Monday 20 November 2017

Cancer: First there's the fear of death, then fear of hair loss

With Yvonne Joye

MAYBE it's just me but my impression is that when cancer is diagnosed, death is the first thing everyone thinks of, then its chemotherapy and after that thoughts drift to the inevitable hair loss. Having no hair was something I never believed I would ever have to deal with but of course, cancer was also something I never expected to have to deal with either.

Having being diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2009, my chemotherapy commenced two years ago this month and it was this very week two years ago that I had my head shaved. I did so, on receipt of confirmation that the medication I was taking incurred hair loss on 100 per cent of women. They don't sugar coat these things, you know, the people in oncology.

Some girls have great courage, can stand in front of a mirror and shave off their hair themselves – I would never have been able to do that. Apart from the trauma of it, the logistics would be beyond me with a real possibility of my slicing off one of my ears.

For me, the only route was to go to a salon that specialises in these things with people who are used to dealing with people like me, or at least the new me I had become.

As a teenager, there had been a girl in school who suffered from alopecia, though I didn't know the word for it back then. She was known as "the girl with no hair". Though she used to wear very pretty headscarves and bandanas, l always remember being curious about what she might look like without them.

And that's what I felt people were thinking about me. Once I was diagnosed and the fear for my life had passed, I sensed this transfer of attention to my imminent hair loss. I used to feel that people were trying to imagine me without my hair and that even before I lost it, they were already picturing me bald. I guess, it is natural and normal and, sure, didn't I used to do it myself. It was a chance, I suppose, for people to consider me openly while the hair was still there because when it is gone, people don't look too closely anymore.

Yet no one could have been more curious than me about how I'd look without hair. In an attempt to prepare myself for what was to come, I would stand at the mirror, slick my hair tightly to my head and have my two hands cover my hairline. It didn't prepare me. But my husband did. The day came and, in a salon full of mirrors, the hairdresser asked if I would prefer to face the window. I did. When the hair was gone, I turned to my husband and asked, "what do I look like?" He simply said "I lost you for a while when they cut it short, but got you back again when it was gone".

It was enough to make me okay that day.

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