As I left the NYC apartment where my hairdresser had just created a very uncomfortable situation for me after too much partying, I knew that was the last time I’d see him. EVER. It took months for me to recover, the incident was so traumatizing (not rehashing), but as my roots became intolerable, I finally asked the most stylish woman in my office where she got her hair done, and the rest is history. That was 2007–8 years ago. Jeff was the best hairstylist I’d ever encountered after frequenting many high-end salons and talented hairdressers (the incident above aside). Every time I left Jeff’s Upper East Side apartment or condo in South Beach, I felt like a new woman. I know, I know. He works out of NYC, FL, and DC. If you can dream it, you can live it. Back to the point, my hair had become a masterpiece. It was perhaps my prized asset. As it is for many women.
The unknown of whether or not I was going to lose my hair during cancer treatment didn’t sit well. My hair hung to the middle of my back, and I’d spent a lot of effort to get it and keep it there. I’d thought about trying to see Jeff when I was back east just after my diagnosis but was worried I might be acting like a princess. When my boyfriend Doug and I made a split decision to leave Rochester and head back to Colorado, we revisited the topic of what to do with my hair. Doug was in full support of driving 6 hours south and out of the way to see Jeff and make an event out of chopping my gorgeous hair off. Luckily Jeff was working in DC and not Miami, but whether or not I was going to be able to reach him was another story. The man works nonstop! I had tried him earlier in the day and couldn’t reach him. Finally, after we’d already hit the road in his direction, he called me back. The plan was up in the air, but we were DC bound, and my hair was coming off that night or first thing in the morning.
We arrived around 11 pm at Jeff’s best friend’s house or better described as his chosen family’s home. Tanja welcomed us with open arms, and we were treated as part of the family. After a quick hello and house tour, the hair party began. He sat me down in front of a table of people who were watching carefully as he started braiding my long blonde locks. I was ready for this. Moments later he held my foot long braid in his hand, and everyone cheered!
I can’t imagine my hair coming off in any other way. Doug, Jeff, and his family made me feel like a loved and adored princess. The good kind. They loved the transformation before it was even complete.
When my hair started dropping weeks later, I freaked out. I tried not to, but I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t stop touching it and wondering if it was coming out or if I was making it up. I thought if I kept tugging it, my hair might stop falling out. Wise thoughts. Mr. Observant (and I mean that kindly, it’s comforting to have someone around who sees you) aka Doug, noticed my constant obsession immediately and urged me in the nicest way possible to stop touching it. When It was clear that wasn’t going to happen, he took me to my first barber in Phoenix, and we had my man Boris cut most of it off.
Luckily, I never fully lost my hair, but that didn’t stop me from shaving it off. The picture third from the left, with my aunt, was the thinnest it got, and then it started growing back. To those of you who have lost your hair entirely, I am so sorry. One day I was putting mascara on and noticed my bottom lashes were missing. There’s no way around it. Hair loss sucks. Cancer is stupid.
As my hair was starting to thicken up and grow back, the second young, beautiful, spirited 24-year-old woman, Cobalt, who I met at FirstDescents camp, lost her long and hard fought brain cancer battle. It was too much for me to handle. One month earlier I’d lost another 24-year-old, Katrina, to colon cancer. I guess I didn’t see how sick Katrina was and took her under my wing when she entered my clinic and took my place as the youngest person there. The news hit me so hard. I remember reading the text and crumbling into a heap on my hotel floor minutes before I was supposed to go to treatment. When I learned of Cobalt’s passing, I wanted to dive into a bottle of vodka to numb my pain. I was sad, scared and angry. Instead of imbibing, I chose to shave my head. I went to the grocery store, bought a pair of clippers and trimmed my hair down. I stopped shy of BICing it, but the thought did cross my mind.
Each time I took matters into my own hands, I felt stronger. Cancer strips away so much of your control. When I was able to make choices on my timeline, I felt much better.
It’s up to you whether you decide to cut, shave or leave your hair. I hear cold caps work well at preventing hair loss during chemo. Maybe your treatment isn’t going to impact your hair. When I chose to have Jeff cut my hair, I wasn’t sure what my treatment was going to be, but having one of my best friends and most talented hairstylist’s I know cut it off felt right to me. That was a great night. One of the most fun nights I’d had since my diagnosis. And when all the hair came off, Jeff made a point I never thought of, “energetically, hair holds a lot of memory.” It was time for something new, and ever since I’ve been playing around with it, changing the cut, color, and style. My most recent look can be seen in the picture in the upper left-hand corner. Jet black! I would never have imagined. But at the urging of Doug and approval (hint of sarcasm) of my Phoenix barber, I went for it in Las Vegas the day before New Year’s Eve.
No regrets. No tears. It’s just hair.
I’m enjoying my goth hair more than I would have thought, and can’t believe all the compliments I get. In the end, it’s fun sporting a new look every couple of months. If you’re bald and hate it. Rock the wig. Hell! Get a few wigs. Hopefully, your insurance covers, at least, one good wig and you can find more inexpensive wigs to cater to your different moods. If you’re scared people will know it’s a wig, who cares?! It’s your life. Your style. Your journey. Your fun to create. For most of us, the hair will grow back. Dream up a new look and own it! I reiterate: It’s just hair. By now you ought to know there are a lot of other stressful experiences on this journey, don’t let your hair be one of them.