My oncologist rattled off the various side effects I would experience over the course of chemotherapy. He sped through them like a fifth grader reciting a list of the U. S. Presidents.
His voice dropped off as he ended with, “…and hair loss.”
Hair loss? The words jumped out from the doctor’s droning, curled their fingers around a fragile part of me and squeezed.
I managed a faint, “All of it?” His words went something like this, “Oh, definitely…you will be bald!” Realizing that this news came out a little too loud, a little too calous, his eyes softened as he offered up an apologetic smile.
From the day you get that first call–the confirmation–cancer unveils itself in revelations spaced just far enough apart to compound the pain. Each one a direct hit, pelting you like hard rain and stinging your skin. Instead of rolling off your face, off your shoulders and arms, it sinks down into you where it pools and waits for you to wade through its waters late at night. The loss of your hair hits you
harder than you would think. For it’s a visible reminder of other losses. The ones carried deep inside. Ones, too overwhelming to express.
My hair was chestnut-brown. It draped down over my shoulders and came to rest at the small of my back. More than a veil, my hair flowed about me as part of my identity. It conveyed warmth, vitality and femininity. In losing it, I feared that part of me would be stripped away.
I left the office with the orders for my first round of chemo and rested my forehead against the cool glass of the car window on what seemed like an awfully long ride home.
There are times when you need to cry but tears won’t come. Yet when you finally slide open the door on your thoughts and let them fall into the care of another, the tears break free. This time it happened during a phone call to my sister. I told her the news. It was certain, all of my hair would fall out. There was silence on the other end of the phone line. Not an empty silence, but a time of listening and receiving. It seemed that some of the pain flowed from my hands to hers and I was comforted through the exchange.
After we’d talked for a while she shared that my niece and her friends were growing their hair out so that they could give it away. Their hair would be made into wigs for girls who couldn’t grow their own hair.
Later, I pulled up a website and saw pictures of some of those little girls who lived every day without hair. Girls who were stared at in grocery store aisles and singled out for teasing on playgrounds and in cafeterias. Finally, they had been given cute, full, adorable hair. I say hair and not wigs because it looked like the real thing. I read the stories written by grateful, little girls about how good it felt to have a new sense of beauty and to not be stared at anymore.
My loss could be…would be someone else’s gain. Another revelation–this time, a beautiful one–unfurled in cancer’s wake.
I remember the thick braid of hair lying heavy across my hands. Part of me–my warmth and beauty–would fall across the shoulder of a little girl. I imagined her eyes sparkling as she gazed into the mirror, tossing her head side-to-side, mesmerized by her very own hair dancing up, away from her face. I smiled as I pictured her being startled while brushing her teeth; as she caught the reflection of a stranger in the mirror. A smile breaking across her face as she realized that the reflection was her own–with hair. I liked the thought of her drawing close to the mirror and wrinkling up her nose while she ran her fingers through this new mane, in disbelief.
As I slid the deep-honey rope of hair into the mailer, I cried. Not tears of loss. These, were giving tears. For in giving my hair to another, my loss was lifted from me and I was given a mantle of joy.