This Thursday was my third weekly chemo treatment. Typical chemotherapies seem to be dosed in 3 week cycles, since I’m getting this one –Taxol—weekly, my dosage is roughly one-third what some patients get.
I was told that between weeks two and four, if I am to lose my hair on Taxol, this would be the timeframe. Dosage two came and went and I found myself analyzing my in-shower shedding: Typical shedding? Chemo shedding? Hmm...seems typical to me. I guess. Maybe.
Then came this Friday morning, after dose three (presumably a full-cumulative dose now in my system), the shedding was anything but typical. A shampoo and rinse had my thick hair sticking all over my forearms. I did what I could to not let it clog the drain. Unusual for me was the kind of strands which were shed: I have a composite of fine and coarse hair, typically it’s the finer hairs that shed to quickly regrow. Now, I’m gathering up the thickest strands off my wet soapiness and the texture is nearly foreign to me.
I know something is very different. And I feel my hair, at just above shoulder length, is too long to be fooling with if it’s going to be shedding until there’s nothing left. I took scissors to it without much consideration. I hacked at the back first, leaving the front long and parted offset. I knew I had to do something to it, all fluffy and in my face. Finally I went for the asymmetrical, short on the short side, long over one eye look.
It didn’t last long.
Something happens when I start chopping; my hair really isn’t safe until I take a Bic to it. There certainly won’t be any edgy new-wave hairstyles. Or, rather, there will be many—until I trim off all the edges and waves.
Right now, I am a fairly decent doppelganger to Rachel Maddow—if I do say so myself. Ok, maybe when she's having a bad hair day and I'm having a good hair day.
Hair cut short and straight across the back of my head to show off my neck (a rather recent addition to my list of attributes, not that I didn’t have one, but I’ve never employed it), slightly longish on top. My hair is significantly more curly than Ms. Maddow’s, but I think she’ll forgive me. You know, what, with the whole cancer thing and all.
About the cancer thing, I have been surprised most by how others—those outside the fishbowl—respond to my situation. They’re scared shitless, for sure. Some want to do the churchy song and dance wherein I have to find my tact, wherever I left it. Others get fixated on the particulars and want to know every detail, leaving me feeling like I just stepped out of a science exam.
And then there’s the hair—oh the hair! The hair that I have received compliments on since my most awkward pre-teen years. A couple months ago, everyone had been at liberty to comment on it when I first cut it . Men loved my long hair and were sad to see it go. Women thought I was being sassy and cute. I've said before that the communal denial of my impending hair loss has caused me great frustrations. Because I know my hair--for whatever reason--means something to these folks: Health, Youth, Beauty, Attitude, and Sex. To watch it go and to be faced with the grief and change, however temporary, is forcing them to acknowledge the value they put in something so trivial.
But it's my hair dammit! And the the value it holds (held) for me was as my aesthetic security blanket. I always knew my hair was beautiful without me even trying to make it so.
Of course, hair is a fading beauty, and something happens when you are young with pretty hair and you realize that truth early. My mother always had her head in the kitchen sink dyeing hers the blackest shade of black. Supposedly she had been going grey since her early twenties. As her child, I wouldn’t know any better. From my perspective, hair dye was just another sign of adulthood, like jobs and paying bills.
It was to my horror some time in high school when I realized the bronze and red “highlights” and “lowlights” of my brown head are a futile quest sought after by generations of women. If I were to dye it EVER—in any shade—I would never get my natural color back without shaving it off and starting over. Nope nope. You didn’t see me anywhere near a bottle of color.
But the hands of time are still ticking away aren’t they? And they taunted me whenever my mother touched up her roots (or worse, when she didn’t for weeks on end).
The answer to how I was to resolve the Greying Question came when I entered college. I happened across a young professor hurriedly stomping across the quad, her silver mane hanging to her waist. As I watched it dance behind her, I was spellbound by a sight I had never considered before: a young woman allowing her hair to grey. Celebrating the grey. Rejoicing in the grey.
The ends of her hair revealed that at some point her hair had been a pale brown, I wondered if she considered it quite plain. Perhaps she was not one to care, but we have to consider my 19 year old self having this revelation. Looking at her, I could see she saw herself as beautiful as she was—with no artificial colors, dyes, or preservatives. That confidence she radiated drew others to her; they also saw her as beautiful. She made her silver hair beautiful and, once removed from negative context, the silver became beautiful in its own right, enhancing her own beauty. The profundity of the feedback loop could knock you on your butt.
As the great age of thirty basked on my horizon, I had reveled in each new grey hair, pretending not to care, or notice. I felt this new maturation would work for me just fine, when life now has other plans. My aesthetic security blanket, aged and matured, was still a security blanket more befitting a child.
And I shall cast aside the childish things...