Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Hair Question Part 2

I have never considered myself particularly vain.  No more than the next person.  Not straining to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror.   Reasonably happy with my laugh lines.  Not a face full of makeup person.  I have always believed that what lies within is so much more important than the exterior.  That is what I try to teach my children (who are taught otherwise by so many fairy tales - ugly people are bad, beautiful people are good).

But I have to say, losing my hair was a challenge almost as great as being diagnosed with cancer in the first place.

And it was not just because I didn't look that great without hair.   Let's face it, who does?  I don't have a round face so I concede I may have looked a tiny bit better than some others, but still.

It was just that I missed feeling like myself.  I have always had longish (shoulder length) hair.    I felt colder with no hair.  I had nothing to run my fingers through, nothing to fuss with.  Nothing to wash and blow dry (well I admit that part was good).  Nothing to tie back, or clip up.   

When I wrote this post I was full of ideas for head scarves.  In reality, I never wore a head scarf.  Not once.  I did wear hats, and I was given some lovely ones.  And I wore my trusty wig.   I have been wondering why, and I think the answer to the question is quite simple.  I didn't want people to know I had cancer.  You might think that is strange given this blog.   It's not that my cancer was a secret. I just really didn't want the flash of pity I would see in people's eyes when they saw my hairless state.

So I went with the Big Con of the wig.   And really it is amazing how many people did not realise it was a wig.  Even now, people who have seen me regularly all year find out and can't believe it.

(My Wig Disclosure Policy was as follows: if someone who didn't know about the cancer (some clients, cafe people, school people) commented on my hair more than once (including comments like please tell me the name of your hairdresser), I would tell them it was a wig. I felt mean about this because I could see the surprise in their eyes but I think if someone has commented twice on how nice your hair is you can't keep up the charade of pretending it's yours.  This situation happened to me just last week with the divine girls who run the before school program for my son.  I could see them thinking: WTF?  This woman we have seen three times a week all year has had chemo for cancer and wears a wig?!)

In fact as it turns out I never lost all my hair.  Just about 90% though.  And in the mire of chemo treatment you tend to lose track.  But I never shaved it off.  I just couldn't bring myself to do it.   And it is true it does grow back very quickly.  But the inbetween stage from pixie and cute to normal is just interminable.

I always said I could cope with hair loss if I kept my eyebrows.  Then when I lost them I said I could cope with that if I kept my eyelashes.  But they went too. 

And do you know when that happened?   In a cruel twist, my brows and lashes went, almost overnight, about 2 weeks after chemo ended.  I had read that might happen but thought I would escape that fate.  

I have learned that you really need eyebrows you know.  They add definition and structure.    I appreciate them more than ever now.   Anyway they did grow back quickly.  And eyebrow pencil works wonders although I am pretty sure you don't kid anyone with it.

So what now?  Well, slowly slowly it grows back.  I looked like Jean Seberg in the photo above for about a week.  And now it is tufty, sticking outy, boofy and not that nice to look at.  Or as my mother said, in that inimitable tactless way mothers have 'Why your hair looks just like your little brother's.'  Who wants to look like their brother?  I don't. 

And so I still cover it up.   Cowardly, I know.  But my son still prefers me to have a wig on when we go out.  And the least I can do is bow to his wishes for the moment.

For any of you reading who may be going through the hair thing, here are somethings I have learned.

1. Get your wig cut by your hairdresser.  This is really important and they probably won't charge you for it (mine didn't). They can just make it a bit more uneven, a bit choppy.  Much more realistic than the bowl shape most wigs come in.

2. Do not wash your wig. I haven't washed mine once.  You may think that is disgusting but bear in mind I don't wear it to exercise, and it is thoroughly aired every night. If you wash it is gets that way too clean look. 

3. Do not believe the hairdresser who sells you expensive 'post chemo' conditioner and shampoo.  You don't need it. You hair will come back strong and thick and new.     But do take colloidal silica.  I have and it helps.  It also helped my nails.

4.  Don't listen to others about when and how to wear wig \ scarf etc.  Do what you feel like doing. It's all about confidence after all.

And one day I hope that all chemo will not involve hair loss.  And that will be so much better for all of us.

(Images Pinterest - but sorry have not saved pinners).


brismod said...

Yikes! I think the hair loss part of cancer would be such a big adjustment. I'd never really thought about the eyebrows and eyelashes falling out either.
Here's to happier hair days for you Jane.xx

Faux Fuchsia said...

As a leo who is both vain (do not come between me and a reflective surface) and hair obsessed I found this post beautiful and moving. You are a brave soldier to share.

Thought of you the other day when I was watching an episode of Sex and the City-Charlotte was watching a show about Liz Taylor and you heard her say, "Now is the Time for Guts".

Now is always the time for guts I think.

I wish you luck with you journey and with your hair x

Sarah B said...

As someone who has always had very long hair I can imagine having it not there really challenging. It is part of your identity. I get why you did the wig thong and not the scarf. Onward and upward I say :)

Ange said...

I'm with Anita, Jane. May you only have good hair days from now on :)

Lou said...

Hello there...I was really interested to read this (and as ever completely in awe of the matter-of-fact-ness of you). I get the fact that hair loss becomes so defining. My brother lost all his hair as he got alopecia - so every bit fell out and when I got married, he is in all our photos with a bald head. Not such a biggie for a man I guess - but still it was very defining for him and I recall it as a time of low, low self confidence for him. Sometimes I wonder if he would be the same person now had he not struggled with that. It did grow back very gradually - but never the same as before; it's patchy and had changed colour and texture. I think your advice here is amazing and if I or anyone I know need to face this dreadful thing that you have, I will direct them here for words of stoic wisdom. Lou x

Amanda (Small Acorns) said...

Sadly,I have just directed one of my friends to your blog for all your sage advice Jane, including the wig and the hair. She started her chemo 3 weeks ago, and was losing her hair at such a rapid rate that she has shaved it off. I never thought about the eyebrows and lashes too though. Thank goodness they grew back - I'd fear they might not. Yes, onwards and upwards from now on. What a year you've had. xx

Millie said...

This is why you I adore you.
Millie xx

Jane said...

Oh Jane. You never fail to inspire me with your honesty and generosity of spirit. Full plaudits to you, my friend. J x

Denise said...

I could have written that piece - you have captured it perfectly! I finished chemo on 30 March. My eyelashes made their reappearance on 17 May, eyebrows 18 May (both back to full strength in 10 days max) and the first sign of hair on 20 May. You can tell by my memory of the dates that never have I felt so excited! I ditched my hats 25 July (never had a wig) - managed to sun burn my head that weekend though! I am completely at the "in between" stage - looked cute to start with now looks less cute but I don't care....and never again will I ever complain of a bad hair day.

JMW said...

Wonderful post, Jane. You continue to inspire. These are things I would imagine most people don't even fathom when it comes to cancer. Wonderful advice and I'm glad to hear that your coif is returning. Hope you are feeling well. :)

Elsa May said...

Oh Jane - I do feel for you. Like you I was (or thought I was) so much more than my appearance, but when my hair fell out...! As much as I wanted to/thought I would, I never did the whole scarf thing. But the wig (even with the hairdresser cutting it) was never right, so I jammed it under a cap (for the exercise/sporty look), or had the whole wide hairband thing going on..enough to fool the nanny next-door. I don't think I ever really appreciated my eyebrows until I did Bikram yoga without them. And then the weird alien look when I was bald, followed by the crazy in-between hairdos as it all grew back. Funny as much as I didn't want cancer to define me, looking back at our photos it's a timestamp of where our lives were then...and possibly a sobering reminder, as life does indeed hurtle by...
Sending you lots of love, Annie x

Dumbwit Tellher said...

Jane your honesty and heart-felt expression of what you've experienced will continue to help others. From two family member who have experienced hair loss from chemo, it seemed to be a breaking point. It's hard fully grasp how that would feel, especially as a female? My mom decided to shave her hair that was left. I was so amazed by her attitude and her tenacity to retain her pride of appearance. She never forgot her red lipstick and a good looking necklace or earrings.

I especially loved advice #4. I truly believe you have to do what works best for 'you'. I admire greatly
how you are a champion for just that & so much more.

xx Deb

Susanne said...

Hello Jane. It has been awhile since I have popped in to your blog. The hair thing, such a mixed bag of tricks, yes? My husband never lost his hair with his IV chemo, nor now with his oral chemo pill. From what we've learned, different cancers..different chemos, different reactions and side effects. My sister-in-law who passed away 11+ years ago from ovarian cancer did loose her hair. My best friend from high school lost hers too with her breast cancer. It shouldn't ever take losing one's hair to realize just how beautiful a person is. Maybe it is because it humbles you, kinda like realizing that the most valuable things in life are not what is visible. Even the Bible says that " a woman's hair is her crown and glory" so what are we to think when sickness treated with modern medicine has a hand in such a loss. I follow another lovely blogger who is fighting this battle too, her name is Marjo. You can find her at Marjo's Cosy Corner. She has posted photos of herself and I find her one beautiful soul. This is not her first brush with cancer. She is going through treatments now and having many hard days. The two of you have so much in common.

Razmataz said...

My son played hockey in high school. At an overnight tournament 2 boys shaved off his eyebrows while he was sleeping. OMG...I was stunned how different he looks (not to mention his shock). So I can imagine how difficult it must be for you to lose hair and eyelashes too. I agree with you, you have to find what is comfortable for you.

Rebecca said...

ah yes, the in between stage. I've done the pixie cut a few times. loved it, but hate the grow-out stage. (gelatine helps hair grow too!)

Anonymous said...

I couldnt have said it any better to be honest! keep up the awesome work. You are very talented & I only wish I could write as good as you do :) …

posie blogs Jennie McClelland said...

This was fascinating. So many of my friends are going through this & have worked on some amazing hair styles, or not!! One actually never covered up her hair loss as she actually said "i like the attention" & i found that even more confronting than anything else, she liked the sympathy?? Hmmm. Not in her shoes so can't really comment further.
I can appreciate you not wanting to have to explain to every person you cross paths with, about your hair or condition. If Dolly Parton can so famously & fabulously tell the world her amazing hair is a wig, so openly, we can all admire the honesty. I couldn't pretend my great hair was real if it was a wig either.
I love FF's comment, you sound like you're doing just fine & using your 'guts' right daily, love Posie

Jenny said...

Enno and I bought an electric clipper this summer and cut each others hair, really really short. We don't have cancer but wanted an easy doo. It was so freeing. I loved the way it felt and when it started growing back in the look was cute. We had hair that was about one half inch all over our heads. Living in Holland made it easier because I didn't see people who knew me often. Don't be afraid. I'll do it again this summer when we leave Texas and fly back to our home in Holland. Thinking of you..xo Jenny in Texas

annie said...

Eyelashes and eyebrows. I had no idea! I didn't care about the hair. In fact I've always wanted too try the bald look albeit when I was younger and less tired looking. I have dark eyebrows and lashes. That worries me.

Anonymous said...

Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book
in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive
the message home a bit, but other than that, this is fantastic blog.
A great read. I'll definitely be back.

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