During chemotherapy, I didn't lose my hair.
At the time, I was relieved.
But in hindsight, I wish I would have shaved my hair and eyebrows at the time. I would then have donned my bald head, forcing people to see breast cancer up close and personal.
Because my not losing hair caused many to turn a blind eye toward my credibility as a cancer patient.
While some people took my illness seriously, others did not. I looked like everybody else, so the ugliness of my disease was not apparent. These individuals should have been in tune with my suffering, but instead they perceived me as the poster child for the "good cancer."
The happy warrior.
The brave, heroic woman.
The every-stereotype-you-can-think-of happy cancer patient.
With my full head of hair, people could ignore the physical and emotional toll that breast cancer and its treatments heaped upon me.
Many told me I looked good (the standard, albeit awkward, line) -- but truth be told, I did look good. I had my hair, my eyebrows, my eyelashes. Oh, and I lost all that weight. Some told me they envied my figure. A few insensitive dolts told me how grateful I should be that I didn't lose my hair.
Yes, I. should. be. grateful.
I had a full head of hair. What else could a gal with breast cancer ever want?
Never mind I endured a grueling treatment of chemo and radiation during the same time period; never mind that while my particular chemo regimen didn't target my hair follicles, it targeted my digestive tract and I felt I was imploding; never mind that my cognitive dysfunction (aka chemobrain) caused me non-stop distress; never mind that it was so hard to put one foot in front of the other when walking slowly; never mind that I was beyond the point of illness; never mind that I had to be rushed to the hospital; never mind that I was scared of dying young.
Damn, I looked good.
Because people tend to judge a book by its cover. If you look well, you are well. And I looked very well, indeed.
I am not trying to diminish the experiences of people who lose their hair during treatment. I imagine it must be horrifying, and if it had happened to me, I would've been upset. I'm just expressing another point of view, one of a person whose treatment did not result in hair loss. The viewpoint of feeling isolated and diminished by others who didn't "see" me as ill.
And I want to end with a terrific quote from a recent Nancy's Point posting, where author Nancy Stordahl sums up the hair issue for those of us who did not lose hair from cancer treatment:
Did anyone perceive you as not being sick even if you were? Feel free to share any of your or loved one(s) experiences.
I'm writing a book titled Calling the Shots: Coaching Your Way Through the Medical System. I am a professional writer and have published numerous academic and magazine articles, as well as an essay on my breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. I can be contacted at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.