And so it has begun; the moulting, the shedding. Yesterday morning, as I brushed my teeth, I casually ran my hand through my hair. In slow motion, falling softly like fine leaves from a tree in autumn, short, dark reddish-brown hairs lined the white bathroom sink. Lots of hairs. My hairs.
I felt sick. This awful, incomprehensible moment was here. It felt surreal, sad and terrifying. I didn’t know what to do. My husband was out walking the dog. I didn’t dare wash my hair, for fear it would all come out and end up in the plughole. It felt wrong to encourage this devastating depilation without him.
I sat and cried. The pent-up emotion and dread of the last few days came flooding out and I cried those deep, therapeutic tears that I find ultimately very healing.
Over the last 24 hours, a lot of my hair has fallen out but, interestingly, it doesn’t yet show. I must have more hair than I thought. A few more precious hours in disguise, before I have to face the world as a visible canceree.
There is a tiny voice in my head saying ‘Maybe that’s it, maybe no more will fall out’ but I know that voice is whistling in the wind. If I so much as lightly hold any hairs, out they come. Softly, gently, with no pain. So this evening, when my husband gets home from work, we will ritually shave off what is left. This small, and ultimately futile, sense of control and decision is vitally important when faced with the mighty, uncontrollable behemoth that is cancer.
I have spent today pondering this and trying to reconcile the concept of baldness in my mind. Maybe some cancerees accept it with sanguinity, but I couldn’t. Some (usually those who haven’t been through this) say ‘It’s only hair. It will grow back’. Yes it is, and it will, but it is also so much more. I had to work hard to find the place in my mind where this would sit comfortably; where I wasn’t fighting it and willing it not to be so; where I wasn’t feeling like an actor playing the part of a woman losing her hair.
This experience must be mine; I must own it and maybe even love and embrace it. I must be able to step out into the world with my usual amount of confidence and contentment – if not more.
Much of my thinking today was done in my garden, as my thinking so often is. Fresh air and flowers, sun, wind and even rain are the perfect nourishment for clear thought and personal reflection.
Cancer takes away many things but it also gives, and sometimes in the most unexpected ways. I talked about some of the ‘ups’ in a previous post. Something I didn’t mention is that many people going through chemo report that, although their sense of taste is somewhat diminished, their sense of smell is enhanced. I have certainly found this to be the case. I now smell things that no one else can (except perhaps our dog!) and everyday odours are magnified, sometimes to an almost unbearable degree. Even delicious aromas, such as freshly brewed coffee, can feel overwhelming.
I don’t know why this should be so. There is scant scientific research on the subject, although much empirical evidence exists, but I do know this: as I sat on my patio this afternoon, contemplating the loss of my hair, I was struck by the scent of the honeysuckle which clambers up and over our balcony above. Sweet, powdery, utterly intoxicating. Stronger than I had ever smelt it before. I breathed it in deeply and, like a benign drug to counteract the brutal ones in my system, it helped me slowly find the thoughts, the acceptance and the courage that I need.