Cancer’s Cruelest Cut: Hair

Nine steps on this journey

There’s no “bad hair day” as bad as the day you have to shave your head due to chemo. Of the very many things cancer changes your perspective on, the role hair plays in your life is right up there with scars, and survival. The potential loss of hair is often cited as the scariest part of cancer treatment. I know: I’ve had cancer twice.

Seeing yourself bald — having others see you bald — is as close to baring your soul as you can physically get. On a woman, it’s unnatural; it can only indicate one thing: that you are hovering close to death. When you take the clippers to your locks once the chemo makes them start to fall out it feels as if you are succumbing to the disease, which is not what you want to do. You feel that you will never have hair again.

But this is not true. When you recover, your hair grows back. It does, I promise: I’ve grown mine back from scratch twice.

The treatment process for cancer is long and passes in stages. Recovery from surgery; completing chemo; finally finishing all those rounds of radiation; years of hormone therapy pills; regular check-ups and doctor’s visits. At some point, you resume your normal schedule and return to something like your life before cancer. But you never really graduate from Cancer College; you’re always a student of the disease.

The one thing that feels like crossing the cancer finishing line is the first time you have to get a haircut once it grows back. Like a child’s first visit to the barber’s chair, this is an encounter with sharp objects that signals a maturation, an introduction to one of the regular normalcies of life as opposed to all the knives which attend cancer.

Cancer is often referred to as a “journey.” It’s a journey measured not in steps, but in years and inches.

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