Hair Schmair

February 27, 2014 at 3:33 pm (Uncategorized)

When my hair started to fall out in clumps after my latest round of chemotherapy, I desperately wanted not to care. There’s a big sign at my doctor’s office that says, “I’m too sexy for my hair,” and it makes me smile every time I see it. Getting regular treatments at the Cancer Treatment Center had taken away the shock at seeing women and men as bald as cue balls.

For almost my entire life, I’ve had long hair. Jay loved it. Andrew loved it. When Andrew was a toddler in my lap, he’d grab a wisp of my hair and run it back and forth across his face. “Tickles,” he would chuckle.

I knew in advance I was going to lose my hair. It seemed like a waste to let all those long, red curls go to waste and just fall out. So when I was in the hospital this fall and starting the Cytoxan, my incredibly nice hair stylist Shelly came out to the hospital and gave me my first pixie cut. In the process, she helped braid up the long hair I was losing so I could send it off to Locks of Love (a charitable organization that makes human hair wigs for kids going through chemotherapy – check them out at http://locksoflove.org/). After the initial shock, we all admired the new, more aerodynamic me. Once that was done, I figured I was ready for when the chemo took the rest of my hair. How different could it be to go from not much hair to no hair? “Hair is hair,” I told myself. “It’s not what defines me. It’s just hair.”

Then I awoke one morning to find a pile of short hairs on my pillow and a bald spot on the back of my head. “I can just comb over this one spot,” I thought, and proceeded to gel my hair into what looked like a close approximation of a balding man’s comb-over. A couple of morning’s later, I discovered another heap of hair and a bald spot too big to complete the swoosh look. Plus, my scalp was hurting like hell. Apparently, chemo traumatizes hair follicles, and it’s normal to have an aching head until the hair is out of the follicle. It was time to shave my head.

I’m not sure what I would have done—probably just keep re-arranging my remaining, throbbing locks, until nature ran its course and they all fell out—if my friend Barb hadn’t offered to shave her head with me. Being the woman she is, Barb made it sound like it was no big deal to become bald with me. “I want you to know there’s another big, bald, and beautiful woman in our town,” she told me. “Besides, it’s all coming off in a few years anyway when I become a Buddhist nun. And this way, when people ask about my hair, I can have them direct their healing prayers to you.”

It’s a testament to how much I trust Barb and how far I’ve come in being able to accept help during my decade in Chronic Town that I said, “OK”—after asking “Are you sure? Are you sure?” about 500 times. Barb got us an appointment right away at her friend Kendra’s salon. I thought I’d be nervous, but Barb is one of the calmest, most nurturing people I know. We ended up just chatting on the drive over. I wasn’t hunched over clutching at my head like I’d imagined I would.

The process of having our heads shaved ended up being one of the funniest hours of my life. I went first, and Barb watched over me with love. I expected tears, but instead I felt relief. The instant Kendra cleared a patch of hair off my scalp, the throbbing stopped. I might have gotten choked up when I was through, as I examined my very white and very empty scalp. “What are all those horrible bumps on my head?” I started to wonder.

But then Barb sat down in the chair. Kendra refused to let Barb watch the shaving process. “Check this out,” Kendra laughed, as she shaved Barb’s hair into an exact replica of Ben Franklin’s hairdo. When Barb was completely bald, except for two slender strands of hair, Kendra tied them into pigtails, which shot out of the sides of her head. Barb kept a poker face through most of this silliness. But finally, when Kendra and I were laughing so hard we literally had tears streaming down our faces, she started laughing too. For a couple of minutes, the salon was filled with the sound of three women laughing until they could barely breathe.

I know how lucky I am to have a friend like Barb. She was right. It’s a lot easier being bald when you know you aren’t alone with it. For a while, we had some fun going out for coffee—deliberately not covering up our bare, shining scalps—and watching people’s fumbling reactions. At Starbucks once, two men sitting together took one look at us and began to talk about the need to go to the doctor for a checkup. We found this hilarious.

You see, Barb gave me more than just company in my baldness. She gave me the ultimate gift: laughter. I still smile whenever I think of the day we lost our hair. I remember the sound of our laughter booming out. I remember the closeness I felt with her, the funniness of the situation. I am so lucky to be able to say, the day I lost my hair, I could not stop laughing.

Thank you, Barb. Yeah, we are indeed too sexy for our hair.

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What about you? Have you ever had a friend help you through a difficult time?

2 Comments

  1. fumblingsof said,

    God I LOVE that picture. It reminds me of the tears of laughter pouring down our faces. Who knew that letting go of attachments could be so damned fun. I love you too Rebecca. I experience gallons and gallons of gratitude for your gift of saying yes, let’s do this together. I LOVE going to Vanns, Costco, and other places and having the employees ask, “How is Rebecca? We are praying for her…”

  2. Rebecca Stanfel said,

    You are such an amazing friend, Barb, Thank you for being willing to share this experience with me. I think all the prayers are working! Love you LOTS

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