“Every time the wind blows, I have to check to make sure I’m not bald…I have to look like a sick person and I don’t do sick person.” – Samantha Jones
Before chemotherapy, my oncologist warned that it would be unlikely for my hair to last even the first round of treatment. My drugs were so strong that there was no point in even trying remedies such as a cold cap. My hair would fall out and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. No matter who I spoke to or what website I read, everyone advised me to cut my hair short because it would ease the stress and unpleasantness of losing my hair. It didn’t make sense to me at first, I wanted to keep my hair, as is, for as long as possible. I stubbornly leapt straight into chemotherapy with long blonde hair. In the days that followed, I nervously awaited for my hair to give way. It wasn’t until I was having my usual morning shower and shampooing my hair that bunches of loose strands lingered in the palms of my hands. I felt myself pause in shock, I told myself that everything was okay and this was ‘normal’. Everything went in to slow motion. I felt every moment tick over and my senses were heightened. I felt the water begin to pool around my feet; I glanced down and noticed clumps of tangled hair blocking the shower drain. I rinsed off and without looking, tucked my remaining hair up in to a towel to dry. I sat on my bed for what seemed like hours and quietly told my Mum that the inevitable was now happening. Every time I brushed my hair or even touched it, it would fall out. Our flat (apartment) soon became covered in hair and although it was the same caramel colour as Henry’s, there was no use in blaming the dog this time. So far I looked the same as usual, just slightly self-conscious at the thought of moulting all over London. However I took comfort in the fact that it was autumn, meaning I was not the only one that would be losing my 'leaves’ that season. It soon became impractical and messy to be losing this sheer amount of hair and I finally gave in to the original advice. Out came the scissors and in a matter of minutes I had a sassy bob. I wasn’t too phased by my new look and continued on with life as my hair more subtly fell out.
The worst part of the experience then set in. My hair was so thin, my part very wide and there were randomly scattered bald patches.
At this point women seem to take one of two approaches:
1. They accelerate the process and shave it all off themselves; or
2. They let it continue to fall out naturally, hoping that some/most will hold on.
I chose the first of the two options. Many people have since said it was brave of me to shave, I’m personally not sure that I agree. Although I took control of the process, all I did was accelerate the process. The women who refuse to let go of their hair, who let each lasting strand survive certainly have an admirable and brave quality in their actions. On the other hand, you could argue that sometimes when something is so inevitable, should they learn to let it go and move on? With my hair becoming increasingly thin and my mind constantly comparing myself to Andy from Little Britain, I had never felt more ugly. I couldn’t stand to go out, I was so self-conscious and I hated this in-between stage. One night after my family had gone to bed, I just couldn’t sleep. In what you could describe as a mini emotional breakdown, I sat on the couch, alone, in the dark, crying. I was so frustrated at the entire situation that I started pulling my hair out. Handful after handful, I just wanted it gone. My arms grew tired, it felt like I had ripped out 50 clumps of hair, but I looked in the mirror and there was still so much hair left. You don’t realise how much hair loss it takes to actually become bald. In a spur of the moment act of desperation, I grabbed a pair of scissors. I held them in my hands and felt a grasp of control as I hacked away at my remaining hair. I cut it as short as I possibly could. Without looking in the mirror, I felt a sense of relief. I no longer had thin strands of hair itching my neck or dangling across my face, I felt free. It wasn’t until I looked in my iPhone camera that I would see just how dreadful I still looked.
The next morning my family gasped when they first saw me. At my request, Mum went to buy clippers and hesitantly clipped the rest of my hair off to a blade 1 length. I was impatient and I wanted it all gone. I didn’t want any of this in-between nonsense. I was either going to be my healthy blonde self or full-blown bald chemotherapy patient. I asked Mum to finish off my new 'do’, or lack thereof with a razor. In an act which was the complete opposite of the carefree and catchy “I’m your Venus, I’m your fire” advert, we grabbed my usual Gillette Venus razor from the bathroom shelf and grimly begun the shave. It was the strangest sensation feeling the razor blade scratch against my previously untouched scalp. Later that day my Mum, somewhat shaken, commented that she had never imagined that one day she would have to shave her youngest daughter’s head.
It was an empowering but hopeless moment, almost a right of passage as a cancer patient. I know for me, I made the right choice. I couldn’t have handled the alternative, I hardly lasted two days with thinning hair. In saying that, bald was no easy change. For the first few days I couldn’t bring myself to touch my scalp with my own hands. My Mum and Sister would take turns moisturising it for me. During this time, my ovaries were well on the way to shutting down meaning menopause was setting in. I would have hot flushes that would react with my newly baldhead resulting in severe sweat rashes, pimples and spots of dryness. I decided to treat my baldhead like it was a face; I would cleanse, tone and moisturise it. Soon enough my skin settled back down, I got used to it and my confidence slowly came back.
Whichever choice you may make, there is no denying how awful the entire experience is. Like a scar, no matter how good or bad you’re feeling; there is a constant reminder of what you’ve been through just waiting for you in every mirror reflection.