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Shining, Gleaming, Streaming, Flaxen, Waxen

I had a lot of my hair cut off a couple of weeks ago.

I have had a fairly short haircut for the past several years, but last winter decided that I was ready for a change so I decided to grow out my hair. I didn’t know how long it would last—I figured that I would wake up one day and it would be driving me crazy and I would end up getting it cut short again. But I was doing pretty well, and my hair had just started to reach past my shoulders. I was able to put it in a little ponytail when I worked out and I was starting to look around at some longer hairstyles to try to figure out what direction I might want to go in style-wise. It looks like the universe had other plans for my hair, however.

Losing my hair during chemotherapy, for some reason, is one of the most difficult things for me to face. Give me surgery and medicine and nausea and barium drinks if you must, but please don’t take my hair. I keep hearing recommendations to have your hair cut short just before you begin chemotherapy treatments, for several reasons. One is that it is easier psychologically to lose chunks of very short hair than it is to lose pieces of long hair. Another reason is that by cutting your hair yourself, you are “losing” it on your own terms rather than waiting for the chemo to do its worst.

Both reasons made sense to me, so when I saw my hair dresser a couple of weeks ago I told her that I’d like her to cut it relatively short. My thought was that if I start now and gradually go shorter over the next several weeks, it will be easier to go really short just before chemo starts.

It was difficult to watch her cut those first long, blond pieces from the bottom of my hair. She kindly carried them over to the garbage rather than letting them fall on the floor. The longest part of my hair falls to the middle of my neck in the back now. I wasn’t sure at first that I would get used to it very quickly, but I like it. It’s a familiar style and one that I like and have worn in the past, so that makes it easier. And I’ve had super-short hair before, so hopefully when I cut it yet a little shorter it won’t be too shocking for me—or for anyone else.

Of course, just when I thought I was handling it all pretty well, I caught a couple minutes of a recent Today show. Fittingly, one of the stories featured on the show was about a salon in Connecticut that caters to women who are going through chemotherapy and who are getting ready to lose their hair. Watching it didn’t make it any easier to appreciate my short hair--which is long compared to that of the women shown in the story—knowing that I might have it only temporarily.

When I was at the oncologist’s office I flipped through a head covering catalog for cancer patients they had sitting on the desk. There was a wide variety of head coverings shown in the catalog: many styles and colors of scarves, hats and wigs. I found it hard to look through the catalog. It wasn’t quite like looking through the bi-monthly Ann Taylor advertisement brochure and I didn’t dog ear any pages to mark the things I just “had to have.” I don’t want to lose my hair and I don’t want to shop for scarves and hats.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the industry that has grown up around this need for head coverings for female cancer patients. It’s quite easy to find companies all over the internet that sell a variety of wigs and scarves and turbans and other head coverings for women who have lost their hair because of chemo. But you never hear about similar offers for men. I can only conclude that it is because it is perfectly acceptable—and indeed it’s fashionable these days—for men to be bald in our society. Men must mourn the loss of their hair to chemotherapy just as much as women, but the rest of the world handles their hair loss completely differently from that of women.

I recently read a story about a woman who never let anyone, even her husband, see her bald while she was going through chemo. She even covered her head at night while she slept. I’ve also heard about women, such as those featured in this book, who proudly sport their bald heads throughout their chemo treatments, covering them only to protect them from the cold or sun. I have no idea how I’m going to handle it once I actually lose my hair, but I hope that I can be even half as brave as those women.


Dearest Nellie-

I must say, as I read your posts, I have to admire your ability to see the bright sides of things. (You always had that ability and the current circumstances don't change who you are - it just brings it out in full) Plus, you make me doubt who should be the writer and who should be the lawyer! ;)

Reading this post, I really related to some of your thoughts about the trauma of losing your hair. I must say that it is really tough for men and woman - but in Very different ways. It is unfair, that it is fashionable for men and not for women (though in Hollywood I have seen many woman who have shaved their heads for style).

The thing in this latest post that really struck me was the proactive stance you are taking. As you know, I have been challenged in this area for awhile, and I do know that it is more powerful place to be proactive than passive (even if it is harder for women).

I,for one ,have staunchly told more than one person that I am not bald - but I shave my head- Balding is a condition and shaving is a choice!

My deal, is no where near the same as with you, but I do find that in whatever way you can, in whatever challenges you face - taking the proactive stance helps you keep your power.

And, It does not surprise me in the least, that you are taking your power through this latest challenge.

My Thoughts and Prayers are with you!

Yours Always,