Hair in the post-treatment world

Down to There, HAIR

Give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair

Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen.


Most of us recognize these words from the iconic musical HAIR.

A symbol of freedom, both personal and political, long hair became

an emblem of rebelliousness and spirit.


Likewise, initiation into the military meant losing ones’s hair, and thus

one’s individuality and ability to make independent decisions.


We all talk about bad hair days, buy products to create good hair days, make

appointments to color, cut, shape, foil, and groom our hair.


For people undergoing chemotherapy, often one of the biggest fears is the loss of one’s hair.  The toughest characters who can tolerate any level of pain will cringe at the thought of the departure of those lofty locks.  This flies in the face of logic, given that chemotherapy is administered in the name of the quest for health, and longer life. Yet, some people may still choose to not have it in favor of retaining hair.


Is it really so important?


Of the difficult days that stand out in my own treatment, the loss of my hair is certainly one near the top of the list.  No matter how much I could anticipate it, even choose the day that it occurred for real, it still hit me in the pit of my stomach. It’s not that I was denying my cancer. Surgeries had made clear that there was something going on in my body that was not invited by my conscious, clear thinking self.  However, nothing screamsPATIENT as loud as a shaved head. As much as I tried to fly under the radar in many ways, and live life as normally as possible, this loss was one that I could no longer keep at bay. Whereas up until this point I didn’t have to talk about it at work, I would now be in a position to need to explain my new do. No amount of knowing it would happen could prepare me for the level of vulnerability I felt when I left the the wig place

with my new look. Though no one actually performed the point and laugh, I still felt as though there were an arrow pointing to my head. (probably in pink!)


Even choosing a wig that I thought was most like my natural hair, I garnered comments from people who knew me and from those who didn’t. Totally unexpectedly, they all loved the new haircut. I found that there were times when I wanted to explain it, and times when I didn’t have the energy or interest. Tempted as I was to reveal my bald pate at unexpected times, I never did have the necessary chutzpah to pull this off. Perhaps daydreaming about it, and knowing that I could if I chose it was enough. It was disconcerting enough for some people for me to spout out that my new coif was a fake due to the chemicals I was mainlining every few weeks.


Although my family all preferred my fuzzy head to wearing the wig, I did not often do this. Even in the loving circle of their acceptance, I felt too exposed to be without it most of the time. In the colder months, I just needed a little fleece cap to keep me comfortable.  I called my wig “the critter” as I always imagined finding one of the cats curled up in it if I left it out. I did need to wash it occasionally, and would find an appropriate place (atop a lamp) to let it drip dry where it remained relatively safe from their playful paws.


Once chemotherapy stopped, and my hair started its curious pattern of regrowth, I chose Leap Day as the time to reveal my downy salt and pepper look. This netted new comments about my cute head, and how I should wear earrings, and keep my hair short. No matter how good it possibly looked, there was no way in hell I would cut it right away. Even after my husband tactfully suggested that it was time to get it shaped, at least, I resisted until I woke one morning with a bedhead even I couldn’t deny.


Now, two and half years later, I have decided that I could sport this look as a matter of choice. My astute hairdresser told me that I would know when I was ready, and she offered up gradually shorter do’s until one day she said “I think it’s time!” and I knew even before she suggested it that I was ready.


Whereas before I could not associate the words “chic, cute, or smart” with my cut, I could now embrace it and enjoy the freedom. Having earned it with the secure knowledge that the inside of my head and heart remains the same regardless of the external amount of curls, I could rejoice in its newness, its symbol of my freedom, and lack of concern about whatever the world may think.

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About Meg

Meg is a licensed independent clinical social worker with over thirty-five years clinical experience. She holds a Master’s Degree from the Boston University School of Social Work and a Bachelor of Arts from the State University of New York at Binghamton.