Anyone else have those days when you just can’t do a thing with your hair?…. too frizzy, too straight, too curly, too bald?
Having spent the best part of 2 years as a bald adult, bad hair days don’t seem so much of a drama anymore. I remember the pressure of being a teenage girl and setting my alarm at 6.30am so I could get a start on my hair. It would have been washed the night before and set in sponge rollers or plaits all night to give my poker straight hair some curls, next move would have been to scrape it back into a high ponytail using the strongest hair gel on the market to ensure I achieved the much coveted 90’s pineapple look, yet by the end of the school day it would again be a knotted scruffy mess with fluffy side hair and an awful crunchy texture. Although I continually tried, I was never, and will never be, one of the neat and tidy girls who looked as perfect at 8.30am as they did at 3pm… far too busy smoking some stale John Player Specials that one of the boys nicked off his Dad round the back of the art block!
After my school days I lost the will to preen, my lovely, thick, dark, long and shiny hair was relegated to a slightly matted ponytail/knot on the top of my head, and there it stayed for years. Occasionally it would get a very painful brushing and I’d wear it down, only to be tied up again within 10mins, having either got it stuck to my lipcote (90’s glue used to keep lipstick in place) or accidentally setting fire to it whilst trying to light a fag in the car while driving. I had no idea how lucky I was to have such a lustrous barnet, and hands up, I totally took it for granted.
Friends would complain about their hair, the colour, the thickness, the style. They’d spend a fortune in the hair-dressers, straightening, perming, chopping and blow drying, all the while mine was left neglected and slowly dread-locking, little did I know that one day I would be faced with losing it all.
After a few years spent cultivating the bird’s nest on top of my head, I found myself reading a brightly coloured leaflet in a beige waiting room all about the possible side effects of chemotherapy.
“Many people will lose either some or all of their hair as a result of treatment for breast cancer. For some, this is the most distressing side effect of treatment.”
Breast Cancer Care
Well, not for me…. I’m not for one moment suggesting it was easy, just not the worst part of my personal breast cancer journey. My No. 1 over-riding fear, the one that tormented me at 3am, was suffering a long and painful death, like I’d watched my Mum go through only 3 years previously. I know everyone is different, but I do have to admit at the time I did struggle to understand how hair loss could be the “WORST” part of a person’s breast cancer experience.
One of the very few good things about spending time in a chemotherapy department is meeting other people in an environment where you feel freer to discuss the ins and outs of being a baldy. I learnt that hair is so much more than vanity to some, hair loss can make a person feel that they look, and will be treated like a victim, that they are unable to command respect in the work place or even worse, frighten or worry their family. I was very fortunate to have my point of view (and a really nice shaped head), that if losing my hair was to be part of a treatment plan that could save or extend my life, of which I was loving, then fuck it, who needs hair!!
The Shit Bits:
- Getting the best haircut you’ve ever had knowing it’ll be gone in 3 weeks. (Thank-you Hannah)
- Getting the 2nd best haircut you’ve ever had knowing your losing it in a week. (Thank-you Shaun)
- Wigs… they are itchy, sweaty and pretty much always look like wigs unless you have a hairdresser in your pocket… sorry, but they do.
- Looking like a giant baby.
- The cat’s sudden obsession with licking my head??
- The cold, the sun, the rain…. most weather.
- Other people.
In my personal experience some “other people” have an incredible capacity to be ignorant knobs. Is there seriously a single adult left in the UK, or any other country in the whole world for that matter, that doesn’t know that hair loss is often a symptom of cancer treatment?… And is there a single adult left that’s life has not been affected in some way by cancer?… So how is it ever funny or okay to stare and whisper about a bald woman in her 30’s trying to eat a margarita pizza in peace? I dealt with the kids gawking, they are after all just kids, I could even deal with a close friends lovely little girl refusing to talk to, or even look at me until I covered my head (I may have had a little cry in the car on the way home)… But as for anyone else, you have no defence!!. I’ll accept a double take, I did look a bit weird, I’ll accept an extended glance as long as it’s accompanied with a smile or the knowing look of a fellow cancer patient or carer of one, you grow to recognize the “look”…. but blatant staring is totally unacceptable.
My Dad had decided to come over and take me out for a nice lunch as I was feeling a bit crappy. I’d not long had my 5th chemo session, and I was pale, bald and puffy from the steroids, also frigging starving (all the frigging time, thanks steroids!!). Italian food, my favourite restaurant and Dad paying the bill, not too bad considering!! We are seated in the window, chemo drugs can make your eyes a bit sensitive and fuzzy, natural light seems to work best for me. It’s winter and it’s bloody freezing outside so I’m all wrapped up warm and sporting my usual beanie hat to keep me snug and protect my naked scalp. It’s nice and cosy in the restaurant so I take off a few layers, I decided to keep the beanie on for the time being, a security thing I suppose. We browse the menu, order some drinks and start to catch up.
As far as cancer drug side effects go, one of my least favourites is the hot flush. Zolodex, Tamoxifen, Letrozole… all guilty of putting this 30 something in her menopause!! As I felt the little wave of anxiousness that often precedes a flush, I strip off the cardie and snatch off my hat in preparation, here it comes…. my skin turns a vibrant shade of fuchsia and I feel the beads of sweat forming on my upper lip and bare head, I grab the jug of water and guzzle a glass… Ahhhhh, the ice cold liquid helps calm the fire and as I fan myself with the massive menu I glance around the restaurant hoping nobody noticed. There’s a circular table towards the middle of the room with 8 women sat around doing the “Ladies that lunch” thing, chatting and laughing. I catch one of their eyes, a lady in her 50’s, smartly dressed and although its hard to be sure just by looking, I’d say she was a middle class educated woman. She hurriedly looked away and I’m shocked to see her lean over to the friend sitting to her left and mutter something under her breath. As she’s whispering her friend turns and pretends to look out of the window behind me, I catch her checking me out… surely I’m being paranoid. But sadly not, it was like dominos, slowly each of the women, those who didn’t already have a good enough view of the slap-head by the window, found a reason to turn their heads to have an ogle, they’d lean down to fiddle with a shoe, table leg or check on something really important in their handbag. The happy banter and general chit chatty lady noises that had been coming from their table quietened to a low murmur, and there was a lot of awkward chair shuffling and looking into bowls of pasta as I glared over at them. I am ashamed to say that my eyes pricked with angry tears, ashamed that I’d let this table of women rattle me, by rights they were old enough (by a long shot ladies!!) to know better.
Now in my heart of hearts I know those women meant me no harm, and that if they knew how their appallingly indiscreet gossiping made me feel, I hope that they might assess such behaviour the next time they are faced with a mildly awkward social situation. If you see someone who looks in anyway a little different from the “norm”, whether it be bald, skinny, fat, pink, purple or blue, remember that you have no idea what’s going on in that persons world, and if you can’t resist and get caught out having a peep, then at least give them a smile!