August marked one year since I shaved my head just two weeks after my first round of chemotherapy. I knew the hair loss was coming and decided ahead of time to shave at the first signs of clumps on my pillow. As I wrote in Waiting for Hair: The Toll of Chemotherapy, “Losing my hair wasn’t hard – waiting for it to grow back has been the most challenging.” I still stand by this statement.
When treatment ended, I became obsessed with taking a daily photo so I could see the progress. A watched pot never boils; this saying applies to hair growth, too. It seemed the day I stopped taking regular photos, it started growing like a weed.
Another daily task was scouring Pinterest for secret solutions. I put castor and peppermint oils in my shampoo. I massaged my head to wake up the hair growth follicles. I took biotin. The result: a freakish amount of blond hair on my earlobes that was never there before. Once a friend commented on my unusual amount of ear hair, I stopped and deleted this Pinterest board.
I’m happy to be past the point where unusually short hair prompts a conversation. I loved when other survivors approached me with their words of wisdom and encouragement, but there were also those who opened their mouths without thinking. For instance, there was the TSA official who asked, “What did you cut your hair for?”
With a sarcastic smile, I replied, “It wasn’t voluntary.”
I’m not sure he ever got it, but I questioned his intelligence for commenting on a woman’s hair in the first place.
I shared this story with a fellow survivor who advised me to respond to this question by saying, “I survived cancer!” This prompts celebration and not pity or surprise or embarrassment for asking. Great advice.
After about two months of growth, I looked in the mirror and saw a mullet staring back at me. Initially, I planned to tough it out as I grew it out. My philosophy was, why would I cut off perfectly good hair? However, the mullet lead to a change in strategy. If my hair was going to be short, it might as well be cute and short. Now I go for haircuts every month and only during the last week do I look like Joe Dirt.
For a while, I threatened my husband to dye it purple or pink or that wonderful grey that is so in style. I was in the, “I just survived cancer and I’ll do as I darn well please,” phase. But the reality is, I’m too chicken, which I find funny considering a year ago I was walking around with a bald head and couldn’t care less. Oh, how cancer changes perspectives constantly.
Whenever I’m frustrated with the current status of my hair, I stop myself and say a prayer of gratitude that I have any hair at all, because not so long ago I didn’t. I also think about those in the place where I was a year ago. Like everything in life and in cancer, it is a journey. And as the saying goes, it’s the journey and not the destination.
However, my next destination might be extensions. Stay tuned.
And here’s a photo summary of my hair re-growth: