This morning I woke up to mounds of soft hair all over my lovely white pillowcase. Gross. It’s been seven years since I experienced this – one of the most dehumanizing side effects of chemotherapy: total hair loss. And here we are again. I knew it was coming. I’ve been to this movie before. So I have to wonder why it affects my psyche so profoundly, so differently than all the other nightmares that befall the human body during “treatment.”
For example, just two weeks ago I was as sick as I can ever remember being in my life. Completely broken. The cocktail I am on is extremely toxic and once in my bloodstream, it did its best (including landing me in the ER with a fever over 102) to try to kill me. Seriously, that is what it feels like. It’s as if it is programmed to determine how many bodily functions can it break simultaneously and still keep you alive. Barbaric. But that was two weeks ago. And at least I still had my hair.
I realize and appreciate full well that the chemo is supposed to be eviscerating the tumors in my liver and chest and help me extend my survival. This is the goal of course, and it does not ever escape me. Even when I am so miserable I can’t answer a text because the backlighting on my phone makes me nauseous, I hang on to that threadbare shred of hope. So in the wake of all this misery, how can it be that my hair, my ridiculous, magically disappearing hair, has made me so depressed and pathetic today?
Because, dear reader, sick as I am, I still care what I look like. There. I said it. Vanity, thy name is me. I have been programmed my whole life to care deeply about what I look like; my hair, my skin, my nails, the works. I am an unapologetic fashionista. I love looking at beautiful things. I like to make myself beautiful. It’s absurd. I’m fighting for my life, or rather, to extend my life, and a pillow full of hair quietly reminding me that it’s time to shave my head again, destroyed me. Full throttle tears.
I don’t care how hard you or anyone else tries to make a bald head synonymous with “strength” or the soul of a “fighter.” I don’t care if you, other cancer survivors out there, “embrace” your new visage or think cool earrings will really make a difference in how you feel about yourself. This is me; and it makes me look old and sick, full stop. I have an amazing husband who I still want to look nice for. I have friends and family that I don’t want to scare and make uncomfortable. Yes, I can wear a wig. But c’mon, it’s a fucking WIG. And for pete’s sake, it’s cold outside. So now I have to wear one of those hideous soft caps to stay warm, that no one, I don’t care who you are, can rock. It’s physically impossible. (I don’t have them often but when I throw a Pity Party, it’s a rager.)
So when I stop hyperventilating, I try to make sense of this. I used to be a beautiful woman on the outside. And now I have breast cancer. Again. So I have to make peace with all annoyingly balanced people who say and believe that beauty is really on the inside; that it’s only what’s in your heart that matters. Even though I know this to be true (on my good days) and I am sure I will come around to believing it again, today it sounds ….well, lame. Because it does not change the sad fact that we are still, after all these years, battling this disease with surgery and harsh poison. It doesn’t change the fact that today, I have to breathe in and accept another loss in my world as a woman, a human being. Nor will it change that I am going to look like a scary chemo-zombie for the next few months while I wade through this new round of “treatment.”
So despite all the platitudes I know will be in my future from well-meaning loved ones and total strangers staring pitifully at my head – I will still miss all my pretty hair.