I wasn’t in the girl scouts long but I do believe in being prepared. Even though my hair is still very much intact (a miracle after two weeks of chemo), I decided that perhaps I needed to buy a wig – you know – just in case the doctors are right and I wake up one morning to find myself looking more like ET than the gorgeous beauty that I am! (HA! HA! Just kidding!) Of course, so many people are praying that my hair stays right where it belongs (on top of my head, thank you very much!) that the venture may have simply been an exercise in fun. Regardless, Beth & I needed a girls’ day out and shopping for a new hair-do was the perfect excuse!
Just in case you don’t know Beth, she and I were best friends in high school. Our lives took different paths after her family moved away one summer and the person entrusted with giving me her forwarding address failed to do so when the school year started. We’d both looked for the other over the years but as with most women, names change after marriage and it’s hard to chase someone down when you don’t know their married name. As we later found out, our lives paralleled – daughters the same age, grandchildren the same age, same college, similar challenges in life – we even lived in some of the same towns and at one time worked only a few blocks from each other and never knew how close we were.
We were reconnected a few years ago by a marvelous stroke of luck – serendipity – coincidence (I call it God). As it turns out, Beth had an intern working for her and mentioned to the young woman how she’d tried to locate me but my parents had moved and the last she heard, Dad was no longer teaching and that they were full-time foster parents. The intern asked their names and lo and behold, came to work the next day with Mom & Dad’s address. It turns out that the intern’s mother worked for the agency that licenses foster parents, and she knew my parents personally and passed on their contact information. The rest is history. As with true sisters-of-the-heart, we picked up right where we left off (A fact that amazes our husbands but know that the women reading this will completely understand the phenomena of sisterhood!).
But, I digress – back to the FUN! We found a great shop in Austin – Pat Painter’s Wig Shop – and had a blast. Yes, I know – shopping for a chemo wig doesn’t sound like it would be a fun event. After all, you’re looking for a “cranial prosthetic” (Did you know that is the official medical terminology for a wig?). The very name kind of conjures up a sad, dismal picture doesn’t it? But, with an accomplice at my side, we girls (yes, I dare to still call us girls – if men can be boys all their lives, why can’t we be girls?) were determined to turn the event into an adventure in fun. And so, we did.
I have to admit that going into the shop was a bit intimidating simply because we were there to buy a cranial prosthetic and not simply a wig for fun. And, losing your hair is a traumatic thought. Hair is part of our identity as a woman – part of our femininity. In my case, it’s also a part of my personality. I love my curly hair and the white streak which has become my signature. Breast cancer takes so much from you – your time, energy, self-image, health (yes, chemo is making me sick and I was well before doctors!), your breasts – and now my hair? Frankly, it almost seems a cruelty that the disease strips you of this as well. And, before anyone says anything, yes, I know my hair will grow back and that in about two years, it will be back where it is now. Two years is a long time to not look like yourself and have part of your identity as a woman removed. My women friends who’ve been through this have been a great source of strength as they understand experientially the emotional impact.
Not only does hair loss impact your self-image as a woman, it’s a signal to others that you’re “sick.” It’s a sad truth but there are some people who do treat you differently when they hear you have cancer. I’ve already experience this first hand. I don’t know yet, but it feels like a bald head will only make the disconnect worse. As someone who’s lived with MS for years, I am diametrically opposed to being treated differently for any reason. Being treated as less because I have MS is one of the few things in life that truly ticks me off and I’ve fought against it for the whole journey with MS. I don’t want to be treated less because I have cancer, hence the decision to purchase a wig for professional situations. (People who love me won’t care, but if I’m having to negotiate a contract, that person on the other side of the negotiation table may not have the same viewpoint!)
I admit that I was intimidated – and a bit timid – about the thought of buying a wig (Why do you think I took Beth along?) While I was intimidated – I shouldn’t have been. What Beth and I found at Pat Painter’s was a shop full of wonderful, caring, compassionate women who pampered and loved me through the process. Several of them had been there. They “got” what the experience was all about. I had worried about this day for nothing. Instead of an emotional trauma, it was a GREAT experience!
We spent the morning playing hair dress-up and tried on multiple new wigs. Finally, we decided on two new styles from opposite ends of the spectrum. First, we chose a long blond one (for absolute fun), which is about the color of Rebekah’s hair. I told her this was so I could tell people we were twins! Ha! Secondly, we chose a red one that fairly close to the hair style I have now. The red one was a gift from Beth. It’s totally awesome and makes me look a lot like, well, me. I love it! They’ve even told me that if I want my signature white streak, to come back and they’ll put it in for me. We did look for a bright pink or purple one for my gigs but we’ll have to do a little more shopping for that! (Yes, another excuse for a road trip!)
I handle stressful situations in life by trying to image the worst case scenario and putting together a plan to deal with it. If I can deal with the worst case scenario, then anything less is a piece of cake. Believe me… God gave me a really VIVID imagination! So far, my imagination has been much worse than reality! (I’m so glad!)
So, I’m ready – just in case. I have been showered with beanies, hand crocheted caps, turbans, silk scarves, cotton scarves, lace caps, caps with ponytails, chemo hats, and much, much more, and now have my cranial prosthetics – a term which I no longer find intimidating but hilarious!
Today was the third chemo treatment and they added a new mix to the cocktail today. I still have hair which is “firm” and it’s been a wonderful reprieve to have the extra two weeks with hair. But, it’s likely that hair loss is going to come fairly quickly over the next two weeks. But, I’m prepared. When I look at all these wonderful head coverings, I’m struck by the beauty of the fact that ALL were a gift from someone who loves me – someone who gave their money and time and effort and love to say we love you, we’re here on this journey with you, we have your back.
The Bible says that a woman’s hair is her crowning glory. As I face the loss of my hair, I see this verse with a new perspective. Every morning when I get up and put on a cap or scarf or wig, I’m going to be constantly reminded of the woman who loved me enough to give me this gift. I may not be covered in my own hair, but I’ll be covered in a different type of crowning glory – the love of these amazing women. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that I’ll cry when it falls out – I know me. But, it will be hard to remain sad or dwell there when I “dress” my head each morning in garments blessed by the love of my family and friends.
© 2013 Mary Kyle. All rights reserved.