Earlier this week, while trying to keep myself occupied….and my anxiety at bay….until an upcoming doctors appointment, I decided to clean out and reorganize a closet that has essentially served as a dumping ground for things that otherwise have no sensible place, or purpose.
The task was long overdue and a good distraction. As I pulled out things like a taxidermy bull frog wearing a sombrero and playing a vihuela and a small jar containing a couple of baby teeth, 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. Oh man, when was the last time I saw the dog?
Then it dawned on me. My wig.
When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, 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 and 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’d been 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 that left strands between her fingers, 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. 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 end up looking….well, sad.
Kind of like Kim Zolciak in the first season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta….when her wigs looked like something scalped from 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 that it alone was worth the trip.
Ultimately, I settled on a style called “The Posh” after Victoria Beckham. 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 the Posh, 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.
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.
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 that 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 wore 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, but 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.
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. So, I gave it a good washing and stored it away in the 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 to my sons bedroom, retrieved his remote control car, and went in search for the dog.