Alternate title: Getting naked.
Warning: This is going to be a pretty girly post, for any of you guys who might be following along.
Okay, so I wrote in my last post that my scalp had been increasingly sore and tender, which was an indicator that my hair follicles were about to “release”. They said that this (the hair releasing) typically happened on the 14th day after the first chemo treatment. Well, by Day 16, I still had a full head of hair and hadn’t lost any. I was starting to wonder if maybe I would be the exception …maybe I wouldn’t lose my hair. (See…there I go again with those unrealistic expectations….). But on Sunday morning, Day 17, as I was washing my hair in the shower, my hair started coming out by the handful.
It was on.
In anticipating this, I thought that it would likely be traumatic. A woman losing her hair? It’s such a part of who we are. Even the term “bad hair day” is a commonly understood part of the vernacular of our culture. We all know what it means. It means that if you think your hair looks shitty, you’re likely to feel shitty and unattractive the rest of the day.
But when it happened, the hair fallout… it really wasn’t traumatic. I had known that I would likely lose my hair. My oncologist had told me that with the cocktail of chemo I was being given, there was no chance that I wouldn’t lose my hair. So I knew it was going to happen; and my scalp had been warning me all week via Morse code that the exodus was eminent.
When I looked at the palm full of hair and shampoo bubbles that Sunday morning, I thought, “okay…here we go”. And that was about it. After nearly six weeks of anticipation, I was ready to get the show on the road. My husband and I had already decided that at the first sign of hair loss, we would take control and, as my husband said, “shave the fucker”. So that’s what we did, later that night when our baby was asleep and the house was quiet.
I have to say that it was a very intimate experience, unlike anything else I can describe.
I asked Mark where we should do it, and he said wherever I would be most comfortable. He asked me what music I’d like playing (we have music playing in our house around the clock), and I immediately said George Winston. George Winston is part of the soundtrack of our life as a family. We sleep to a mix of songs that has George in heavy rotation (along with our great pal Joe Ebel and some others). Our animals immediately know it’s bedtime (or naptime) when George comes through the sound system. And now our daughter also sleeps to George Winston…it was her lullaby in utero, and she has listened to it every night of her life in the outside world, including the nights spent in the hospital.
So we cued up George, set up a dining room chair in the bathroom, and I sat down. We didn’t talk. Mark just began shaving my head with electric clippers, set at the lowest guard, which was about an eighth of an inch. He didn’t hesitate (like I would have), he just got right to it (which is very much how he approaches any task). I couldn’t see myself in the mirror, because the chair was too low. And this was a good thing. I just closed my eyes and let myself feel the hair falling on my neck, chest and lap. It was almost soothing, and extraordinarily intimate. I felt like my last veil or shield was being removed. And I was okay with that. I felt safe.
When Mark finished, he asked if I was ready to look at it. I told him I thought that I wanted to be alone when I looked at myself for the first time. He respectfully stepped out of the room and slid close the door.
I waited a few seconds, took a deep breath, and stood to view myself in the mirror. I once again looked myself in the eyes, and then took in my new appearance. I teared up a bit, but didn’t cry. I just looked, turning my head this way and that. After a minute or two, I got in the shower to wash off all of the loose hair.
When Mark asked me afterward what I thought, I told him that it wasn’t as bad as I had feared, but that it did look a bit militant with my 1/8th of an inch buzz cut. Plus, it felt a bit like a cop out to have left any hair at all. If it was all going to come out, why not take it all off now. I didn’t want to leave any hair for the chemo to take. I didn’t want to find any hairs on my pillow (no matter how short) or clogging our shower drain. So we decided to take off the rest in the morning. And we did, with shaving cream and a straight razor and no fanfare. I was ready for it.
I had three primary fears about having no hair.
1. That I would have a jacked up head shape with weird lumps or dents.
You’ve all seen them. Some people have good head shapes for baldness. Others don’t, bless them. Fortunately, my head shape wasn’t too bad. I could live with it. One fear down.
2. That my husband would no longer find me desirable.
When we first met, he was a new client coming in to the law firm where I worked (and still work). I was the paralegal assigned to his case. I later saw that when he had entered my contact information into his computer, he had identified me as “Joanna Stanfield, hot haired paralegal”. (In fact, it still says that in his Contacts.) Back then, I had my hair cut into a modified mohawk/fauxhawk….a look that definitely stood out, especially in a corporate law firm environment. So I knew that he had been attracted to my hair, and that my hairstyle was part of how I expressed myself historically, as do most of us.
Well, after the head shave, my husband made it clear that he still found me attractive. I think he just likes edgy looking women, and with the bald head, I think I still look a bit edgy. At any rate, I don’t think he’s just blowing smoke…he’s not really the type to do that anyway. I don’t think he’s turned off by the baldness. Another fear down.
3. That I’ll look like a sick person…that I won’t be able to hide that I have cancer.
This one isn’t as cut and dried. Something happened with the head shave. I may look sick to some with my shaved head. Others may just think I shaved my head by choice. The point is that, for some reason, I no longer care. Granted, I’ve only been rocking the dome for less than 48 hours now, but I’ve been out in public with the head more than once and didn’t feel nearly as self conscious as I thought I would. Rather, I felt somewhat defiant. As in, “if you don’t like my bald head…fuck you.” That kind of defiant. And also actually a little bit proud, like a fighter who is winning. Because, after all, if the chemo is killing my hair follicles, it’s killing other things as well. In other words…it’s working.
When I texted my brother that my hair was coming out, he responded, “Good. You don’t want any weak-ass chemo.” And that’s the truth. I don’t.
So, third fear, down. At least so far. I know there will be times that I feel self-conscious about the bald head and worry about standing out in a crowd. But I hope I’ll be able to hold my head high, knowing I’m doing everything I can to beat this disease.
To anyone going through chemotherapy, on the topic of hair loss, I would recommend taking control and shaving the head….not waiting for the hair to fall out. It was an empowering experience to lose the hair on my terms, not the cancer’s terms. To not see hair on my pillow. To not see thinning places on my head or bald patches. To shave the fucker.
And the other empowering thing I did? Documented the process. My husband took photos along the way, and we also scheduled a photo shoot with our friend and photographer, Brooke Kelly…the same talented woman who photographed us during the pregnancy, and took the newborn shots of baby Magnolia. Brooke made the experience not only safe, but fun. We laughed a lot, just as we always do. The vibe was not one of sadness, but one of victory and empowerment. It felt great. Again, it was about taking control where I could. And this was one thing that I could do on my terms.
And, finally, the coolest thing happened during the photo shoot….another one of those unexplainable cosmic things that lets me know this is all part of a bigger plan set out by the universe.
During a break in the shoot, there was a knock at the studio door. Brooke answered, and accepted a box being delivered by the postal carrier. The box was addressed to “The Montgomery 3, c/o Brooke Kelly”. This was strange, as no one knew we were going to be at the studio that day….we didn’t know it ourselves until the afternoon before.
We opened the box to find a beautiful note, written by a woman named Darla who had learned of us through the blog. This was a woman neither Mark nor I nor Brooke had met. She said that she had received an item recently, imprinted with the number 3. She asked the person who had given it to her what the number meant, why the person had chosen it for her, and the person replied that she didn’t know…she just wanted her to have it. And then this woman read about our story and realized that the item was meant for our family. So, she boxed it up and mailed it to the photographer, hoping it would get to us. And it just happened to arrive while we were there, all three of us.
It was a goosebump kind of moment. And made the day, and the experience, all the more special, for all of us.
So, the transformation continues. And it’s not about going from being a girl with hair to a girl without hair. It’s way more about going from being a girl who cared a great deal about what others – total strangers – thought about her to being a girl who can walk around with a shiny bald head without caring if others talk about her, point to her or laugh at her. And about being a woman who feels more secure about the love of her husband, even though she looks very different from the woman he met.
For those of you who really know me, this is big. Really big. What a gift.
Love and gratitude,
The Montgomery 3