I had hoped to wait on shaving my head until my younger sisters arrive a few days before Christmas. But it was half gone, and what remained seemed mostly loose hanks tangled in the hangers-on. So, I’m having one more new experience: baldness.
Not for a while will I find strands all over the backs of sweaters. Wipe hair wads out of the sink. Pick them off the pillows. Also, no more haircuts and shampoo routine to coax my straight, fine, thick hair into something less than listless. I don’t assume it will grow back the same way.
This has been expected of course. 99.9 percent of breast cancer patients lose their hair during anthracycline or taxane chemotherapy. Now my head’s chilly and I can take those sweet little caps sent by loved ones out for a spin.
When my kids were young, experimenting with hair seemed like such a great outlet for self-expression—the least damaging way to rebel. Our younger son went through middle school with bleached blond and kelly-green hair. (Now thirty, he’s trying partly blue-silver.) Honestly, I feel the same way about my own hair now. Losing it is the least of my concerns, right down there with staying home more, away from germy crowds: it’ll get old after a while but I’m OK with it. I fantasize about very short pink hair when it comes back, like Megan Rapinoe but with wrinkles and eye bags. (Also, sans muscles and cute girlfriend.)
But reaching further back, hair was an authentic symbol growing up in the 1960’s. We all grew it out long, parted down the middle. For the first time, I got happy with my stick-straight hair. But smooth, wavy, or frizzed, light or dark: we flaunted it, wore flowers in it, even sang along to musicals about it. Long hair identified us with the counter culture, the 1967 San Francisco Summer of Love, though in high school I wasn’t a fully morphed hippie. Not until I moved north to school in 70’s did my peers see me as genuine California flower child, by contrast to local conventions. It wasn’t a true lifestyle conversion for me anyway—while fully embracing anti-war culture, I was still pretty conventional, studying for good grades so I could pay my way.
Now my hair’s shorter than it’s been since I was born. My second chemo was Monday and, though newly shorn, I’m feeling much as I did two weeks ago. Energy’s pretty good, though sleep has been curtailed; no nausea, just some jitters when I’m more vertical. I’m doing more reclining. Catching up on books, podcasts, a little writing. A little napping. And thinking a lot about art, but not producing much. Of course, I’m sidetracked by this new part-time job (cancer’s one of those crap jobs that someone has to do). But I’m also stumped on my current piece. It’s partly constructed but I’m going to start over—I’ve discovered all the wrong ways I put it together. In the meantime, my sketches have been obvious first attempts; I need to push past those. I’m puzzling on what’s next.
So for the moment, self-expression will take the form of holding up a newly stubbly head, and a peaceful holiday with some low-key family time—the best kind of time there is.