My husband and I went to a Christmas Eve midnight mass this past December, and we saw a teacher he used to work with. I knew her too but her relationship with Patrick was closer. I knew her because we would go out for occasional dinners with all the people Patrick worked with. The teacher we saw at the Christmas mass had been suffering with memory issues recently, so it was interesting to me that she didn’t recognize Pat but she recognized me because of my hair, which was salt and pepper, curly and full.
I loved my hair, loved good hairstyles and different curly hair products. I knew I was going to lose my hair when I began chemotherapy and oddly enough, I needed a haircut anyway. Covid 19 prevented that from happening as social distancing became law, so all the hair salons closed. It was getting too full and too hard to control. So on one hand, I didn’t really want to lose my hair because I thought at the time that it was the most outstanding part of me, in that my hair was the first thing people described about me. It stood out. I never dyed my hair, so it was healthy, full, and quite beautiful, but on the other hand, knowing I was going to lose my hair, OK, let’s move on, let’s go. I was impatient to get this whole chemotherapy thing started and done with. By the end of my first treatment my hair did start to fall out. I would run my fingers through my hair and come up with small bunches of hair. More fell out in the shower. I was not particularly upset but it was surreal. It was like a sunburn that began peeling, and it was an obsession to peel it. That was like me and my hair. I was transfixed with the process of hair just coming out of my head. It was also proof that my life was changing drastically. I still looked like me, but then again, I did not look the same. Finally, I cut it short and started wearing hats and scarves, I would take selfies constantly, looking at my face without hair. So much face. My ears stick out, my nose is big and where did I get all that loose skin under my chin that runs into my neck. But as I studied my face for all its odd characteristics, I was still intrigued by what I saw. Hair camouflaged my face. Like I said, it was my most outstanding characteristic. But without hair, there is a whole new me. It is like a snake shedding its skin. My face with all its’ features has a lively expression, a quirky but cute look. I am intrigued by my face. It’s exposed. Without my hair I am a whole new me. Now the bareness reveals facial expressions, signs of age with my age spots sprinkling my face, my big ears and big nose seems to fit my funny smile revealing a person who is facing this experience of cancer and chemotherapy head on (pardon the pun) with openness, humor and dignity, and sometimes fear and sadness. My face is bare now and it is sync with my defenses which are also down. As my body changes from day to day with a variety of side effects, my moods change too and I ride with them, experiencing whatever the day brings, and my exposed face is proof.
With defenses down, I am learning life lessons. I can look at my cancer as a punishment for all the wrongs I did in my life, but how would that help me grow and learn? Instead I look at the lessons this experience has to teach me. I am learning about self-forgiveness and self-love. Sad memories seem to pop up and I remember them with more compassion than I ever experienced before. I am learning how to depend on other people, and luckily my family and friends have all come to my aide. It is humbling to accept help and I am learning to accept help lovingly and graciously. I am learning to let go of the weakness I always felt at having to ask for help as that all comes from ego. I am now seeing it as an opportunity to connect on a deeper level with the people I grew up with. I see more opportunities to give and receive love.
I still get impatient and critical, but I have also come to understand that those are feelings of frustration that passes. It does not define who I am. Who am I? I am a bald woman with cancer on a long road to heaven. This road is filled with opportunities to give and receive love, to enjoy what life has to offer, even with the obstacles presented to me – cancer and Covid 19. There is much life to enjoy, much learning to experience, that exposure I feel without my hair, feels like one door closes, another opens.