Losing My Hair
Last updated: June 2022
Hair. Losing it ain't that bad.
Or at least for this cancer patient.
It's been three weeks since I handed over my hair to the cancer gods, along with the many who have gone before me, hoping our locks might bestow us the chance to see No Evidence of Disease written across our files.
I was expecting it to be an emotional disaster, but it was easier than I had expected. Especially after the torment of watching my hair fall out in my clothes, my bed linens, and having to clean out my brush three to four times a day for the previous three weeks.
By the time of the shave, you could see my scalp at any angle. This was a side effect brought on by the four weeks of Abraxane (chemo) infusions that I had received as a treatment for my stage 4 breast cancer.
A woman with a bald head
The buzzcut was inextricably timed to the slap heard 'round the world, Will Smith's slap at the Oscars. That slap and, most importantly, Jada Pinkett Smith's grace in the whole matter reverberated, causing people everywhere to re-examine what it meant to be a woman with a bald head and how to see women with bald heads.
Suddenly the conversation about a woman's hair had changed. In a New York Times article, writer Vanessa Friedman said the shaved head was "the most obvious expression of self, of gender, of subversion; of conformity, seduction, aggression, rebellion. It is immediately visible and impossible to ignore. And thus it is a key variable in shaping the perception of the external gaze, be it male or female."1
Preparing to shave my head
In preparation for shaving my head, I ordered two wigs, one blonde that looked the closest to my old haircut I could find from CancerCarePoint.org, a local cancer charity, and a hot pink one from Amazon. Honestly, I felt more comfortable in the pink one, like if people are already going to know, have fun with it. They were both synthetic. If you are looking for a natural hair wig, I recommend you go to one of the charities listed on the website.2
My hair had represented years of nurturing, researching the best conditioners when it was dry, protein treatments when it was brittle, hair colors starting at 15, and all the love I had put into it. Now it was a pile of wreckage on the floor. Like the funeral pyre that the phoenix built for herself to rise out of, as I planned on doing no matter how long it took.
The politics of hair that I had become a part of, accidentally through my cancer had not yet resonated with me when I hopped up on the barstool my boyfriend had placed in front of the hallway mirror. At this point, it was only me and him and my cancer. As I handed my boyfriend the razor, I could feel his hand shaking, and I tried not to cry as I felt his lips brush the top of my head in a kiss. Will he ever look at me the same? I wondered. It was far too late to think of that now. "Here we go," I steadied myself.
It can take a toll on others
Many tears were shed that day, in large part by my boyfriend. I sometimes forget to think of the toll these things take on those I love. The steady series of gut punches from cancer can make me put up blinders to the experiences that others sometimes have.
When my boyfriend was done, I felt like a new woman. Shouldn’t I be more bothered? Shouldn’t I want to wear a wig and keep my head covered, so others don't have to look at it? Because I didn’t. The wigs give my head a rash, also it's summer and they are hot, and I kind of like the way my head looks bald. The more I went out in public the more I felt the coverings were there to make others feel more comfortable.
Feeling empowered by losing my hair
Now I don't want to belittle those who have had a traumatic head-shaving event. I can think of a million reasons being forced to go bald would not be empowering, including working most 9-5's or still being in school and wanting to maintain your cover. Or just being single and going through all of this.
However, that was not my experience, and I have also talked to a few other women who had this similar experiences. So I wanted to let women know that it is ok to like your knew shaved head, or hate it, or have mixed feelings about it.
But for those of us who feel empowered by our bald heads, it's okay to feel beautiful even though you are going through cancer. Uncover that glorious bald head of yours and use that empowerment to go out and kick cancer in you know what.
Editor's Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on September 6, 2023, Vicki Thompson passed away. Vicki's advocacy efforts and writing continue to reach many. She will be deeply missed.
Do you have a safe space where others understand what you are going through?