What is it about hair for women? Somehow our identity is bound up in it. If our hair doesn’t look right, it affects our mood. We’ve all had “bad hair days.” Those words from the iconic song of the 1960’s symbolized the era. As children of the 60’s we liked our hair, the longer the better. My college roommates had hair half way down their backs. Mine went past my shoulders. I have always had good thick hair, straight and easy to manage. My roommates tamed their frizzy hair by sleeping in soup cans to assure it would be straight.
My natural color was a “dirty blonde.” When I was a teen, I liberally applied lemon juice in the summer to lighten it. As I got older and my hair went darker, I added highlights, or lowlights or did whatever it took to keep my same blondish color. Over the years, my hair went through many incarnations according to what was stylish and au courant. I’ve been permed, a fun four-hour ordeal; styled like Dorothy Hamill the ice skater, cut like Lady Di, and other trends I tried to copy. I confess, I never had a Farrah Fawcett cut, so popular in the ‘80’s.
When I was unexpectedly struck with a diagnosis of breast cancer several years ago, I was praying I would not need chemotherapy. My young oncologist told me the gold standard for my type of cancer necessitated eight sessions of two types of chemotherapy drugs followed by radiation. I was dreading the thought of chemo and couldn’t imagine losing all my hair.
It is one of the expected side effects of chemotherapy because the chemicals that kill fast growing cancer cells also kill hair cells. My oncology nurse could even pin down within a day or two when my hair would be gone. That is why I decided to cheat cancer and get my hair cut short on my own terms. It was an interim look before I went completely bald. My hairdresser, Rebecca who is a master cutter, knew just what to do. She also understood the emotional aspect of this haircut especially because she had gone through the cancer roller coaster with a family member. I had my daughter and grandson meet me at the salon, and they were my cheerleaders. That very short cut was cute and sassy and I got many compliments.
I got a wig at the gift shop where I would have my treatment, a state of the art cancer center, Mt. Zion at UCSF. I took along my fashion maven cousin and my sister and found a perfect wig (my own hair color and style) without much fuss. We had a few good laughs about some of the wigs I tried. I also bought a few stylish turban scarves and to keep my head warm at night, I found a funky terry cloth pink cap.
While in the waiting room, I looked around at the other women. Some wore wigs or colorful scarves, others let their bald heads show proudly. There were women older than me and sadly many younger women too. One beautiful young woman had hennaed her bald head. I was now part of a sisterhood I never dreamed I would be in.
After the nine-month ordeal of a lumpectomy, chemo and radiation, with unexpected complications including three trips to the emergency room, I came to realize that losing my hair was the least of it and became not as important. My husband even told me I looked sexy without any hair. The day I noticed my eyelashes had grown back I practically screamed. I went through different phases when my hair started coming in. For a while it was very short and silver. People stopped me on the street to say they loved my “cut.” I would smile and say thanks, grinning inside that they should only know what I’ve been through to earn this chic cut.
Now happily almost four years past treatment, my hair is short and highlighted and I love my current very easy to manage style. When I see a photo of myself with my bald head, it brings me back to those tough days but reminds me also that I got through it and stayed strong.