"If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle." -- Hillary Rodham Clinton, 1997
Q: How many days does it take to lose a full head of hair?
A: Four days letting it fall out gradually. Half a day getting fed up with it. Half an hour to shave it all off.
I cut my hair short before I began chemo, anticipating that short hair would be less stress and mess should it all fall out. Normally a sassy new cut would prompt me to buy a new outfit or at least a new pair of earrings, but this time it felt like a harbinger of disagreeable things to come.
Three weeks after the first chemo treatment I began to lose my hair. Although entirely expected and thoroughly painless, it was traumatic to feel my hair come away in my hands so easily, like pulling at cobwebs, and to see it form a dense bird's nest in the shower drain. The bed was covered with my hair in the morning. My hair blanketed the house.
Waiting for each hair to go was like death by a thousand cuts. So on the fifth day of the exodus my husband Harlan got the buzzer and the razor, and I was G.I. Jen. Up to this point I hadn't felt like a sick person. Now I looked in the mirror and saw Cancer Girl.
No hot, itchy wigs for me. And while I'd hoped that I'd be able to rock headscarves like Rhoda, in fact they just made me look like Steven van Zandt.
I worried that I had not bought enough hats, but Harlan reminded me, "Honey, the world is brimming with hats."
Our hair is such a part of our identity, our femininity. Family lore has it that before I was born the doctor said to my parents, "We don't know if it's a boy or a girl, but it sure has a lot of hair," and I was born with a full head of black hair. I was always proud of my hair. In high school I grew it so long I could almost sit on it, and often wore it in a thick, shiny rope of a braid down my back. In college I cut, dyed and gelled it in every '80s way. In the late '80s came the perms. In the '90s, short cut for backpacking through the third world. When I came back to the U.S. I grew it longer and kept it more conservative, as I thought befitted my new executive status at Intuit and Oracle. Short, long, then short and long again in my perpetual quest for a fab new look. Long for my wedding. Short again for cancer.
In context of course I know it's just hair and will grow back. Still, I shed some tears at losing my pretty hair.
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