You would expect that after a diagnosis of killer boobies, the focus of other people’s attention would be very much on your chest area. The last few weeks have shown quite clearly that it’s all about your hair.
Now before I start, let me clarify that I’m talking about the mop that previously covered my head. The chemotherapy drugs have been doing their job and destroyed just about every hair follicle from my neck down, giving me a fabulous result that years of waxing, plucking and laser treatment never quite achieved! However at the time of writing I still have my eyelashes and a fairly good attempt at eyebrows, as well as a reasonable smattering of die-hard bristles across my scalp to help minimise the shine of my skin.
After spending a small fortune on wigs and jaunty scarves, two weeks ago I found myself getting increasingly frustrated by the preoccupation that comes with making sure that a) knots are secure and b) there are no strange areas of scalp exposed whilst out and about. Following some very wise words from one daughter (“Mum, you’ve had cancer and nothing is as scary as that”) and a reality check from another daughter (“Mum, I’m not embarrassed to be seen out with you. It’s your behaviour that is embarrassing”) I decided to go commando and ditch the head covering on a day to day basis. It’s been an interesting experience…
…firstly, not many people seemed to actually be bothered by it! In a society that is obsessed by how we look, I think that actually our appearance needs to be rather shocking in order to get noticed. Beyond the honest looks of confusion by young children, I’ve not experienced anyone laughing or mocking or any of the other reactions I had feared.
The social filters of adults are a different matter. There was the checkout lady at Tescos who asked if I was doing ‘it’ for charity – hmm, yes sponsored walks are so last year, thought I’d get cancer instead – would you like the link to my Justgiving page? Thinking of having my left leg amputated next year just to make sure I hit my target! Undaunted she then proceeded to ask me where my cancer was and to regale with the story of how her friend was dying from this illness. So much easier if she would have stuck to the corporate script and asked me if I needed carrier bags or help with the packing.
Then last week whilst out shopping I was approached by an older lady who was dressed straight out of a WI fashion magazine and asked “Excuse me dear – are you struggling with cancer?” Now I did take a moment before responding because this conversation could have gone in many different ways, so I smiled and said that I was having chemotherapy at the moment – and it seems that her daughter had undergone similar treatment last year and had opted to ditch the headscarves, stating that she wasn’t going to hide from how the cancer or its treatment had changed her. Seems that she’s doing very well now, and this lovely lady simply wanted to applaud my decision too!
Finally today I was in a small queue, waiting to pay for some baking goods and the woman in front was loudly telling the staff about how she was taking part in the Macmillan charity head shave at the end of the month as her friend had recently started chemotherapy for breast cancer and lost her hair so she wanted to “be the same as her.” Yes, I was stood there with my patchy scalp on show, dressed in tight jeans and high heels so clearly not electing for a hairstyle that matched a personal fashion sense. On and on she went, all about how emotional she felt about losing her hair, how she just wanted to feel like her friend was feeling at the moment. I was honestly lost for words – would it have been rude to say that losing her hair wouldn’t even get her close to what her friend was probably going through right now? That letting your GHDs gather dust was not the same as spending days and days trying to get endless nausea under control? That the savings on shampoo and conditioner did not compensate for the sore mouth you get after your saliva turns to slime and the ulcers that appear in your cheeks and under your tongue? That the benefits of a ‘wash and go’ head were lost when the fatigue that regularly descends makes it virtually impossible to even stand up at times?
Losing my hair is such a small part of this journey and yet it’s been what the majority of people have asked me about or commented on, from being told that I’m very brave (no I’m not, I still get scared about the future) to the fact that I’m lucky because I have a great shape to my scalp (another body part for women to worry about!).
And it’s all about perspective – when I go to Christies for my treatment I suspect there may be patients who are envious of my final few follicles!