Adriamycin causes hair loss in 99% of patients. I’m a gambling woman, but 1 in 100 are some tough odds, even for me. So I began to embrace the inevitable. I took the bull by the horns and cut the curls. I bought a ton of cute hats. I invested some serious (wo)man hours into learning how to tie a headscarf. And I waited for the morning when I would wake up, look in the mirror and just know. When I would look less pixie and more, well, sick.
Then a funny thing happened.
My hair held on.
I mean don’t get me wrong. It definitely fell out. A lot. But most people are more or less bald by the third treatment. Here I was on the verge of treatment number six and it actually looked more or less…normal.. Every time my sister saw me, she would run her fingers through it and say “it still looks good!” Even my favorite chemo nurse Dionne kept commenting on it. “You still got your hair. I think you dodged that bullet.”
By all accounts I should have felt grateful.
I was feeling…a little disappointed.
I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out. When you’re facing something so outside the realm of what you had planned for yourself just six months earlier (like mainlining poison and going bald, instead of gallivanting around the world working on the next Oscar-winning documentary, for example) you really need to psyche yourself up if you want to come through it with your sanity intact. In getting myself emotionally prepared, the shaved head became like a badge of honor. The purple heart of the war on cancer. And the more I suffered the battle scars, the more I wanted my freakin’ medal.
Then these amazing dudes in my life both said they wanted to shave their heads in solidarity. They were ready for the party, I just had to set the date. It was so touching and beautiful. And I love a good party. It all seemed perfect. But I kept hesitating. It seemed silly to shave my head just because. I still had my hair…maybe that was a sign I wasn’t meant to shave it. And let’s face it: (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again) no girl really wants to be bald.
My angels-in-waiting got tired of waiting and decided they were doing it – with or without me. I went mostly for moral support. And to take pictures. I was definitely not ready. Not that night. Maybe next week. Yeah, next week sounds better.
But as I watched their hair fall away, I realized that with the number two guard on the clippers, the cut didn't really look bald (at least not in the Mr. Clean kinda way I had envisioned), and that the end result wouldn’t be that much shorter than my pixie cut. In fact, it might actually even it out (I had taken to doing “clean up” trims myself – not pretty.) And I started to realize that whatever way the pendulum swung, I was making the whole shaved head thing bigger than it needed to be. That maybe I should stop thinking so much and just. let. go.
So I just did it.
Taking that first, hesitant peek in the mirror, I was surprised to find that even bald, I still look like me - with the same exact smile and the same mischievous twinkle around the eyes (or as my college roommate calls it the "I am going to shove this whole donut in my mouth and show you" gleam - but that's another story.)
Most importantly I realized that just like my curls don't define me, neither does this new found role role as cancer patient. Either way, I'm still just Erin.