Earlier this week, while I was supposed to be working, I decided to clean out and reorganize our linen closet instead. The task was long overdue and after spending the better part of the morning discussing the plight of an associate who utilized a company truck to transport a horse….and then forgot to clean out the evidence (poop) it left in the back before returning it….I needed the mental break.
As I was pulling out the old second string towels and mismatched sheet sets….trying to decide what to donate and what to toss….my hand brushed across something hairy resting in the back of the closet on one of the shelves. Instinctively, I jerked my hand back and bent to gaze, squinting into the dark recesses of the closet, trying to figure out what might be living back there.
Did we end up getting that cat? I briefly wondered. (A combination of chemo and mommy brain have rendered my memory pretty useless, so it was a fair question).
Then it dawned on me. My wig.
When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and my chemotherapy regimen was explained to me, I of course wanted to know if I was going to lose my hair.
“Yes.” My doctor said. “And when it falls out, it will fall out in chunks, which can be very distressing. I always suggest that my patients just go ahead and shave it off. Just get it over with all at once.”
At first, I thought the loss of my hair would be no big deal for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love having hair, but I’ve never been one of those people who is deeply attached to it. I’ve never cried after a bad haircut and over the years I’ve never been afraid to experiment with different lengths….including a super short pixie cut I sported throughout much of the late 90’s.
But, as the time grew nearer to when my doctor predicted it would begin to fall out, I found I couldn’t do it. It seemed an outwardly visible symbol that I was “sick” and I didn’t want to see it.
So, my doctor’s advice to go all GI Jane was the only time throughout the entire ordeal that I did not do exactly as he advised. It was a decision I regretted when it began coming out in large pieces precisely when he said it would. It was horrifying to find that by pulling, ever so slightly at my scalp, the hair strands would pull free as though they had never been attached at the roots. I was surprised to find myself equally, if not more distressed, at the prospect of shaving my head as I was by the news of my diagnosis.
I delayed the inevitable for a few more days, but after a shower left me with sporadic, patchy bald spots….that made me look like I was on the verge of becoming that creepy doll from Toy Story….I gave in and headed off to have it shaved….a baseball hat clutched in my hand and my husband in tow.
When the hairdresser asked, “What are we doing today?” I told her it all had to go.
“Are you thinking a choppy bob or something even shorter?” She asked, running her hands through my spotty hair with a somewhat confused expression.
“I have to shave it off.” I said. “I lost a bet with my husband and he’s being really mean about the whole thing.”
“OH!” Was her shocked reply. “Really!?”
“No.” I told her. “I have cancer. So, one way or the other, it’s gotta go!”
This was the way I preferred to tell everyone I had cancer. When I was initially diagnosed, I sent an email to family and friends that asked,“Hey! Anyone know where I can get one of those yellow LiveStrong bracelets?”
As the responses came in, I responded with varying degrees of “Thanks, I have cancer now, so I figure, why not get the accessories!”
During the initial discussion about my impending hair loss with my doctor, he provided me with several resources for securing a respectable wig. They were references his patients over the years had shared and he was happy to pass along the leads.
I wasn’t sure if I was a wig person, a scarf person, or a hat person, but I knew I wasn’t a bald is beautiful person. My head looked lumpy, with strange lines that made me wonder if I might have been abducted and experimented on by aliens at some point in my life and I reasoned a wig might at least give me the appearance of a normal person.
I settled on a shop in New Hampshire that catered specifically to women undergoing cancer treatments. In addition to an astonishingly large selection of wigs, they sold a variety of hats, beautiful scarves and wraps, clothing, jewelry, books and much more. I made an appointment for a wig fitting and my best friend flew in to be with me for the event.
When I arrived at the store, I was greeted by a very sweet woman who introduced herself as my personal stylist for the day. She escorted us to a private room where I was free to try on as many wigs as I wanted in the comforts of my own space, while she bustled about pulling different styles and color options for me to try and offering styling tips and tricks along the way.
I shared with her that I was concerned it would look exactly like I was wearing a wig. That everyone would know and I would just look….sad. Kind of like Kim Zolciak in the first season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta….when her wigs looked like something plucked off the head of a Barbie Doll.
“All those women in Hollywood….they are all wearing some kind of hair piece. No one has hair that glossy or full or perfect.” She told me. “We sell the best here and trust me, no one is going to know the difference.”
For the next many hours, my friend and I laughed so hard I thought I might go into labor as I tried on everything from pin straight platinum blonde wigs with fringe bangs, to dark black curly wigs that looked like eighties Cher. I tried on mullets, the Farrah Fawcett shag, the “Rachel,” the 90’s era style haircut made famous by Jennifer Aniston’s character on Friends. I tried sleek bobs and spiral curls and every hair style ever seen on the Golden Girls. It was hysterically funny and the laughter felt so refreshing it alone was worth the trip.
Ultimately, I settled on a style called “The Posh” after Victoria Beckham. The color most closely resembled my own natural hair color and the cut was almost exactly what I had done in the days following my diagnosis….when I had my nearly waist-length hair cut so I could donate it before it began to fall out.
The wig was made from synthetic hair and though I had initially planned to get a wig made of real hair, it was clear the synthetic looked more natural and durable than the real thing. My stylist gave me instructions on keeping it clean and preserving its shape and style.
She also cautioned me against wearing it close to open flames or bursts of heat….like those from an opened oven or boiling water….which caused a whole new hysterical burst of giggles as my friend and I imagined various scenarios where I might find myself wearing it when it caught fire.
I left wearing it, but it didn’t stay on my head for long. It was itchy against my scalp and though it looked as real as it possibly could, I was terribly self-conscious about it and eventually the wig made its way into its cardboard travel case and was replaced with a pink stocking cap that said, “Cancer Sucks” in white embroidered letters across the front for the remainder of the day.
I told myself I just needed to get used to it….that I would practice wearing it at home first and then maybe test it out on short errands. I could never shake the anxiety having it on caused though.
What if I sneezed and the hairline of the wig ended up at my eyebrows?
What if a strong wind blew through, yanking it from my head and I had to chase after it while it rolled like a tumbleweed through the Whole Foods parking lot?
What if I had an itch and people could see the entire piece shift as I scratched?
What if it shifted throughout the day without my knowing it and it ended up sideways?
In the end, the only time I ended up wearing it for a prolonged period of time was for a holiday party thrown by a college friend of my husbands. The guest list for the party was long and included a wide range of close friends and acquaintances my husband had known for many years. I didn’t feel like answering the myriad of questions that always came with seeing a bald, pregnant lady. I just wanted to enjoy the food at the party and the rare evening out as a normal person, so I put the wig on for the night.
All evening, I made frequent trips to the bathroom to pull it off, scratch furiously at my scalp and replace it. Or, to just double check that it hadn’t shifted in too noticeable a way. As soon as we were back in the car, I pulled it off and hung my head out of the car window like a Xoloitzcuintle, enjoying the cool air on my scalp and deciding once and for all, I was just going to be a hat person.
I kept the wig though and instead of wearing it, I used it as a tool to harass my family, our cleaning service and anyone else who might come through our house. When it wasn’t perched on its metal rack on my bathroom sink in a variety of styles and with random hair accessories stuck to it, it was posed on a teddy bear in one of my step-children’s bedrooms waiting for them at bedtime.
Often, I would perch it on top of a balloon I had drawn some kind of face on and then propped up with a stuffed body and posed sitting at the kitchen table reading a magazine….or lounging on the couch with the remote and a bowl of snacks. Sometimes, I would leave it lying on a pillow in bed with socks stuffed into the cap to give it the look of someone sleeping under the covers.
Once, I affixed it over a remote control car and drove it through our living room scaring the piss out of the dog….literally.
After a while though, I ran out of ideas and no one seemed particularly disturbed by my antics any longer. Even the cleaning lady came down the stairs one afternoon and asked if it was OK if she cleaned the room, or if would it disrupt my napping wig. So, I gave it a good washing and stored it away in the linen closet deciding I would eventually donate it.
Yesterday, as I held it in my hands, running my fingers through the smooth synthetic hair, I knew it was time to find it a new home….preferably with someone who could really use it.
But first….and then I made my way down the stairs to the basement where I found a faux Halloween pumpkin I had carved and the stuffed body I’d made to go with it for the holiday. I placed the wig on the pumpkin and staged it all on a lawn chair in the middle of our foyer….and then waited for my family to come home.