Hair, Interrupted

When you get diagnosed with cancer, your first thought is “Oh my god, am I going to die?”, and then your second thought is “Oh my god, am I going to lose my hair?”.

You would think that once your life is in danger, you automatically stop caring about superficial things like your hair… but it turns out that fears don’t really cancel out other fears. Although it’s entirely superficial and very much temporary, losing your hair because of cancer sucks. A lot.

Hair is so closely tied to our identity, whether we like it or not. For most women, it’s a big part of what makes us feel feminine. For others, it’s a form of self-expression. For me, it was both. As someone who has never had hair above my shoulders in my adult life, I couldn’t even imagine what I would look like with short hair, let alone bald.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to commemorate all of my past hairstyles: the good, the bad, and the why-was-I-such-a-scene-kid-WHY.

Pro tip: before you shave your head, get a pixie.

Before I shaved my head, my amazing friend Charli had the idea for us to go get pixie cuts together to ease the transition to baldom. I’m forever grateful that she arranged this because it made the transition so much more bearable. It also gave me an idea of what it would be like once my hair started to grow back into a pixie.

Donating my hair was an easy decision. Hair suddenly became this sacred thing in my eyes so I couldn’t just let it all go to waste like that! So, the day after my first chemo, Charli and I went to the salon together. The hairdresser tied a bunch of small ponytails all around my head, and the snipping began.

Two weeks later, after my second round of chemo, my hair started falling out… and it was EVERYWHERE. On my clothes, on the floor, on my pillow. My little pixie hairs were always tickling my neck and driving me crazy. One thing most people might not know is that your scalp actually HURTS before your hair falls out. My scalp was so sensitive, every movement of my hair would make my scalp ache. So instead of dreading the idea of shaving my head, I was desperate to do it. It felt like ripping off a bandaid. I just wanted to get it over with.

When it was time to shave my head, my other amazing friend Leah stepped up to the plate and wanted to shave her head with me (once again, I don’t know what I did to deserve such amazing friends). The only problem? She was in rural Zambia at the time. But that didn’t stop us! Leah went to a nearby city and found a barbershop with a terrible wifi connection and, boom, we were in business.

I’ll never forget this day, not because it was traumatic (which it still kind of was), but because it was also one of the funniest days of my life. I’m talkin’ big belly laughs. I wish I took more screen caps of our FaceTime call to share here, but at the time I didn’t realize that I would ever be sharing this experience with the world.

So there we were, Carlos and I in our bathroom in Vancouver, and Leah in a Zambian barbershop. I remember Leah asking “Have you ever given this haircut to a white girl?”, and the barber simply replying “no” which sent us into a fit of laughter. The barber also rightfully critiqued Carlos’ shaving skills, which also kept us laughing.

I was hoping/expecting to look like Natalie Portman from V for Vendetta after this, but sadly, that was not my fate… Carlos’ razor died halfway through the process, so he had to use his back-up razor, which cut a different length from the first razor. Note to future cancer patients, if you want to try and look like Natalie Portman, don’t let your boyfriend shave your head in the bathtub with his semi-charged razor. Go to a salon/barbershop with real clippers!

While Leah left the barbershop lookin’ like a babe:

I left my bathroom looking like the victim of a nuclear disaster:

The rest of my hair fell out shortly after, which I’m thankful for because the only thing worse than being bald was the monstrosity that Carlos created on my head.

When I look back at pictures of my bald self, I find it so shocking. Like “Wow, I was really bald!!” It sounds silly, because, duh… I lived it. But the truth is, I got really used to seeing myself bald. Don’t get me wrong, I hated every second of it… but it became my “new normal”. Some days I couldn’t bare to look in the mirror, but other days I still felt beautiful.

The worst parts about being bald:
– Looking like a sick person
– Your head is always cold
– Always having to put something on your head before going in public (headscarf, hat, or wig)
– Accidentally answering the door while bald and having the delivery man stare at you like a deer in headlights
– Forgetting to put your headscarf back on while in a changing room, being seen by the person working, and proceeding to cry in the changing room after the fact

The best parts about being bald:
– Not needing to wash or style your hair
– Saving money on hair products and haircuts
– The feeling of your cats fur on your scalp when she’s sleeping next to your head (it’s oddly satisfying)

My eyebrows were the final thing to go. I was warned that they would be the last to leave, but mine fell out 1 ENTIRE MONTH after my last chemo. I’m still bitter about it.

Watching my hair grow back was probably the most exciting part of the whole cancer process. I was constantly taking photos of my lashes and scalp, and comparing them to the photos from the day before. Even to this day, my phone is filled with unremarkable before and after pictures that look like a “spot the difference” game. I was obsessed. No one has googled “hair after chemo” more than this girl right here.

6 months post chemo

Do I love my short hair? No… but anytime I get down about it, I remind myself of when I was bald and DREAMED of having a pixie cut. It may be “just” hair, but it’s what makes us feel normal and gives us a sense of control.

I’m not looking forward to the many awkward mullet phases that I’ll have to go through, but at the end of the day… I’m still here, I’m alive. Every millimetre of growth feels like a little badge of honour. Proof… that I survived and I’m that much further away from the thing that tried to kill me.

It may sound corny, but I’ll never let another day go by where I don’t appreciate the feeling of the wind in my hair.

xx

Sarah

3 thoughts on “Hair, Interrupted

  1. Hi Sarah,Thank you so much for sharing your story. I can empathize as I am going through cancer treatment myself (stage 3 rectal cancer). Your aunt shared an article you wrote on facebook and I really loved it, so thought I would check out your blog. I am so glad I did. Your story is so well-written, inspiring and real. I am so glad to hear you are doing well, and I wish you all the best 🙂

    Like

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