Hair Today Gone Tomorrow

by Belle Piazza

As I left the house the other day to get my nails done, I told my husband I’d probably come back with no hair. I’m going to do it I told him, I really am. And I figured I better get my nails done first so I had some identifying feminine mark on my body. Two rounds of Irinotecan several months earlier had done its damage. Since then, my hair has continued to thin. And thin and thin and thin until I started to resemble Golem from Lord of the Rings. On top of that I was due for my 1st round of Erbitux in a few days and I just knew that the dreaded rash would cover my face and scalp, the same as it did after my one round of Vectibux. The rash not only looks frightening, but it really, really hurts. I wouldn’t be able to brush my hair – so if I wanted my hair gone, it was now or never.

Several friends had offered to shave my head for me when I was ready, but I opted instead to go to a salon. It’s not that I thought I’d get a better buzz at a salon, rather I thought I’d be able to keep my emotions intact if I did this in public versus the privacy of my own home or one of my friends homes. Since my normal stylist was booked for a few days, I went to the barber shop where I take my son to get his hair cut.

I really thought I could do this. I thought I could hold it together, especially in a room filled with men. But I couldn’t. I was barely able to make the request at the front counter and once I sat down in the chair, I couldn’t hold it back any longer. I started to cry. I felt like such an idiot. You’d think I could just put on my big girl panties and do what needed to be done. But my big girl panties just weren’t big enough and I cried like a baby. I think I even snorted once I was sobbing so hard. This plan was shear genius (pun intended). The woman cutting my hair, Elissa, could not have been kinder or more compassionate. It was one of those instances where God directed me to just the right person to get me through this latest challenge.

She talked to me the entire time about the work she did in the hospital as a transporter in the radiation department, she talked about losing her father to alcoholism and much more. But I heard little of what she said. All I could do was stare at myself in the mirror in shock and think about how much I looked like my brother, who is in the Air Force. And how much I looked like my sister, who is a lesbian. Not that there’s anything wrong with being in the Air Force or being a lesbian, it just wasn’t the look I was going for.

For heavens sake I told myself, it’s not like I had hair like Farrah Fawcett. Now when she lost her hair, THAT was something to cry about. My hair was never that great to begin with; but it was MY hair and cancer was taking it away from me. I reminded myself I live in a great part of the country to be a woman with a crew cut – the Pacific Northwest. I live 30 minutes north of Portland where “Keep Portland Weird” isn’t just a bumper sticker, it’s a way of life. If you watch the IFC show “Portlandia”, I assure you, it is spot on. Backyard chickens in Portland are as common as swimming pools in Phoenix. People rent out goats for weed control, recycling is the rule, not the exception and downtown doesn’t just have lanes for bikes, they have their own “boxes”. In the Portland area, a woman with a crew cut is just not that unusual.

The next day I showed up for a doctors appointment wearing a bandana over my head. As I approached the glass door I could see my reflection. I looked like Aunt Jemima with glasses. Eww. Again, not the look I was going for. At home I put on a pair of dangly shell earrings – hmmm…..the tribal look. Later, while my son was at dance class I picked up some temporary hair color – bright blue. But I haven’t tried it yet. I’m afraid it’s going to stain my skin blue – not just my hair. The directions say you’re supposed to brush it onto your hair, and I don’t have any hair long enough to brush it onto.

Over the past few days, I’m slowly adjusting to my new look. It’s not the look I’m used to seeing when I look in the mirror. We all have our own image of what makes us “us”. We get used to that look and most of us, if pressed, would probably admit that they are generally happy with their appearance. Sure, there may be some little thing you’d tweak given a chance, but overall I think most people are happy with their “look”. So when a “look” is changed so drastically, like losing your hair, it’s a shock. But we’re survivors. And we adjust, because we have to. Whether it’s losing our hair, our rectums, our colons, bits and pieces of other body parts or ultimately, losing our lives. We adjust and we move forward. It may be awkward and painful and frightening, but we do it because there’s really no other option.

As a younger woman I always wanted hair like Farrah’s. But even Farrah lost her hair and sadly, her life. Life is too short to spend time mourning the loss of ones hair. I’ll give myself permission to take the time I need to adjust. I might end up with blue hair or I might not. I may continue to wear a bandana when I go out or I may go commando and join the Portland weird crowd. When I tell my 11 year old daughter this, she salutes me and says “sir, yes sir!” and then laughs. It’s good to see her smile. I need to make one more trip to the barber shop to thank Elissa for her kindness. And to have her cut my 9 year old son’s hair – because he wants a hair cut just like Mom’s.