If a woman’s hair is her crowning glory, I am in big trouble. I tell people I don’t comb my hair, I arrange it. I’ve gone to great lengths (no pun intended) to fake myself into thinking I could have great hair. Today at work I had a photo shoot so my mug can be part of our new website. It was a professional shoot and it was intimidating. It took me thirty minutes to style my hair this morning, and I was still unhappy with the results. I felt like my mother reincarnated. She was extremely vain and was known to spend ridiculous amounts of time coiffing her hair.
I was born with naturally curly dark brown hair. Like most little girls in the fifties, my mother kept it short with short bangs. Lovely. I loved my mother dearly but she was wicked about my sister’s and my hair. She insisted we keep it short, at times very short. So, until I was 19, I had little say about how I wanted to wear my hair. It was the sixties when most girls wore long, straight hair. My hair style did wonders for my self-confidence.
During my twenties and thirties, I was content with my hair. Early on I used my mother’s clothes iron to straighten my hair. I did a reverse perm. Later, when curls and big hair were popular, I was all set. I varied the length from time to time, but for the most part, it was usually down to, or past my shoulders. Fast forward to my forties. Heredity stepped in and my hair begin to thin. And, like most women with thinning hair, it thinned on top and near the crown. I told myself I would never spend the hours my mother did trying to fake a full head of hair.
In January of 2004 I was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. There’s a lot to tell about living through that experience, but tonight it’s about the hair loss. Within three weeks of my first chemotherapy treatment, my hair began to fall out. I remember sitting in my office at work one day and gently pulling at the back of my head, waiting for the dreaded hair loss to start. When I looked at my hand, it was full of hair. That afternoon and for several days afterwards, I was morbidly fascinated by pulling out my hair. Finally, my sister took me to a salon specializing in wigs. She sat with me and watched as they buzzed the little bit of hair left on my head. I tried not to cry. Donna tried not to cry. I bought a wig that looked better than my hair. Everything I heard about cancer treatments was that most women were most upset by the hair loss. I tried to look on the bright side, having also heard that my hair would grow back thicker, curlier and more luxurious. Not true. It came back in a patch of salt and pepper, thinner than ever. My curls were frizz. It hasn’t ever gotten better.
Losing your hair is a humbling experience. It can make you very sad. I tried to laugh about it. I wore my wig when I was in public. I tried scarves and hats but didn’t like the look on me. Every bump, indent and flat surface of my head were on display. In home settings I went natural. It wasn’t pretty. Melissa Etheridge looked beautiful bald. Not me. Fortunately, my family and friends offered constant support and encouragement. Everyone that is, except my mother. Her memory loss was well advanced and the first time she saw me bald I was certain she was going to have a heart attack. No matter how many times Donna and I tried to explain, we could not help her understand it was a temporary condition.
It’s important to keep a sense of humor when you have no hair. I was hospitalized twice with Neutropenia during my chemo treatments. Neutropenia is a serious side effect that some people develop while undergoing chemotherapy treatment. It’s a condition of an abnormally low number of (white blood cells). The second time I went to the hospital was in the middle of the night. I was very sick, and Frank and I knew we had to get to the hospital quickly. They put me in isolation in a double room in the bed closest to the window. Frank stood anxiously near the door waiting for the doctor. I was sitting up in the bed, sick and miserable. A custodian came by my room. Apparently, he was cleaning bathrooms. He looked at me and then looked at Frank. He looked at me again and then asked Frank, “Excuse me sir, does he need to have the bathroom cleaned?” I was mortified. I burst out, “I’m a woman!” Poor guy, I’m sure he felt bad. After he left, Frank came over to the bed where I was crying in misery. He helped me laugh it off. We still laugh about that to this day.
On another night, I was having dinner at a local Italian restaurant with my sister, her friends and one of my daughters-in-law. I pulled and tugged on my wig throughout the evening. Sometimes when we are together, my sister and I can get pretty silly. If someone is with us, they are welcome to get silly too. It was one of those nights. By the time our group left the restaurant, we couldn’t speak in full sentences. An early spring night, I was wearing a long black raincoat. Since I couldn’t wait for an excuse to take off my wig, I told them to guess who I was imitating. I took off the wig and waddled away from the group of giggling women. Within seconds, they called out in unison, “Hey Uncle Fester!”
I guess it’s not really important whether I have a glorious mane. I don’t believe hair should be a woman’s crowning glory. My crowning glory is the grace of my family and friends, the effort I make everyday to find my authentic self, and the humility with which I seek to feel a closer relationship with God.