You were told about all of the possible side effects of the chemotherapy. You know of one of them the longest because it’s the one you’ve seen in the world during the earlier part of your life. You know you will lose your hair.
Your doctor said that it happens after the first two weeks. You know what to expect, and you get one of the nurses to chop your hair off to make it easier when the hair loss starts. The plan is to shorten it, then buzz it off once the hair loss gets too much. One of the other patients who was there before you has warned you that the hair will be everywhere.
So you wait.
Day 16 comes, and you wake up with some of your hair stuck on your pillows, and plenty all over your shirt. It’s happening.
You brush your hair to see if it will help, but you realize it will only keep getting more and more hair because they’re not sticking to your scalp anymore. You stop. You wonder how long you can keep your hair since it’s thick. Peeking in the trash, it looks like you lost a lot of hair, but the hair on your head still looks the same as yesterday.
You tell your family. You tell your boyfriend. They all remind you that it will grow back. Your aunts tell you it will grow back. You now hear “it grows back,” like a choir song. You know it will. You know how hair works. It might take some time, but you know it will come back.
But losing your hair means your illness will be visible to the world. Even if you’re not keeping it a secret, you don’t care who knows. But losing your hair means you now look like a true cancer patient.
This is also the hair you’ve been growing for the last twenty-nine years. Sure, it’s probably not the same hair from when you were a baby because you’ve had hundreds of haircuts in your life, but this hair has been consistently growing since then. You are not ready to let go of that life yet.
The hair represents how you saw your life before and how you envisioned your life to be in the future. It’s the hair before the cancer. The hair before your life changed.
Yes, the hair does grow back. But what you want to do is go back. You don’t know what to change to not have the cancer, but you want to go back to the healthy human that you were. You want to go back to being the woman who could eat anything and not get sick. You want to go back to the time you didn’t worry about being extra careful.
The day comes when the amount of hair you’re losing gets too annoying. The nurse helps you buzz it off in the bathroom, but she has you sitting with your back to the mirror just in case. You feel a cool, light breeze on your scalp. When it’s over, you turn around and smile. You sigh in relief.
The breakdown you were told some patients experience didn’t come. There were no tears. You did this for practical reasons and you knew this was coming. The nurse asks how you’re feeling and you confidently say you’re okay.
Weeks pass and you are finally sent home. Things start to feel a bit more normal since you’re back in the environment you know. You spend your days mostly on the couch, watching tv or playing video games. You’re happy to be home. You’re starting to feel better.
Then, in the middle of your video game, as the game loads to a new scene, you see your reflection on the black screen. You remember you don’t have any hair. Sometimes you forget and think you’ve got your hair in ponytail or a bun. It feels like phantom hair – if that’s even a thing.
The reflection reminds you of your reality – of the severity of your illness. It’s not something that a week of antibiotics could fix. It’s not something you can just leave without medications. It’s a long road of treatment that comes with a whole host of side effects. It will hurt your body and it will change your body. It changes your plans for your future.
The change you feel within you is visible on the changes on your head. There’s no running away from this. You cannot go back and stop your body from developing the cancer. You’re here now and the only way to go is forward.