For the last two and a half years I have been lucky enough to sport a long mane of blonde hair. It was my favourite feature, one I identified myself as – the woman with the great big thick plait of hair. The one with the messy, slightly wavy, mop of hair that reached halfway down the back.
But the thing is, the hair represented so much more than identity. I could be a faker. I know other people thought that way, as I pulled into a disabled spot, and got out of the car looking the picture of health when in fact I’d had chemo a couple of days before and felt like a bus had run over me then reversed to seal the deal. I’d see their sideways tut-tutting looks as they assumed I’d borrowed gran’s disabled card to use the easy spot neat the supermarket.
I didn’t mind feeling a fake. I could pretend that I really wasn’t sick with the big ‘C’. I was, in fact, okay. I was one of those awful people who build up an entire story of sickness to get sympathy. That’s who I wanted to be. Who wouldn’t rather be a pretender than actually have tumours on their liver?
But then the chemo I was on started to not work so well. To be honest, I got two and a half years on the same meds, that’s brilliant. Couldn’t ask for more. Hubby and I were waiting for when it would start being less effective. That time came late last year, and in January I started second line chemo (ie whole new load of drugs). The first thing the doc said was that I’d lose my hair. No big deal, I said to myself. I’ve been so, so lucky to last this long with my lion’s mane.
Then January arrived and a couple of weeks after the first dose, the hair began to fall. Remember I said I had thick hair? Well, I reckon a normal person’s amount of hair fell out that week, but I still had loads. The hair loss slowed. Then I had my next dose. A few days later the itchy tender feeling was back – it seems to be what proceeds a big fall of hair – and another headfull fell out. Yet I still looked normal.
This went on for a few weeks until mid Feb when finally I was left with the wispy fine remains of what once was. I put it in a ponytail at the base of my neck and chopped off what I was now calling a rattail. The bob lasted a week. Then I got my daughter to do a super short do. All those hours working at the dog groomers paid off and she did a fabulous job on me. But the fall out has continued and it’s time to shave it to maybe half a centimetre long. It’d be done already, but hubby is away on business and he’s taken his beard trimmer with him (yes, that is my planned mode of attack).
Okay, sounds good, right? Wrong. I have been more upset losing my hair than I ever thought. I think I have been more upset than when I was diagnosed with cancer, or any time since. It took me a little while to work out why tears kept trying to come. Why my session at the wig fitters had Mum and me crying and holding onto each other in the hall outside the salon.
It’s because I can’t be a faker anymore.
Suddenly I am that hairless cancer person. I briefly renamed myself Cheryl Noble (as in Chernobyl because I thought back to pictures of them I must have seen in my teens each time I looked in the mirror) and made light of it, but in reality I’m struggling to look in the mirror. I wear my head gear all the time. I even sleep in it.
Hair loss means something a little different to each person that goes through it. To some it’s identity. Or fitting in to what is considered the ‘normal’ look of a woman. To me hair loss represents my cancer diagnosis finally becoming real after almost three years of emotional avoidance. The good news is now it’s just about all gone I’m recovering mentally and getting back to my roll-with-it attitude.
My hair fell out. So what. Get on with life. It’s still there and desperate to be lived.