Why Do I Hair So Much?
I've been struggling to write for my blog lately. Maybe it's because I finally felt like living my life after cancer...and not just writing about it.
One part of my breast cancer journey I never anticipated struggling with so much was the hair loss, which I wrote about previously in my blog:
During my second round [of chemotherapy], I went to run my hand through my hair. Clumps came out, and I started crying. Yes, I knew this would happen. Yes, I knew it would grow back. Guess what? IT. STILL. SUCKS.
Trying to ignore my disappearing hair, I dared not comb it or mess with it too much, in fear of shaking it and having to watch more fall out. Every night, I had my boyfriend sweep the hair from the bathroom, so I would not see it in the morning. I thought maybe this would be a good opportunity to try that pixie cut I always wanted; my hairdresser whispered to me that she couldn't cut it that short — she would have to leave my hair longer on top to cover the bald patches underneath.
Nursing a combover, I still couldn't bring myself to have that Shaving Party everyone recommends you have to "take control of it." I had bought a wig in preparation, but I just wasn't ready yet. Finally, after attending a breast cancer support group in a hat and meeting fellow breast cancer survivors, I finally felt ready to face the inevitable. That night, my boyfriend shaved my head (since he has low hair, he knows his way around clippers), and I closed my eyes and cried as my remaining hair fell around me. When he finished, he kissed my head and said, "Look! We match!" 💕
The next day, I felt...FREE. It was finally done! Now, I could stop dreading watching my hair fall out. With a background in fashion, I was determined to keep my fashion sense during treatment. Wanting to look more natural, I never wore my wig. Instead, I had fun experimenting with scarves during chemo and received lots of compliments. Cancer took many things from me, but I wouldn't let it take my style!
After chemo, my hair — originally thick & straight — decided to come back finer and CURLY! My hairdresser and I kept cutting it, in hopes my "old hair" would return, but my post-chemo curls came back even worse. So we moved to Plan B: we believed if we just hung in there long enough for my hair to have some length, my new curls would eventually straighten. WRONG.
Why So Guilty?
Now, I suddenly had longer hair (yay?)...but I HATED the curls and having "just there" hair. After over a year of being patient with it, I wanted my style back! In the meantime, social media was reminding me of how many other young breast cancer survivors were just starting their journey, and how they were either 1) losing their hair, or 2) just now growing it back. As I browsed their pictures of either heartbreak/rejoice, I thought, How dare you want to cut it, after everyone else was just happy to feel that first stubble???
What I didn't expect was the massive cloud of guilt (beautifully written about here by the amazing Suleika Jaouad) that constantly shadows me as a cancer survivor. Recently, I celebrated being over two-and-a-half years cancer-free — including being told by my surgeons that I could now see them once a year instead of every six months! (I will continue to see my oncologist every three months for awhile, so I am not totally free.) My boyfriend surprised me with an amazing steak dinner (exciting now that I can actually taste it after chemo!) and a champagne toast to celebrate our AMAZING news!
The very next day, a fellow triple-negative breast cancer survivor sister, who is younger than me but had already became metastatic (Stage IV), had a brain MRI and found her cancer had returned. Goddammit, cancer. Thanks for reminding me I could never NOT worry about you.
In the afterglow of my celebration, I suddenly felt guilty again. Whether it was for wanting to cut my hair while so many are just happy to have ANY; for being cancer-free while so many of my survivor sisters still struggle; or for my own mother and boyfriend who had to put their lives on hold to take care of me during cancer, the guilt lingers long after treatment ends.
"Not All Ra-Ras & Ribbons"
I frequently say this line to people. During cancer, everyone tells you "how strong" and "how brave" you are. When really, all we want to do inside is curl up into a ball...but we CAN'T, because there's way too much to do! All we are thinking is, Gotta get through this treatment to get to the next one to get to the finish line. We aren't trying to seem brave nor inspire you; we are just trying to SURVIVE. What other choice do we have??
I've often written about how the hardest stage of cancer is the post-treatment one. And while I have shared my survivor story so publicly in order to give a face & a voice to young breast cancer, I struggle to find the place + space to feel my uncertainties as I navigate my OWN personal breast cancer journey.
I finally did get that haircut...shortly after becoming ENGAGED to my AMAZING boyfriend who not only shaved my head, but he stood by my side — literally & figuratively! — during cancer and beyond.
(There is something so sweet about becoming engaged AFTER cancer; that whole "in sickness and in health" part isn't really a question. ❤️)