Not Long and Beautiful

There are some issues that get talked about quite a bit in cancer. I admit, some of them were huge issues for me, like the Dumb Shit People Say to Cancer Patients—but I’m kinda over that now. I do revisit the topic if something happens that grinds my gears, then I write a post, thinking to myself, “OK, I’ve overdone that topic, don’t want to write about it anymore.” Ha ha, until the next time. The Dumb Shit will always irritate me, but just less than it used to in the first confusing, angry, depression-filled months after my treatment ended.

Hair was not a big issue for me either. Of course, I did write about it in a guest post elsewhere, but that was enough—or so I thought. (Read the old post here, but I’ll sum up and refer to the finer points in this post.)

I’ve heard some tales in CancerLand that some women found the loss of hair more emotionally challenging than loss of breast tissue. Not so for me, and I only had a lumpectomy that left me lopsided and single-nippled (is that a word? it is now). As much as I find the “don’t worry it will grow back” comment insensitive when said to me, deep down, I knew it would grow back–unlike my nipple. So that is how I rationalized that the hair loss was of less importance than breast surgery.

Where it gets complicated for me is the old myth that my hair would grow back better, stronger, and curlier. I always had curly hair, and having my regrowth even curlier was and remains a problem. A big, fuzzy, my-head-looks-like-a-dandelion kind of problem.

Now, as I said in that old post, I do not mean to diminish the very real sadness many women feel about going bald. But for me, it was more of a symbolic problem. When I had long hair before cancer, the first thing I did each morning was pull my hair into a messy bun or ponytail to get it out of my face. During my time of chemo baldness, I’d reach up each morning to get the non-existent hair out of my face, only to find myself grabbing air. I was cruelly reminded each morning, before even managing to get totally awake: “oh right, I have cancer.” I never got a moment’s respite.

When the hair (ALL the bodily hair, again, that is what that old post is about) began to return, I vowed to let all my hair grow back–long, beautiful hair, just like that hippy dippy song says. But, I did go back to some very private hair removal for a VERY good reason (again, covered in the old post, click above). And since writing that post, within the past 8 months or so, yes, I’ve even resumed eyebrow waxes. So my “let it grow, let it grow” phase was nearly over.

As of the other day I can officially declare my let it grow mantra kaput. I was having an extraordinarily bad hair day. I heard myself mutter, “maybe I should just shave it all off.”

Whoa.

Some of the bitter moments during treatment would find me remembering how I’d wanted to just shave all my hair off on a bad hair day, and kicking myself for taking my hair for granted. I vowed to never make that half-joking comment again. But, I did.

So how did it come to this? This is where the myth, told to me by a few well-meaning souls, of hair coming back thicker and better, proves to be just that: myth. My hair has become more unmanageable each day post-cancer treatment; it is not thick and lustrous. It is coarse, thin, frizzy-curly, and just awful. That vow to be grateful is forgotten, and here I am, not only taking it for granted, but saying what I used to say in my younger carefree days, “….(sigh)….I should just shave it off”.

Because I over-think everything, seek symbolic meaning where it should not be sought, of course I began to rack my brain for other lapses I might have committed as my treatment days recede into memory. Are there other bad habits I indulged, or things I once took for granted that I now take for granted again?

I cannot think of anything right now, but I am on alert. I mean, I certainly do NOT take my health for granted like I did. On the contrary, I constantly scan for aches and pains, miniscule changes in anything, because I am sure I’m in a downward health spiral, what with cancer and just plain being over 40. I’m not the sappy, mushy, treacly type (I’m more lemon-acid-sour), so I never had some big clichéd epiphany of “life is precious, I’ll be a better person”, so overdone in mainstream cancer stories. I think perhaps I’ve slipped back into some fatalistic thinking again lately: “oh everything causes cancer, just eat what I want, do what I want, it is unavoidable”. This is in stark contrast to the first post treatment years of carefully avoiding nail polish and eating or drinking out plastic containers. I know that is irrational; one self-applied manicure and one microwaved dinner by themselves maybe won’t push my cells into unrestrained division to form a tumor. But I avoided those things right after treatment as more of superstition. Like I know stepping on cracks would never break my mother’s back—yet I’ve never intentionally stepped on one. (My mother is highly superstitious to the point of never walking out a different door of a building than the one she used to enter, because she thinks it causes bad luck. Of course, I make a point to use different doors to drive her crazy, because sometimes I just like to push people’s buttons—what can I say? I can be a brat for fun.)

OK, OK. This whole post is an exercise in overthinking dumb shit. And maybe being too hard on myself simply because I had a bad hair day.

On the other hand, maybe it is time for a drastic haircut, time to let go of the long hair to which I’ve formed an unhealthy attachment. Cancer made some terrible physical changes for me. It is time to adapt.

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