March 19, 2011 at 5:24 pm (Uncategorized)

I nearly pulled out half my hair yesterday.  It started innocently enough when I noticed a grey strand glinting amidst my tangle of long, red-blonde hair.  I yanked it out, and stared at it for a while.  Maybe it wasn’t a grey hair, I thought optimistically.  Maybe it was just a blonder strand—a lot blonder than the blondest hair on my head, but blonde nonetheless.  However, closer examination of it revealed that I’d need more than optimism to consider that hair anything but grey.  I’d need to go into full-blown delusion.

Once I acknowledged that I had plucked a visible grey hair from my head, I felt old—and a little frantic about it.  How many more of those suckers did I have corrupting my hair?  Were they noticeable?  I scrabbled around my scalp and unearthed a bona fide nest.  Yank.  Yank.  Yank.  Yank.  Yank.  Yank. OUCH!  Yank.  Yank.  I dug into another zone of hair, and, Good God! There were more.  Yank! Tug! Rip! Pull! Yank! OUCH! OUCHOUCHOUCH!  By the time I’d finished my extraction campaign, I had a serious headache and a pile of silver—okay, grey—hair around me.

I’m not ready to go grey.  And the fact that I’m still so upset about a few—okay, a lot—of pigment-less hairs surprises me.  I thought that the whole process of having my mortality shoved in my face by a serious and chronic illness was my version of a mid-life crisis and that I’d be immune to the clichéd scene of “woman confronting grey hair in mirror.”  I figured that the real prospect of losing my life—and the corresponding awareness of how fleeting and precious it is—would inoculate me against the petty vanities about wanting to stay young.

Apparently not.  I’m turning 40 in August, and it seems that I’m not keen to roll over into the next decade.  Sure, I’d rather reach 40 than suffer the alternative.  But how did I get so old?

When I had cleaned up the tangle of grey hair from the bathroom and swallowed a couple of Tylenol to ease the aching of my scalp—and taken many deep, cleansing breaths—I regained perspective.  Sort of.  It makes sense that I would be particularly sensitive to anything messing up my hair.  After all the physical changes that sarcoidosis and its treatments have brought to my body—the major weight gain, the defibrillator and port bulging out of my chest, the surgery scars, the come-and-go sarcoid rash—my hair is the one thing I am still consistently proud of and happy with.   I’m not resigned to being 100 pounds overweight and thus not fitting into the “fat” clothes I bought when I gained the first 50 pounds on prednisone.  But I can accept that losing all that weight sensibly will take some time—and that I probably won’t get a self-esteem boost from gazing at my butt in the mirror any time soon.  My hair, on the other hand, gives me immediate satisfaction.

It’s funny, but in some ways, I feel like some benevolent force in the universe chose to spare my hair to help me through the darkest days with the disease.  The doctors told me that there was only a 10 percent chance that I wouldn’t go bald during my long stretch of chemo (and I usually don’t fare well with medical percentages).  Surprisingly, although my hair changed from the chemo, it actually stayed rooted to my scalp.  The hair is redder, coarser, and very curly, while it used to be bonder, straighter, and softer.  And it did take me a while to learn to manage it.  But it’s still hair that stylists ooh and aah over when I go in for my semi-annual haircut.  I also get complimented on my hair at least a couple of times a month by random strangers.  It’s nice to get noticed like this—not for my “bravery” in facing the disease, not for being a good Mom to Andrew, not for sticking with Jay through tough times—but for something as banal and self-centered as lookin’ fine.

“Will you dye it?” a friend asked me, when I’d called and wailed about going grey.  That would be one way to deal with the blow to my ego—just wash that grey right out of my hair and pretend nothing’s changed.  I do that a lot already—not with my hair, but with living with sarcoidosis.  I put one foot in front of the next (or, at least, I try to most days) and keep writing, keep trying to lose weight, keep showing up to my marriage and my family.  There’s nothing remarkable about this.  It’s how we all make it through the terrible and wonderful events we call life.  But dyeing isn’t for me.  I’m not opposed to it in principle or think badly of those who do choose to color—and I also reserve the right to change my mind and change my hair color later.  It’s simply that can’t imagine making regular appointments at the salon.  It’s already a feat for me to get there twice a year.  The idea of coloring appointments every 6 weeks overwhelms me.  I need to sleep 12 or more hours a night these days, which doesn’t leave much time for hair care.

More importantly, though, I don’t want to succumb to my vanity right now.  Of course I want to look good and feel good.  But if I decided to dye my hair right now, I’d be doing it for the wrong reasons—because I’m afraid of getting old and looking old.  I want to look my fear in the eye, not choreograph a complicated dance around it.  What lies beneath my horror at finding patches of grey hair isn’t really about my hair color.  It’s about reaching the midpoint in my life and fearing I haven’t accomplished what I think I should have.  It’s about not wanting this life to end.  It’s about not wanting to fall apart.  It’s about not wanting to lose control over my body (or any more control than I’ve already lost).  It’s about wanting to stay young and vital.

I don’t like that I’m still wrestling with my achievement demons—after everything I’ve been through.  I’ve had a lot of crap happen to me, and I’ve done a lot of work…all of which should mean that I’m on a higher plane of existence where I don’t sweat the small stuff and value my life for the joys of daily existence and not for accomplishing stuff, right?  Right?  I guess not.  I’m not a superior spiritual being floating my way to nirvana.  And I’m OK with that.  I like who I am—even though I need to keep working on my perfectionism hang-ups.

So maybe it’s a good thing that I’m going grey and am a little annoyed by it.  It means I don’t want to get old—and that’s a good thing.  It means I care about my body—and that’s a good thing.  It means that I’m able to care about petty vanities—and that’s a very good thing.  I must be feeling better if I can spend time and energy fretting about my hair color.  It’s a sign of progress that I’m not so sick and so much in pain that all I can think about is sickness and pain.  I can be frivolous and silly!  Hooray!  I can be a normal, screwed-up American, obsessed with appearance and afraid of death.  I can fret about grey hair, assuming—Yank.  Yank.  Ouch!— I have any left.


  1. Randi Berg said,

    Hei Becky
    Du lurer vel paa hvem som skriver. Jeg er Randi, Oivind Olsvik sin soester. Min soenn har akkurat faatt vite at han har faat sarkoidose, og han er veldig syk akkurat naa.

    Han har ikke faatt medisiner ennaa, men jeg haaper at det ikke er lenge til. Han er pilot, og legen har taa fra han flysertifikatet, saa i tillegg er han redd for jobben sin.

    Jeg har jevnlig kontakt med din mor og far, og vet at du har vaert veldig syk. Skriv gjerne tilbake til meg og fortell hvordan du har det.

    Hilsen Randi

    • Rebecca Stanfel said,

      Kjaere Randi,

      Thanks for your note. I’m proud that I was able to understand most of your Norwegian. I’m so sorry to hear that your son has sarcoidosis and that it cost him his job. That’s awful! It must be very difficult for him. Please tell him to write or call me if he wants. Please let me know if I can be helpful.

      Take care.


  2. Marianne said,

    But redheads are supposed to go gray last. It makes up for the teasing in grade school. I plan on doing what my mom’s friend did: once she found twenty gray hairs she dyed her hair a different color every three months to see what she would look like. Sounds like fun to me.

  3. Rebecca Stanfel said,

    Great idea, Marianne. I’ve always wondered how I’d look with brown hair, or brassy blonde, or a lovely deep blue….Anyway, apparently my red hair didn’t get the memo about going grey last. I’ll blame it on the kid.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: