Losing My Hair, Gaining New Perspective
"Losing your hair is a painless part of cancer treatment, but it can be challenging."
BY Donna Hicks
PUBLISHED October 07, 2019
Losing your hair is a painless part of cancer treatment, but it can be challenging. A wig can allow you to look normal to strangers, but it is not enough to make you feel normal. My wig was comfortable but still the last thing I put on before I left the house and first thing that came off when I returned. A friend told me I should name my wig, and my daughter dubbed mine Harriet.
Near the end of my six months of chemotherapy, my husband and I decided to take a short vacation. I didn’t want to have to pack or wear Harriet. When we checked in at the hotel, I wore my soft, purple cap -- my first time in public without my wig, outside of the cancer center. The clerk would not make eye contact with me. She was pleasant as could be, but she only looked at my husband. Same thing happened at the restaurant we went to that evening. The server took my order and smiled, but she didn’t look me in the eyes.
Both of these women were kind. I believe they didn’t want me to feel uncomfortable, so they didn’t look at me. I felt invisible. How sad to live like this all the time, never able to make eye contact with others. People avoid staring, but in doing so, avoid seeing and accepting.
My hair grew back quickly. Soon, I had bangs -- or maybe a bang. I gave Harriet away. Two months later I found out my triple negative breast cancer had spread to my brain. I asked my radiation oncologist the side effects of full brain radiation. She sat in front of a computer on a stool with wheels. She wheeled over and placed her hands on my knees. In those few seconds, the possibilities ran through my brain: I would lose the ability to talk, walk, understand, remember, think.
“You’re going to lose your hair again,” she said to me solemnly.
I breathed. I could handle that. I bought another wig, and this one stayed nameless. That novelty had worn off. When my hair finally started to grow back, it grew back unevenly, based on how much radiation each area on my head had received.
I had a cool mohawk. Actually, it was a reverse mohawk, which isn’t as cool apparently. Finally, even my last bald spot filled in. My hair was still thin in several places, but it felt great to be out and about without my wig. I had been wearing a wig 18 of the last 24 months. I just loved the idea of getting out of bed with my hair already on my head. I knew from then on, I would never have what I used to call a bad hair day. If I woke up with hair, any hair, it would be a good day.
My growing hair was symbolic to me of my possible recovery. The next week, I was walking to my car after my doctor’s appointment where I found out my follow-up brain MRI was clear of cancer. A gust of wind hit suddenly. I instinctively reached up to hold my wig but then remembered I wasn’t wearing a wig. I could feel the wind blowing my hair, short as it was. It felt glorious!
People around me bent down against the wind. But me, if I’d had my wig with me, I would have thrown it up in the air, slow motion like Mary Tyler Moore. “You’re gonna make it after all!”