Cancer Lesson #52: Most People Don’t Care Whether You Have Hair

Cancer Lesson #52: Most people don’t care whether you have hair.

It was summer when I was in chemo, and as I said before, wigs are hot. So even though I saw Grandpa Byrd every time I looked in the mirror – minus the glasses and wad of chewing tobacco – mine adorned the newel post of our steps more often than my head.

Having chosen comfort before fashion many years ago, I usually wore a baseball cap when I went out of the house.

That’s how I learned what happens when a bald woman goes out in public.

The answer is not much.

I expected some staring and pointing. Maybe even lights and sirens.

But no one gawped. In fact, no one seemed to notice.

Even the children – who might understandably wonder about someone who looks a little different – took it in their stride.

I was just happy they didn’t run screaming to their mothers. 🙂

At the time, I thought this indicated a level of sensitivity and awareness that spoke well for the human race. Now I wonder if perhaps people are simply too busy with their own lives to care about another person’s lack of hair.

Either way, it was good to be reminded the world didn’t stop because I got cancer.

In fact, the whole time I was bald, there were only two people who stared. The first was a young man who emanated a kind of weird social misfit vibe. I gave him my best “What are you looking at?” glare and swept past.

You see, I’d forgotten my baldness and assumed he was merely being rude. Which he was.

The second time, I was working the children’s desk at the library. An elderly woman came in with someone who was obviously her caregiver – possibly her daughter – to find books the older woman might enjoy. “Daughter” explained that “Mom” suffered from dementia, and liked to look at the pictures.

“Mom” was intrigued by my lack of hair.

She asked, with genuine curiosity, “Are you a boy or a girl? Because you have short hair like a boy.”

The daughter was mortified, and tried to steer Mom to other topics, but Mom would not be deterred. She had a question, and she wanted it answered.

“Are you a boy or a girl?” she repeated.

I found it difficult to reply, mainly because I found it hard to stop laughing long enough to speak.

Her interest was so sincere and friendly; the memory still makes me smile.

Addendum: One thing many people don’t realize is when the drug companies list hair loss as a side effect, they don’t just mean the hair on your head. I was lucky enough to keep most of my eyebrows and lashes, but they did get much thinner. On the bright side, it was great not to have to shave my legs. They were smooth as a newborn’s cheek. 

Also, some people have had success using cold caps during chemo to prevent hair loss. For me the thought of ice on my head – even for only a few hours every couple of weeks – was worse than the prospect of losing my hair.  

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Cancer Lesson #51: Wigs Are Hot

Cancer Lesson #51: Wigs are hot, and not always in a good way. (Although I will say my hairpiece with the raspberry-colored streaks was pretty damned fine).

Also, wigs make your scalp itch.

Baseball caps, on the other hand, are way cooler. They may even be “cool.”

I had chemo in the summer when the temperatures were hitting mid to high eighties most days. Frankly, I cared more about being cool than looking “cool.”

My Feminine Pink Ball CapMaybe I was delusional, but I kidded myself that my pink ball cap
added a certain femininity to my bald head.

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Cancer Lesson #50: Everyone Needs a Hand to Hold on to

Cancer Lesson #50: Everyone needs a hand to hold on to.

John Cougar Mellancamp sang about it in the eighties, and it’s true. Cancer treatment is challenging, with the difficulties being different for each person.

I found the constant needle jabs particularly distressing, so my “hand” was literal. Whenever I had to get a shot or have my port poked – and I’m sure the medical profession has a more technical term for that procedure – The Engineer or Darling Daughter came along to hold my hand.

Before chemo, I would have sucked it up. Now, three years later, I do the same. But when I was in treatment, I realized there was no harm in asking for a little comfort.

If that made me a wimp, I didn’t care. There are plenty of things about cancer that can’t be made any easier so if this one small thing helped, I determined to grab on to it with, well, both hands.

 

 

The point is, cancer treatment is hard enough without thinking you need to be brave every single minute. So quit trying to be a hero already. It’s okay to accept help now and then.

It’s a “whatever gets you through the night” kind of thing, with no right or wrong way to do it.

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