Today was an emotional day. It started with excitement, had a layover in sorrow, and ended with empowerment.
Throughout the course of this past week, the Taxol’s side effect on my hair really kicked into high gear. I mentioned in a previous post that multiple strands had begun to fall out. I did not anticipate how rapidly the hair loss would progress. Initially, just a greater number of strands were falling out. By mid week, I was feeling a tingling sensation at the back of my head when I would touch those hairs. Apparently, that must be what it feels like when your hair follicles are dying. At this time, the process of removing my hair band alone would result in large quantities of hair falling out. When the failed removal of a hair band resulted in half my hair becoming entangled to such a terrible extent that it seemed like the whole chunk would need to be cut off, I knew my hair was in a hot mess. By the end of the week, I was going crazy constantly collecting fallen hair from my clothes, pillows, etc., and I felt unable to even brush my hair in fear of the handfuls that would come out. The picture below shows how the hair on the right side of my head was still smooth and “brushable”, while the other half was all curled up into a big tangled knot. The tingling sensation had reached the hairs on the top of my head by this point, and I knew there wouldn’t be much time left before the chemo would make me bald. Similar to how a woman’s body becomes so incredibly uncomfortable late in the third trimester that she is distracted from the fear and concerns of labor since she just wants the baby to come out and the pregnancy to be done with, I felt like the process of my hair falling out was so annoying and frustrating, that I was distracted from the fear and concerns of being bald and I just wanted to expedite the process.
Left side of hair was a big, tangled mess (my left)
That’s why I made an appointment at a hair salon for today. I wanted to cut my hair really short, like a Halle-Berry style pixie cut. I was under the impression that I might have another week or two left before total hair loss, and I figured I could try out something new while also minimizing the length of the hairs that I would need to be collecting around the house. I was genuinely excited to chop my hair off and try out a fun look in a relatively low-risk way.
Halle Berry Pixie Cut
Before we could proceed with a new hairdo though, the stylist needed to untangle the mess that was now my hair. I knew that his combing and brushing would cause a lot of hair to fall out. After all, the tangled knot was a bunch of broken hairs tied up into the still-healthy hair. I was mentally prepared for what was going to happen. Or so I thought. As he began to spike at my hair with the pointed end of the comb, my eyes unexpectedly welled with tears. Before I knew it, my chest was tightening and tears were rolling down my cheeks. I was feeling a sudden sense of sorrow, and I didn’t even know why. Was it because I was concerned of how much hair would fall out? Because I was afraid of looking ugly? Because I was losing my birth hair? Because it was a reminder that I’m “sick”? Because I would now look sick even if I didn’t feel that way? I have no idea. Maybe all of the above. I cannot articulate the driver of my emotions, but can say that it is an emotional experience regardless of how prepared or strong you think you might be. The strangest part was that all this emotion was happening when I thought I was still going to have a cool cut for the next week or two.
I knew a lot of hair had fallen out after my stylist finished untangling it, but I couldn’t get myself to look at the floor to see how much had fallen. It was after the shampoo, during which surely even more hair had come out, and I was walking back to my chair that I saw the ground. There was a lot of hair. Then I looked in the mirror – I still had longer hair, but more scalp was showing than ever before. It was clear that any cut would look pretty sub-optimal and that it was unlikely the remaining hairs would last even another week. Regardless, I wanted the stylist to go ahead and do the pixie cut just in case it didn’t look half bad. He cut away at the hair, making it shorter than I’ve ever had in my non-toddlerhood life. The sense of excitement was returning, I was so curious to see what it would look like. Had it been actually styled and spiked after the cut, it may have looked pretty cool. The bald spot, however, was large and showing through. I couldn’t stand the idea of having to watch the bald spot continue to grow, and feel the hair continue to fall out, for even another few days.
My scalp showing through after the shampoo
My pixie cut pre-spiking
I suddenly felt very much at peace. It’s as if I gave having super short hair through this experience a chance, but now knew exactly what I needed to do. I needed to take control. I needed to make baldness a choice versus something that would happen to me. I asked the stylist to get the clippers and go ahead and shave it all off. I did not feel any sadness at this stage. I remember how several years ago I had a haircut that went very wrong. The cut was unexpectedly MUCH shorter than I had anticipated and I felt like I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror. As vain as it may sound, I cried for two days and wouldn’t leave the apartment. One of Ash’s less tactful friends even asked me “Was that haircut Ash’s idea so nobody would hit on you?” We can just go ahead and put him in the “former friend” category :-). But now, watching the clippers go to work and my baldness emerge, I didn’t feel shocked or sad as I would have expected. I felt empowered. I had made the choice. As Diya said, “Mommy’s hair go bye-bye.”
I always wondered what my head looks like – whether it’s bumpy and dented looking or has marks I didn’t know were there. It turns out my head is “not crooked” according to my stylist and is “certified 99+% round” according to my dad. The coloring still has patches that are darker than others since not all the hair has fallen out yet, but overall, I am not embarassed of my head.
The next several months will be a time for experimenting with new looks – wigs, scarves, caps, etc. – and when my hair begins to grow back after chemo, new hairstyles as well. As my sister told me, now I can enjoy seeing it grow back instead of watching it fall out.
Certified 99+% round