It hasn’t quite been thirty days yet since I started chemo treatments, but I’ve already lost most of my hair. I always imagined it would come out in great chunks like it does in the movies, but it just gradually thinned until it was mostly gone. At that point, it looked like an old man’s comb-over, which really isn’t a good look for me. I took a pair of scissors and cut it as short as I possibly could.
I’m as bald as a monkey’s butt, I announced to my boyfriend. How bald is a monkey’s butt? he asked without taking his eyes off the computer screen. I didn’t exactly know how to answer that without incurring a strange Google search history, so I went back to the bathroom and played around with my new look.
Anticipating this moment, I’d already bought a few things from a catalog for chemo patients, such as a turban that’s soft and super easy to put on. I also have a little blue knit cap which can supposedly double as a sleep cap, and a few scarves that I will sooner or later have to figure out how to tie. I imagine as cooler weather arrives, I’ll need snugglier hats. It’s amazing how cold you can feel when you have no hair on your head to keep you insulated.
Being suddenly bald makes you ponder the importance our culture places on hair. Going as far back as ancient times, there are myths surrounding its power. One of the most famous of these is the story of Samson and Delilah. Samson’s great strength was bound somehow in his locks of hair. After Delilah shaved his head, his power was destroyed. Modern-day Wiccans still attribute power to their hair, growing it long and ensuring that it never ends up in the hands of their enemies.
I don’t know if I’ve lost any power by losing my hair. I’ve instead focused on trying to figure out how being bald could work in my favor. After being nearly-bald for a few days now, I’ve come up with several possible benefits:
1. I’ll save a lot of money on shampoo and conditioner. Conditioner used to disappear into my dry curly hair like Percy Fawcett into a Brazilian jungle. But I don’t have to worry about that anymore! I can just take a towel and shine it up like a bowling ball.
2. The autumn wind won’t bother me this year. Normally it whips my hair into my face and eyes, and is a constant nuisance. I’ll be able to enjoy the fall even more than usual this go-round.
3. I won’t have to carry a supply of scrunchies with me. I’ll even be able to do some gardening without my hair swinging into the way.
4. My hair won’t get caught in my boyfriend’s armpit. I realize this is a weird one, but it happened with disturbing frequency whenever we were working side by side in the kitchen.
5. I can finally wear the hippie hat I bought in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco without worrying about contracting a vintage case of head lice.
6. I have a great excuse to dust off some of the other hats in my hat collection and actually wear them. Imagine that.
7. I have a built-in costume for Halloween. Especially if I decide to go as an alien. Or a Conehead.
8. My morning routine just got a lot shorter. I won’t have to wait for my hair to dry before leaving the house, or nuke myself with a hair dryer.
9. I can leave off taking Biotin supplements for a while.
And, last but not least…
10. No more bad hair days!
I went into my local farmer’s market/green-grocer shop yesterday to pick up a few fresh fruits and veggies. The shopkeeper didn’t recognize me, and asked if I’d been there before. I said, Yes, but I had hair back then. He quickly came out from behind the counter and told me how he was a cancer survivor who had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease when he was sixteen. Probably in his fifties now, he showed me a chemo scar on his wrist. He insisted on giving me a free peach and then a hug.
This may be the greatest benefit of all. I don’t mean getting free pieces of fruit, but the opportunity to hear the stories of those who have been in my shoes and survived, and are even thriving years later. It gives me hope for myself, and makes me feel less alone in this surreal experience. I had been in his shop many times before, and never knew what he had gone through. And he endured it as a teenager; how terrifying that must have been. Being bald had functioned like some kind of secret handshake, dissolving the usual barrier that exists between strangers. It gave us a moment of real connection.
As I was leaving, he reached for my hand, and I gave it to him. This would have seemed odd to me a month ago, but all I felt as he squeezed my hand was strength. And power. As though he were willing these traits to me in the middle of his small shop of jams and produce. And I think he probably was. His eyes were full of true compassion, and I felt a palpable transference of some kind.
I didn’t think too much about it until I got home and put away the groceries. But the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that, unlike Samson, I didn’t lose all that much when I lost my hair. And quite possibly, in its place, I acquired something pretty spectacular.