Metters Musings

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Bald Is Beautiful
November 8, 2006

To the person battling cancer, losing your hair to chemo is somewhat a rite of passage. Even though there are many cancer survivors who never have to go through chemo, I think societally when someone says "cancer patient" we have a tendency to picture a person attempting to conceal their baldness by wearing a ridiculous hat or a bad wig, only to have their lack of eyebrows give them away. And for many people with cancer, losing your hair just worsens what is already a traumatic experience. Especially for women. I have read testimonies - though this was not my own experience - that when they learned they had cancer some women were more upset about the prospect of losing their hair than they were about the cancer itself.

Being this upset about losing your hair may sound silly, but until you are faced with it you can't truly understand the impact of it. Personally, I wasn't that concerned about losing my hair - eradicating the cancer was much more important to me than something as superficial as hair. Besides, I already lost both breasts, who cares about hair? But I've got to say even I had no idea how it would feel until I looked in the mirror, pathetically trying on multiple hats and bandanas, only to realize the truth - no matter how I might try to disguise it, now that my hair is gone everyone is going to know I have cancer.

Having a double mastectomy was different; if I wore a loose shirt and went out in public no one could really tell. They probably just thought I was small-chested. But with no hair it's next to impossible to blend in. It's a bit easier for men because shaved heads have come into fashion. (Bald is the new hair, you know.) Not so for a women. While a few daring women actually choose to shave their heads it's still not at all the norm. Unless she's also wearing camouflage pants, army boots, a few tattoos and a dog collar with spikes a bald woman clearly isn't making a fashion statement - she has cancer.

When I decided to move forward with chemotherapy, I told myself that I wasn't going to do "the wig thing". I proudly told myself I wasn't "that vain" or "that superficial" to care. Bald is beautiful, right? But as time went on and my super short hair became thinner and thinner I began to feel more and more self-conscious. I didn't care about people who know me - it wasn't that I was trying to hide anything. But suddenly I'd find myself in the aisle of the grocery store and I'd feel totally conspicuous. I felt like I was wearing a neon sign that said, "I have cancer!" and I didn't want anyone feeling sorry for me when all I was trying to do is buy some milk. I told one of the gals in my support group, "Probably no one is even looking at me, I just feel like they are," and her response was, "No you're right, they are looking at you." Great - I knew it!

Not only that, I also began to feel less and less like a woman. Again, I pridefully proclaimed I wouldn't care, but with my breasts gone, my hair almost gone, and feeling too tired and sick to wear make-up I was beginning to feel crappier and crappier about myself. I'd look in the mirror and I looked like a sick, 12-year-old boy. When I mentioned this to my husband Bill one night he responded jokingly, "Your sex change is almost complete - all you need now is a penis!" No kidding! We both had a good laugh over that and I knew full well he was just teasing me from a place of love and caring, but his point was well taken. I needed to quit feeling ugly and do something about this.

The next day I called the insurance company and asked if they covered hair prosthetics for people undergoing chemo. They said they paid up to $300 - sweet! That's all the ammo I needed. I was going to take this ugly cancer kid I was seeing in the mirror and turn her into something beautiful.

After several hours online at wigs.com I had narrowed down my choices to 6 wigs that I liked. At first I thought I would just get one, maybe two, but when I added up the cost for all of them it came to $305. Should I get all six? No, that would be too self-indulgent. I don't need six wigs. But as I sat there contemplating this I finally decided, "What the hell? I have cancer! Why not treat myself?!" So I ordered all six. All six! They ranged from super short to super long, from straight to curly, from blonde to black. Why get hair that looks like the hair I've had for 40 years? If I'm going to start wearing wigs, I'm going all out. I'm going sassy with these things!

And I'm glad I did. Suddenly my self-esteem shot up and I was having fun with this hair thing instead of feeling depressed about it. To test it out I showed up at a housewarming party where I debuted my long blonde locks. My friends screamed in excitement when I walked in the door and we all had a good laugh about it. Then I said, "Pretend you don't know me - does it look real?" Someone I had never met piped up and said, "I don't know you and it looks real to me!" Sweet - now I can go to the store without getting pitiful looks from the other shoppers. Mission accomplished.

The wigs have been fun, mainly because each one is so different. When you order them they all have names so I joke that when I'm blonde I'm "Natoya" and when I'm red I'm "Olivia", and so on. So it's like having a whole new persona. Why look the same every day? I might as well reinvent myself every morning. I feel like Madonna!

The other day I was shopping at Pier 1 Imports sporting Natoya, the long blonde wig. I had been in the store for quite a while just browsing. At one point I walked near two sales people and the man says to me, "Can I just tell you that I loooove the color of your hair?!"

Trying to be gracious and not make a big deal out of it I just said, "Oh, well thank you so much."

The woman chimed in at that point and added, "Yes it's gorgeous - where do you get it done?" Oh crap - I'm busted! I'm going to have to fess up now!

"Well actually, it's a wig," I sheepishly admitted. "Does it look real? Since I know it's fake I feel like it looks fake."

"It looks real to me," the woman replied. "I saw you walking around the store and I thought to myself, 'I wish I had hair like that!'"

I laughed and replied, "I wish I had hair like this too - because I don't!"

Clearly the wigs have done their job. I don't look like I'm a cancer patient anymore, I'm having fun, and apparently I look like a million bucks. Bald is beautiful, but there's nothing wrong with having a few sassy wigs.

Copyright 2002 2008 Susan B. Metters.  All rights reserved.

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