grateful for wearing a hat since it helps to soak up the sweat that would otherwise be pouring down my face and back.
Steve was super proud of how I was coping with cancer AND with my bald head and he encouraged me to show if off more. I don’t think I was ever really able to articulate properly that I feel it’s easier for men because baldness in men is so prevalent, and bald men in our society are not considered any less attractive.
As far as I know there are NO bald female celebrities. There are many female celebrities who shave their heads for roles or when in terrible crises:
These women are all stunning with shaved heads, but they (almost) always grow their hair back. It’s considered brave for these women to go bald for a role since hair is a cornerstone of female beauty. Remember as a child, if you cut off Barbie’s hair you needed a new Barbie because she was ruined!?!
My hat goes off (ok not as often as I’d like) to women who weren’t given the choice to be bald due to cancer or alopecia, and who have the grace and courage to rock their bald heads ❤️
Now let’s go back to this for a second…