When my friends, family, and I learned I had cancer and would need chemotherapy, all of us made comments similar to, “Well at least you've been bald before.”
Yup. I’ve been bald before. The middle school where I used to teach hosts an annual Sub-4-Santa fundraiser. The student body officers would often ask if any teachers would be willing to shave their head as an incentive to encourage the students to donate. Inspired by my brave colleagues who had participated in previous years, coupled with a healthy spark of insanity, I volunteered as tribute in December 2011. The price set on my hair: $14,000. The amazingly generous students and school community raised $18,668! During the winter celebration assembly, I said "Auf Wiedersehen!" to my tresses and donated them to Locks of Love.
Skip forward two-and-a-half years to the not so distant past of March 2014, approximately one month before my diagnosis. I remember thinking to myself, “I’m glad I shaved my hair, but I would never do it again...unless I was supporting a friend or if I got cancer” (because you never know what the future will bring).
Ha ha, universe.
Honestly, being bald before doesn’t make being bald again that much easier.
I’ve cried. A lot. I’ve prayed for a rare, magical exception that my hair might stay. Looking at hats, head scarves, and wigs online gives me the heebie jeebies. Those are for cancer patients. Not me.
Below are a few thoughts I've had regarding the pros and cons of being bald
before and again.
The Pros of Being Bald Before:
★ I know what to expect when my hair grows back. I already know how to navigate all of the awkward in-between phases.
★ I know to communicate with my hair stylist. This is good advice for anyone in general, and extremely important for someone who wants to grow their hair out. Quick tip: Remind your hair stylist each time you visit what your goal is, otherwise s/he will forget and hack off the two inches you grew over the summer.
★ I already know I look great no matter what length of hair I have. Or what color.
★ The May 2012 hair style is my favorite. I prefer my hair length anywhere below the chin and above the shoulder. For the fundraiser, I deliberately grew my hair out for a year to make the cut more dramatic. If everything goes according to plan, I'll be back to feeling like "myself" within two years.
★ BEST OF ALL: I owned it! During the first few weeks of baldness, I overcompensated my loss of femininity by wearing floral ribbons, dangling earrings, and petite necklaces. For example:
I never had any intention of
wearing a wig and hats were uncomfortable to wear indoors. My make-up stayed about
the same: purple eyeshadow, pale pink blush, tinted chap stick. One of my
friends commented that the adornment was too much, and I had to agree. Upon her
advice, one day I took off all the trinkets and wore minimal eye make-up.
Then I walked through a store. As I pushed through my initial discomfort, I
realized I am more than my hair. I am and always will be me. My appearance will not
change that. I wish every woman could shave her hair and experience the liberation I felt in that
|Meh. Not bad. Still, too much frou-frou.|
|Simplicity is beautiful!|
The Cons of Being Bald Before:
● I’ve already done it. I don’t want to do it again. In the year following shaving my locks, I can't tell you how many dreams I had in which I suddenly had shoulder-length hair again and was all too sad waking up to short, short hair.
● It took over two years before I had enough courage to watch the videos of my buzz cut. Two years! That's how bothered I was. I only watched the videos a couple months ago because my little nephew was bored and I thought he might like them. Then once more in preparation for this blog post.
● Less than a year ago I finally got my hair back to a length that was “me.” I remember standing in front of a mirror and feeling like Amanda had returned. Sure, I had accepted that my hair is not the only defining aspect of my identity, yet our hair is still a significant part of how we present ourselves. Now I have to re-retire my cute hair clips and bobby pins. I basically have to lose myself again. Grr!
The Cons of Being Bald Again:
● I had planned on growing it out once more and donating to Locks of Love. Looks like that won't happen for a while.
● When I was bald the first time, several people asked if I had cancer. It brought me smug pleasure to say, "No, I shaved it for charity." I think the part I hate most about losing my hair this time is that it labels me. I won't get to smirk—at least not in the same way.
● Chemo-bald is not the same as a close shave. Last time, I still had a teensy bit of hair on my noggin. My hair started growing back right away. This time, I have to wait until all of my treatments are done, which means at least six months of looking like a bowling ball.
● I still had eyebrows! The probability of losing my eyebrows and eyelashes makes chemo-bald less tolerable. Chemo affects all fast-growing cells, which includes all the hair follicles on your body from head to toe. And I mean every. single. one.
● Toddler temper tantrum moment: I don't want to wait two more years until I feel like myself again!
The Pros of Being Bald Again
★ New experience! The first time I was actually disappointed I wasn't more bald; I was totally willing to lather my head with shaving cream and take a Gillette Mach5 to it. Looks like I get my wish!
★ I get a second chance at creating a picture-a-day montage documenting the return of my hair. The first attempt was kind of a flop.
★ As devastated as I am to be bald again, I am absolutely fascinated by the hair loss process. I cannot bring myself to shave my hair again, no matter how close I get to looking like Gollum (which is pretty darn close right now).
★ Because the process fascinates me, I've been able to document it. Another post soon to follow with day-by-day pictures. Here is a preview of the beginning phases from last week:
★ Alopeica has its benefits. I'm still waiting for the hairs on my legs to fall off. And hopefully my annoying chin hairs will give me a break. Oo, and those pesky armpit hairs. Fall out already! At least give me a clean-cut summer!
★ I WILL OWN IT AGAIN! As much as I've cried, I have laughed waaay more. Gollumanda looks hilarious. I'm thinking of creating some Victorian hair art with the locks I've lost, maybe something steampunky. A friend and I recently found some adorable hats and even a wig that fit my style and don't shout, "Cancer girl!" In true Amanda modus operandi, I am having fun, making fun, and creating fun.
Upon reviewing my lists I've discovered my pros outnumber my cons. That's awesome!
However, I'm still sad about losing my hair. And you know what? It’s okay to be sad! It's healthy to take time to mourn a loss. Grieving is part of the process just as much as laughing is.
I know people mean well when they say things like "it's just hair" or "it's a small price to pay" or "it will grow back." If that's the case—and if anyone believes those sayings—then I invite them to shave their head in solidarity with me.
Go on...I'll wait while you get the scissors...
My guess is, suddenly it's not "just hair" anymore. Don't worry. I don't expect anyone to shave their hair. People around me have been incredibly supportive in a variety of ways and I do not want to discount their efforts. I just wanted to point out that hair loss, among chemo's many other side effects, is not an easy price to pay...even if I've already been bald before.
So instead of inviting people to shave their hair, I invite them to laugh and cry with me!
I'm grateful I am more prepared than most. I'm grateful I can pull handfuls of hair out and be amazed rather than horrified. In addition to my completely healthy and understandable sorrow, I am totally ready to be bald again.
I mean, who wouldn't want to be bald when they wake up looking like this:
I mean, who wouldn't want to be bald when they wake up looking like this: