Friday, May 27, 2011

Wigging Out

When Dr. Leitao uttered the sentence "Yes, your hair will fall out," my heart sank. My mind went blank and I felt numb all over. When I snapped back into the moment, single words flashed through my head one by one, and then disappeared like popping bubbles.

Bald. *pop!*

Wig. *pop!*

Fake. *pop!*

Ugly. *pop!*

For the umpteenth time in the last few weeks, I sat paralyzed and speechless. Shit. A bald bride. That's hot.

When I got home, I started looking up wig shops online. Most suggested cutting my hair short to ease into the transition of baldness. I'm sorry, but I don't do short hair. My hair hasn't been above my shoulders since I was five years old, and I finally begged my mom to let me grow it long because I wanted to look like Wonder Woman. I've been working on the length for almost a year so it would fall just perfectly down my back on my wedding day. I refuse to cut it until it starts to fall out. Until then, I'll live with the unrealistic hope that maybe, just maybe, I'll be part of the freakishly small group of people that bypasses this horrible side effect. I mean, I made it into the 3% of the cervical cancer population with Small Cell Neuroendocrine Carcinoma, right? What if my body just likes being unique? Yeah, I'm gonna  go for the long shot here and wait for a miracle.

But since the odds are not in my favor, I need a back-up plan. My mom got some wig shop recommendations from a family member who had been through chemo and sent me the names. I checked out the websites, but my mind wasn't in it.

I called my hair stylists, who have become close friends, and asked them if they were free to go with me to look at wigs. We agreed on a date, and I told them I'd make appointments and get back to them. But I didn't.

I don't want to deal with this.

So I let it go. If I ignore it, it'll go away, right?

A few days later, my mom sent me an e-mail with the subject, "AUNT (can't mention the name for privacy reasons) RECOMMENDS!!!" I opened the e-mail and read my mom's gentle urging, "Think we should really look into this one. May be more expensive, but worth looking into." And there was a link to a website. I clicked on it...

"Joseph Paris - Your Prescription for Natural Looking Hair."

Ok, I want natural looking hair. But it's a wig; how natural can it be? I continued to browse the site. I went to the section for Cancer and Alopecia, and I immediately saw the large, blinking words on the side of the page that screamed out, "Don't Cut Your Hair Short! Use Your Own Hair - Click Here."

Ok. Click!

I watched a video on the difference between a normal, heavy wig and a Joseph Paris "Hair System." One of the benefits of Joseph Paris is that the Hair System (they don't consider them to be wigs) are semi to full custom pieces. They recommend going for a consultation BEFORE hair loss so they can see how you wear your hair, and even harvest a one inch section in the back to be used later in the hairline of the system. That way, it's your own hair and almost undetectable.

I'm skeptical.

I realized that I don't have much time. If I want to get going on some sort of hair solution before my surgery on June 14th, I need to squeeze it in now. I checked my calendar for a day when I didn't have a doctor's appointment - those are hard to come by right now - and I called to schedule a consultation.

Today was the day. May 26th at 3:00 PM.

Jimmi and I hopped in the convertible and headed for New York City. The highway breeze blew my hair around and the truckers on either side blatantly stared. I'll enjoy it while I can. Even truckers won't look at a cue ball head.

We arrived at Joseph Paris' salon about 15 minutes late because, honestly, it's almost impossible to get anywhere in New York City on time. As they buzzed us in, the sadness swept over me like a wave. I sat in the overly comfortable chair and gazed at a giant TV screen on the wall. There was a picture of a smiling woman with long, blonde hair. Three seconds later, the picture changed to the same woman, still smiling, but totally bald. The photos continued to rotate with new faces, new smiles and new bald to beautiful shots. I know it was supposed to show how amazing I'll look with my new Joseph Paris Hair System. But all it really did was remind me that, no matter what I put on my head, I'll still be bald.

"Come on back, Suzanne. I'm Mary. Joseph is out sick today, so I'll be doing your consultation."

Mary showed us to an office with a desk at the far end, more of the super comfy chairs in the middle, and a hairdresser's chair in front of a large mirror at the other end. Under the mirror was a counter with products I'd never seen before in a normal salon. There were fake heads with fake hair on the windowsills, and autographed pictures of Charlie Sheen on the wall. Wow. I must be "Winning!"

Mary started out by asking me exactly what brought me to the salon today. After a quick explanation of my diagnosis and treatment plan, I said, "I just want whatever I get to be the best quality so it doesn't look fake." She gazed at my with sincere sympathy in her eyes and said, "I understand. You have beautiful hair."

Yeah, I thought to myself, only for another six weeks or so.

Mary explained the difference between a normal wig and a Joseph Paris Hair System in depth. She showed me how heavy and uncomfortable wigs can be, and how light and breathable the Hair System is.  She talked to me about the benefits of synthetic versus human hair, and vice versa. She described the method used for both custom and semi-custom pieces. She went over the process of harvesting a piece of my own hair to create a natural looking hairline. She demonstrated the strength of the tape that would hold the system on my head by sticking it to my finger. And she showed my the clips that would be added to the system to hold it on once my real hair started growing back. It was a lot to swallow. And then she brought out some samples.

I felt sick.

I felt the difference between the synthetic hair and the human hair. Not gonna lie - the human hair creeped me out a bit. I asked if I could just shave my head and use my own hair or if my friends who offered can donate some of theirs. She said it was possible, but not necessary. Then I asked the prices.


On the bright side, if I get a doctor's note explaining my diagnosis and that I need this for my mental well-being, insurance should cover at least part of it. Cool. They won't pay for my name-brand thyroid medication, but maybe they'll spring for a wig or two. Oh, sorry...a Hair System.

After over an hour of discussion, Mary asked, "Do you want to try one on?" I gave an uncomfortable snort, "No, not really." But she was determined to get that thing on my head. I covered my soon-to-be-gone hair with a wig sock. Mary tucked the bottom underneath so there wouldn't be a bump, then placed a synthetic hair system on my head.

I can't look.

Mary started the dialogue, "Obviously it would need to be fitted to your head and the hairline needs to be trimmed to match yours. And we would straighten it and add highlights just like you have now." I forced myself to look in the mirror.


Oh my God, I'm wearing a wig. I'm gonna need to wear a wig for a very long time. Don't cry. You can't cry now. Jimmi spoke, "You really can't tell. I mean, obviously I know it's not real, but no one else will be able to tell." Yeah, ok, Pumpkin. Whatever you say.

I took it off. "Ok, so what now?"

We decided on what kind of system would work best for my needs. It turns out I'll need two of them. I would get a semi-custom, synthetic Hair System for every day use. With that one, I can swim, go to the gym and sweat and actually submerge it in water to wash it. The only problem is that I can't use a hair dryer or other hair styling products, like a flat iron or curling iron. I would only be able to brush it and steam it. If I want it straight, I would use the steamer to steam it straight, then spray it with cool water to lock it in. Same process if I want to curl it. I'd use the attachment on the steamer to curl it, then spritz the cool water to lock it in. One cool thing is, once I lock in the style, it won't change until I purposely change it, no matter what I do to it.

Mary just happened to have a long, synthetic system that matched my base color in stock. Then we looked through hair samples to pick the highlight color that would be added into it. She also took pictures of my hair from all angles so they could place the highlights exactly where they are now. When we were done with that, Mary carefully measured my head for the custom fit.

Next, we went over the details of the second Hair System I would need. This one would be my "special occasion" piece. The one I would use for my wedding. This one would be made from human hair. Mary got out the tape measure to check the actual length of my hair now. Twenty inches. Wow. "Hair that long is a special order," Mary said. Ok, well then special order it! Calm down, Suzanne. It's not her fault you're going to go bald. "Ok, that's fine," I whispered.

The custom piece will take eight weeks, compared to the two week turn around for the semi-custom. At my next appointment, I'll need to have a mold of my head made with Seran Wrap and tape. Then, they'll write the details of my natural hair on the tape mold to show what direction my hair goes on each section of my head. That way, when they make the system, it'll be exactly to my current hair's specifications. With a human hair system, I can use a hair dryer and a flat iron and anything else I would normally use. The downside is that it can't be submerged in water or it'll lose its hair. No swimming and no sweating. To clean it, I'll take it section by section and wash it with diluted shampoo up to just below the root. To clean the cap part and root area, I'll turn it over and spray it with alcohol. Sounds fun.

After an hour and 45 minutes, we were done. I chose not to make a final decision right that minute because I really wanted to talk to my mom about it first. I set up an appointment for next Wednesday, June 1st, to have my head molded for the custom system. At that point, I'll know exactly what I want to do and I'll probably place my orders.

I don't know why I've been put in this position. I don't know why this is happening to me - especially now. I'm supposed to be going for cake tastings and dress fittings. Why couldn't this have happened a few months later? I don't want to do any of this. I want my brain to go back to dreaming about my happy future and not having nightmares about the Hell to come. I want it all to go away. But it's not going to. It's going to happen no matter how much I pray.

Upbeat. I need to be upbeat and positive. Yeah, maybe tomorrow.

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