It has been a while since I last updated this rather hesitant journal – going against my earlier resolve to be regular. I wonder who is reading this. But if you are one of those few who have logged on to read I can only apologise profusely. Getting back to life after a long pause sometimes takes more work than I’d imagined.
This time last year I resembled, pretty closely, the grim unsmiling smiley, albeit a brown one, that we use unabashedly in our favourite mode of human interaction – instant messages.
Do you recall that clichéd clumps-of-hair in the shower scene in horror movies of a certain kind? I am willing to bet that a cancer patient came up with that.
The sight of a bald head is possibly one most associated with cancer. The loss of hair, then, isn’t just about losing that symbol of vanity – it is about the fear of being perceived in a certain way by others.
Three weeks or so after the start of her chemotherapy a friend I met online on a cancer support group sent a distraught message – “I don’t want to continue the treatment.”
While she knew about the impending hair loss, and felt she was ready (like most of us), the reality of a scalp permanently in pain, of leaving trails of hair around the house like Hansels bread crumbs, the well-meant advice on how to deal with the loss (shave versus don’t shave camps), were all too much for her. The emotional impact of this cosmetic after-effect is often, unfortunately, ignored.
Going bald – I mean actually taking a razor to my head to shave it all off without waiting for them to go in due course of time, was about asserting some control at a time when nothing else was. The relief from the scalp pain was just an added bonus.
But really, in a way it was liberating. I liked being bald (at least until I lost my eyebrows!). If you think about it it’s a tick on the bad-girl list – such as having a tattoo, getting piercings, et al.
However, of all the agonies of cancer, losing my eyebrows was probably the most heart-wrenching and the only one I still remember clearly. Really, I am quite convinced we underestimate the vast importance of eyebrows.
It’s all that holds our face together and keeps us from looking like a ‘Kree’. Forget eyes as the windows to our soul – it’s the eyebrows that truly matter. Pictures illustrating the point will soon be updated, I promise.
If you have a friend or family member about to go through chemo, let them handle it the way they want. If they want to have a ‘bald and beautiful’ party, make sure you get the cake. It is possibly the only way they get to assert some control at a time when one feels like their body has been invaded. Get them a wig if they want. If they don’t, take them out for dinner in their fabulous new no-hair-do.
At the end of it watching them grow back when you are better kind of makes up for it. And if, like me, you are living in a tropical land of sweaty horror sometimes you even miss the feeling of the wind on your gloriously bare scalp.