Less than 24 hours after hair and makeup pampering for the boudoir photos, I was bald.
The oncologist reiterated on Friday that there was a 95 percent chance my hair would go in a week. A few other breast cancer patients who underwent similar treatment confirmed that it was day 14 when the hair went. My research confirmed no hair two weeks after the first dose of chemo.
I thought I’d hang onto my hair as long as possible, maybe proactively shaving it on about day 12 (given class schedules and other activities, Wednesday afternoon seemed like a good idea).
On Saturday morning, I took a long, hot shower. Washed and conditioned my hair. Ran my fingers through to detangle. I noticed some hair near the drain and moved it with my toes. More hair came up from the drain. Soon there was a pretty decent pile of dark brown curls in the corner of my shower. I got out.
I applied the leave-in conditioner; curl tonic, and styling crème to my hair. I felt the diffuser massage my scalp as I dried my hair upside down. For the first time ever, the diffuser kind of annoyed me. My scalp seemed tender. I finished with anti-frizz gel and hairspray.
I made a decision.
I drove to the salon to pick up my “cranial prosthesis.” Wendy was helping with a wig fitting, so I waited. The salon is nice. Nothing fancy. A small town hair place where older women get their weekly wash and style. Maybe some families have always gone there and continue going there with their kids and grandkids. It’s clean, comfortable. But there’s absolutely nothing fancy about it.
I talked to Carlie, one of the other stylists, who was working on the hair of a girl who looked like she was in high school. Carlie’s young daughter and her friend ran in and out of the room, playing with dolls and talking about shows on Nickelodeon. I played with my new wigs and tried on some hats.
When Wendy was finished, she helped me adjust the wigs to fit my head. “Do you have time today to cut my hair?” I asked her.
She asked if I wanted to go into a private room. I declined. I was sitting in an old hair styling chair. The yellow leather cracked. I just wanted to get it done with.
Wendy put a black cape over my shoulders. She ran her fingers through my curls. “I’m not really sure where to start. Can I cut it first, then shave?”
“You’re the expert,” I said.
Carlie recommended I take photos as it was being done. She handed me my phone from my jacket.
Wendy started cutting from the back. Snip, snip, snip. I could “feel” about three inches fall off. I swear I could hear it hit the ground. She continued, then placed her hand on my shoulder, “Are you okay?”
“Just keep going,” I said, taking photos. I was okay. I was in charge. This was my choice, not the chemo’s.
When my hair was about two inches long all the way around, she stopped to get the clippers. I started laughing to myself. “What if all this is a dream?” I thought. “What if I really don’t have cancer? What if the tests were wrong? Mixed up in the lab? I’m having my freaking head shaved, and maybe this isn’t real.”
The buzz of the clippers brought me back to reality. The blades felt warm, almost hot against my skin. She started in the back and moved to the sides. I realized that she was cutting it super short. I guess I thought it would be more “buzzed” cut than almost to the skin. Not leaving a half or a quarter inch of hair, but just a little but of stubble. But it was too late.
When she got to the top of my head, I asked her to leave a mohawk. “When else am I ever going to have one? I think the kids will laugh,” I thought. She cut and clipped my hair into one, but it looked way too harsh, so I had her cut it off, too. As the last few swipes of the clippers made their way across my head, Carlie stopped cutting the high schooler’s hair. “You look real pretty,” she said, smiling. “Really you do.” Her voice was soft, her eyes kind, and I knew she meant it. I started to cry for the first time through the whole cut. Little tears, but enough I had to stop and wipe my eyes.
I was adjusting to the image before me when the high school girl’s mom came in. She, too, was bald. Not because of cancer, but because she’s just crazy. “Bald is beautiful, baby!” she screamed, removing her pink knitted hat. Then she talked about kicking someone ass because they were taking too long in the tanning bed.
I tried on my wigs without hair underneath and made some adjustments to tightness. “You look real nice,” the crazy bald woman said. “You look pretty with or without that wig. I hope you’re going to be okay.”
Wendy rang up my purchases – two wigs, a wig cap (may or may not be necessary to help with any itchiness of the cranial prosthesis), and a brush (yeah, with curls, I didn’t own a brush that wasn’t full of the kids’ hair).
The salon wasn’t my usual hair place. But I was made to feel comfortable there through the whole process. Wendy and Carlie were very nice. Wendy spent more than 2.5 hours with me over the course of the week – from the fitting to the shaving to wigs 101, and the entire process was free of charge. I felt bad. At this kind of salon, with this kind of clientele, these ladies aren’t making much. I left Wendy a nice tip. She cried and hugged me. I cried and hugged her back. Then I drove home.
Going, going, gone.