Editor’s Note: This piece was submitted by a contributing writer and does not represent the views of CURE Media Group.
My formative hair years began during Dorothy Hamill’s wedge-cut craze. Even though I couldn’t skate unless clinging desperately to the rails, I daydreamed I could swoop and swirl through life successfully like Hamill. All I needed was the cut. Soon after the 1976 Olympics, I marched into my mother’s salon with a picture of Hamill in arabesque flight, her feathered tresses in perfect airborne symmetry with the arc of her rotation, hoping my stylist would magically transform the less of my hair into more. Of course, she couldn’t. Nor could she transform me into the vision of strength, grace and confidence I saw in Hamill. Wimpy hair, wimpy me, or so I thought.
Afterwards, my “bad hair” days numbered in the thousands. Despite determination and products and tools, my hair was stubbornly limp and fragile.
So, when in my early 40s I learned that I would undergo chemotherapy for Hodgkins lymphoma, I was blindsided by my hair loss anxiety. Hadn’t I always hated my hair? I feared losing my life more—greatly more. Rationally, I knew alocepia was the result of life-saving treatment but, privately, I feared my impending baldness.
My hair began to fall out about two weeks after my first treatment and my family ceremoniously sheared off my chin-length hair. Facing myself in the mirror afterwards was difficult. So I began from the bottom up. I examined my neck, where I’d discovered the original tumor, and marveled at the cancerous swelling’s diminishment. Given such a promising sign, I felt fortunate. I was saving my life. I turned my gaze upwards, at my square jaw, my asymmetrical cheek bones, my dark eyes and broad forehead. Above all these features, stubble peppered my scalp. Some hair remained. I may have resembled a badly plucked chicken, but I loved, as I never had, this remaining stubble, hair that somehow survived the onslaught of chemo. I’d press my hands against its tensile strength and believe, if this hair should survive chemo, so could I.
I didn’t have hair to soften my features. In the mirror, however, I saw a recruit after her first crew cut. And that’s what I needed to be, a soldier. During treatment, I became assertive about many aspects of my life which have remained with me since. I would meet with my doctors with a list of questions in tow—I even negotiated, after considerable research and my oncologist’s consent, a lesser dose of radiation. I met with a dietician for nutritional advice which I duly implemented. I negotiated less hours at work to conserve energy for my son. I exercised every day and even took up running. I began image therapy. I started writing in my journal again. And though I had never dared look at a needle previously, I learned to inject myself with a white blood count booster, so I didn’t have an extra visit to the doctor’s biweekly. (Now, isn’t that bravery?)
That’s not to say I didn’t have bouts of crying or anxiety. I did. But I always found the strength to persevere through the entire regimen of chemotherapy, radiation, testing, and the worst part of all, the uncertainty. Family and friends truly helped with every aspect of my care. However, during treatment, I finally understood, inside me, I had the traits I’d always longed for: strength, confidence, and, yes, even a little bit athleticism.
During treatment, when I’d remove my hat or my wig, and I’d gaze at my scalp stubble, I knew, my hair wasn’t fragile.
Neither was I.
Surviving cancer treatment, even with all our miraculous advancements, is difficult. Nine years later, I’m whole-heartedly grateful to be alive, enjoying my son, husband, family and friends. With my second chance at life, I’m pursuing long-held dreams with the newfound post-cancer courage that always triumphs over my remaining insecurities.
And my hair? Yeah, I’m always sampling the newest product. With my chemo-induced early menopause, my hairline is the only thinning aspect of my body. But, guess what? I haven’t had a bad hair day since cancer. I love my hair, every single strand. My hair is just fine.
So am I.