Last month, I optimistically returned the wig I’d ordered from the American Cancer Society’s TLC catalog. Everyone seemed to think I’d be able to keep a good portion of my hair.
But within the past week, my head has been shedding like a tree in autumn. Big parts of my scalp are visible. I can’t look in the mirror without thinking of Donald Trump.
It’s not even the hair loss that bothers me so much as the fact that I paid $10 to ship my wig back, and now I have to wait again for it to arrive. My cheapness is helping to distract me from the real issue, which is that very soon, it will be time to shave my head.
Part of me wants to dramatically storm into a salon and grab clippers and shave my head like Britney Spears, circa 2007, or like Amanda Bynes…now (sigh). But, thankfully, I am not a troubled starlet. Yet the temptation is great to re-stage the famous tabloid photos.
As I wait for my wig to arrive, I might go ahead and purchase one in the interim from a wig shop. My insurance doesn’t cover a hair prosthesis, so these won’t be the fancy wigs, but they will be an improvement compared to the only wig I currently own, a purple asymmetrical bob from Ricky’s. I will probably forgo wearing wigs entirely, except for professional situations.
I’ve been wondering why I’ve been so reluctant to tell people I have cancer. Part of it is that it’s competitive enough to find a job without adding a disease to the mix. I have a link to this blog on my portfolio website, so I’m not hiding anything. And I’m well enough to work. But like a wounded animal in the wild, I feel as if I can’t show any weakness. I guess living in New York City for awhile can make you feel that way.
But then I wonder: Is this a weakness or is it a strength? Perhaps I just need a change in perspective.
This hair loss, in a way, is somewhat of relief. I have cancer, but I’ve been pretending that I don’t. I feel good, but I feel pressured not to make people worry, assure them I’m OK. And being bald seems like a big physical announcement: I have cancer. It forces me to admit that I’m going through something and though I’m doing well, it’s a big, difficult and complex experience.
With my hair so wispy and thin, I’m eager to shave my head, as I await my wig and stand. The idea of putting my hair on a faux head has fascinated me since I was about four or five, and we took a trip with my great aunt. (Technically, she was my grandfather’s cousin.) One of the things that impressed me most about the trip was that my mom and I shared a room with my aunt, who wore a wig. My mom told me this with explicit instructions not to stare and was very adamant about this, so I remember sneaking furtive glances at what I had previously believed to be my aunt’s hair sitting on the hotel dresser, on a stand.
My widowed aunt didn’t like children, something that was also imparted to me at some point. I loved visiting her because she had two cats, and I’ve always loved cats. I was pretty well-behaved and I spent most of my time around adults, plus I was pretty shy, so I think she liked me well enough. Until around the time I was eight and we were having breakfast before a family wedding. For some reason, I was playing with my glass of milk. I had something either that I was putting around it—a bracelet?—or maybe I was making a small toy dance around it. My mom told me to stop it, and I didn’t. And that’s when I knocked over the entire glass of milk into my aunt’s lap.
I knew that this was the very worst thing that could happen—that she, of all people, was the worst possible person to have been in the milk’s trajectory. This is why she doesn’t like children, I thought. And I saw her point. I knew I had confirmed her worst beliefs.
I think my interactions with this aunt were so burned into my memory because I sensed my family’s constant nervousness that i would upset her. And then the worst happened—I was a child goofing off and I doused her with milk while she was dressed for a wedding. But I think there was also a relief—our fears were confirmed, now what?
It’s like that, for me, with cancer too. While it’s far from the worst type of cancer, it’s still cancer, generally agreed to be one of the worst things. So, I have cancer. Now what? I get through it and move on and hopefully emerge stronger. We often live in fear of something bad happening, a series of “what ifs.”
Even though I try to stay calm and live in the moment, while looking for work and dealing with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I have become a full-time worrier. My boyfriend continually reminds me to not worry about things that haven’t happened yet. It’s a twist on the quote: “Worrying is like praying for something you don’t want.” These words that resonated with me so much when things were good are harder to remember when life gets a bit tougher.
I don’t know if my aunt ever forgave me for that long-ago breakfast transgression. I don’t think so. I will take her horrified look as milk pooled into her lap with me to the grave. She passed away years ago, and I hope she knows that I was sorry—and I hope she never caught me staring at her wig.
Right now, I have two cats and a wig stand of my own. People think I don’t like children, but that’s a misunderstanding. I never really hung out with other kids much outside of school and I was an introvert, so my interactions with children are an extension of a lifelong social awkwardness that started in kindergarten. I hope I don’t inspire that same apologetic feeling that my family felt around my aunt. Kids are allowed to spill milk on me and even ask about my wig. I will respond with a rendition of this song from the B-52s.