The Time I Lost My Wig
I love the outdoors; there is never enough to satisfy me with the abundant beauty that exists everywhere. I love exercising in nature’s magnificence. I love spending time with my friends in the simplest or most challenging of elements, connecting with mind, body and soul, coupled with surprises and unexpected pleasures around every corner. It is all intoxicating!
Doctors generally care about medical outcomes, much more than style and aesthetics. How we look is something patients confront and try to control. So often I have heard people say and I concur – they feel so astonished at how changes to their physical appearance disturbed them far more than they had ever expected. When you lose your hair, you suddenly become a different person. You don’t recognize yourself. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see myself. It’s a different me: a cancer patient.
After many chemo treatments, I noticed my hair thinning and falling out in the sink and shower. I was in denial and refused to accept this. In no way was I prepared, but I am not sure if this is possible for anyone. My hairdresser, Patrick, kept telling me I should shave my head but I was stubborn; this was NOT happening to me. I was too embarrassed to go to Patrick to have this done. As I had known him for years, I suppose this made it more of a reality for me. Finally, reluctantly, I went to another stylist. Lovely Faye who did my threading took me in the back room of a small non-descript salon and, with care and compassion, removed whatever remained of my luscious, thick locks that was once the envy of many women. As I walked through the salon to leave, I glanced in the full-length mirror and froze. I didn’t cry – I just stood there absolutely paralyzed. Complete shock and horror came over me. For the first time, I felt like a cancer patient. With the white ball cap covering my scalp, I was unrecognizable. Exiting the salon I found myself walking across the street to the retail store Fred Segal. I felt as if I was in a trance and found myself in the shoe department. (You probably don’t have to be on chemo and lose your hair to have this happen!) Retail therapy was much needed and what woman can resist shoes?! A very young sales associate named Stacey approached me and in an animated, rather loud tone, exclaimed, “Oh, my husband is on chemotherapy also. He has testicular cancer and had a terrible time but is doing really well now. He lost his hair and you wouldn’t believe how he handled this. He could be so difficult. Men! You have a really nice shaped head – I can tell even though you have a ball cap on.” She rattled on and on and on, rapid fire without taking a breath. I stood there, frozen and couldn’t believe she was so forthright with her thoughts, acknowledging my bald head. I looked around the store, and fortunately we were alone. I looked at some shoes, tried on many and walked out with four pairs! Talk about therapy!
As I drove home, all I could think about was my embarrassment in revealing my lack of hair to Paul. How could I possibly show him how I looked? For anyone that has experienced this you can appreciate how devastating this can be. Our hair is so much a part of our identity and I felt frail, fragile, forlorn. However, I could not stop thinking about sweet Stacey, my shoe maven! She was so unabashed with her candid, colorful description of her husband and acknowledging my appearance in a way that was pure and non-threatening. Easily distracted with her innocence, gave me permission to stop the pity party and forget about being self-conscious. A gem like Stacey and shoes will do that!!
I always went out wearing a wig regardless of how uncomfortable or hot the conditions. Remarkably, my wig was the exact cut of my own hairstyle and I was fortunate as the resemblance was similar, many did not know this was not my natural hair.
Late one summer day, Paul and I were going to bike ride to another town outside of Aspen and meet friends for dinner. I was undergoing chemo at the time and didn’t have my full capacity of energy or strength, but this was something I didn’t think twice about doing. I wore by bike helmet and carefully stashed my wig inside my jacket. About half way into the ride I checked my jacket and was horrified to see my wig had disappeared. Panic traveled through me and I managed to fire up the energy to catch up to Paul who was far ahead of me on the bike trail. I emotionally cried out that I lost my wig, would he go and find it for me. He asked, “Where did you lose it?” I gave him a look (which apparently I am VERY good at) and sighed, “Now, if I knew I wouldn’t be asking you.”
He immediately turned his bike around and raced back in the direction we had just traveled. Meanwhile, I leaned against my bike fretting, I did not have Plan B. I was not going in the restaurant bald and I was not going in wearing my bike helmet. Neither was a pretty picture! And, canceling dinner was definitely not an option for me.
Alice: "How long is forever?"
White Rabbit: "Sometimes just one second."
After what seemed like an eternity (it was not, as Paul is lightening fast on his bike) I see him approaching me, riding at a fast pace, furiously waving something in the air. It took a few moments to register – my wig! I was deliriously happy and quickly stuffed the wig, deep down inside my pants. This wig was not going anywhere! He said he found it resting on a bare branch, with birds hovering above and circling the wig. Apparently a biker had found it on the trail and carefully placed it in plain sight for us to locate. (Thank you biker!) We went back for me to see the site of what could have been a new nest creation!
When I think back on this I laugh, forgetting the pain I was encountering from the numerous side effects or the fact that I had a deadly disease. I focused on doing something that was important to me and not stopping despite the obstacles – pain, discomfort in every part of my body, lack of energy and hijacked hair! It is important to maintain a semblance of your normal life even if the outcome is different than expected. Don’t let the negatives or the word “can’t” paralyze you. If we take the letter “t” off the word “can’t”, “can” now takes over. And, doesn’t that just feel better?