I’ve thought a lot about what I want this post to be because, after all, hair loss is arguably one of the hardest parts of treatment for women, and I was/am not the immune to that.
I’m sitting on my bed, freshly off of my second round of chemo, listening to my favorite Spotify playlist and thinking about how I want to start this… I guess I’ll just jump right in.
I was terrified to lose my hair. It’s my shield. It covers up everything that I don’t want people to see- my double-chin, my acne scars, everything. I liked to keep it long because it elongated my round face.
It hid the real me from the world, and I liked it like that.
It had steadily been falling out since Wednesday and I had avoided washing it because I knew what was coming. Finally, on Saturday I decided I couldn’t put it off forever and jumped in a shower. I went in with a full head of hair and came out with some big bald spots, right at the top of my head.
While washing my hair, I could feel it sliding off my head and onto the tub floor. I stood in the shower for a good 45 minutes just pulling clump after clump out and crying.
I didn’t want to get out. I did not want to see my bare head.
After a while, I willfully walked out, took one look in the mirror and walked into the room (with a towel over my head). I looked at Ivory, told him what happened, and fell into his chest sobbing. I was so scared for him to look at me. I was so scared that he would talk one look, be horrified, and leave me right then and there.
He told me that he would never do that, that he loved me more than anything, and that he will always think I’m the most beautiful girl in the world. I cried even harder.
He tells me how beautiful I am every day, and every day I roll my eyes. After four years with him, I still have trouble believing him when he tells me those things. Not because I don’t think he means them- I know he does- but because I do not understand how he sees them.
In order to understand what I mean, I have to go back 16 years.
I “became a woman” at a really young age- I was 10 years old. It was not cool or fun or something I had been dreaming of. I had no idea what was happening (because who talks to a 10 year old about periods? No one.) and I was terrified.
I developed stretch marks because my body grew, in all directions, much faster than I think it was meant to. I remember going to the pool in 5th grade with a friend and overhearing her mom whispering that she was shocked I had stretch marks already because she didn’t know anyone who had them until they were pregnant. I spent the rest of that day outside of the pool with my towel wrapped around my body, hiding every part of myself that I could.
It was the beginning of an intense self-image issue, one that I still deal with every single day.
Over middle and high school, the issue became bigger and bigger. I spent years of my life telling myself every single day how ugly I was and counting off all of the things I hated about myself. I compared myself to all of my friends, but mostly I compared myself to my mom and my sister.
My mom and my sister both have the exact same body type. Long, thin legs, lean torso, clear skin. They have always been my definition of beauty, and I look nothing like them, body type wise. I have always had short, stubby legs, a shorter, curvier torso, and bad skin.
I could not understand why I looked so different from them. After all, we’re family. We have the same genes. I’m supposed to look like them.
I remember getting ready for an 8th grade dance and borrowing a pair of my mom’s pants. While they fit, I noticed that they were longer on me than they were on her, bubbled over on the sides a little (that didn’t happen to her), and were tighter around my hips than they were around hers. I was crushed. Not only could my mother and I fit the same pants, she also looked better in them than I did. (*Note: I don’t want it to come off as a skinny shamer, that’s not me at all. I think *all* women are beautiful. I’ve just never been able to see it within myself).
After graduating, I eagerly left for college. I (somewhat) purposefully stopped talking to everyone from high school because I didn’t want to be reminded of that time in my life. I wanted to reinvent myself. And I did.
I came home for Easter smaller than I had been since my sophomore year and full of confidence… or so everyone thought. While I was finally happy with my body, I knew that my way of achieving it wasn’t healthy.
I wasn’t anorexic or bulimic (I love food too much and hate throwing up more than anything), but instead I worked out every single day, only stopping once I’d burned at least 500 calories, and essentially starved myself, eating less than 900 calories a day. I’m not sure how much I lost, but I looked good.
And everyone told me so.
Things carried on like this for over a year, and no one noticed because I wasn’t skin and bones. Also because I wasn’t very obvious about it. I would still eat a slice of pizza, but only one and I would hardly eat anything the rest of the day (when I was alone).
Eventually, I realized that I was taking it to the extreme and needed to cool out a bit. It was difficult to turn that switch off and I’ve spent the years since then trying to be happy with myself and my body. I fail most days, especially in the most recent years because I have definitely put on more “love” weight than I like, and to be 100% honest, in the past year it has scared me how close that I have come to making myself throw up after eating. I’ve never done it (because like I said, I hate throwing up more than anything), but I’ve also never seriously thought about it before recently and that really scares me.
When I found out I have cancer and that I would be going through chemotherapy, one of my first thoughts was, “At least I’ll lose weight!”. Now, two sessions in, my weight has stayed about the same and I actually learned that it’s pretty common for women to gain weight while undergoing treatment for breast cancer. It’s disgusting how much that upset me.
So, being a bigger girl and knowing that there’s a good chance I’ll put on more weight throughout this process, losing my hair began to terrify me. Like I said, my hair was my shield, and I didn’t want to face the world without it.
That being said, I finally did it. More out of necessity than choice. I would rather be the bald girl than the balding girl any day.
I spent the rest of Saturday hiding myself from the world, feeling masculine and uglier than ever. And on Sunday, I woke up to a Facebook message from a friend. This friend had shaved her last year, told me the following:
I thought I would be putting myself in a position where I felt unattractive, insecure, etc. etc. etc. However, I realized that I actually liked my head shape, it was actually what I looked like, i wasn’t covered by my hair anymore … I looked in the mirror … and had a moment of self-love, self-acceptance and actually said to myself “you are beautiful” … My hope is that you will experience something along the lines of self-love, self-affirmation, and see what you look like without hair!
With every sentence that I read, the cruel voice in my head became more and more distant. I went to the bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror for a good ten minutes, tears streaming down my face, taking a mental note of everything beautiful about my face that I had never noticed before.
I called my cousin and we spent the whole day together, in public! I was wary at first, I kept my face down and didn’t look anyone in the eye. After a little while, I forgot that I was bald and I walked around like I normally would. By the end of the day, I felt pretty and confident.
It felt like a miracle… the miracle of good makeup, but a miracle nonetheless.
Thank God for this remarkably steadfast and gentle man. He is my heart.
For now, I just had my second round of chemo and I’m feeling pretty good… I know it won’t last long, but I wanted to get this out and done before things go downhill for a bit.
Disclaimer: I really hope no one takes offense to what I wrote regarding my weight loss. I am only speaking from personal experience, and I’m not claiming to know or understand what it’s like to have a true eating disorder (because I still don’t think that I had one, just unhealthy eating habits). Also, I’m not discrediting diet and exercise, I know how important those are so long as they’re done in a healthy manner.