Saturday, August 6, 2011

Shaved

Well, it's gone.

I am currently sitting here donning a wig that, from what everyone keeps saying, looks completely natural. It certainly doesn't FEEL natural on my head, but I can't really complain, can I?

It was a difficult morning. I woke up at about 7:30 AM and hit the shower. I hadn't washed my hair since Wednesday because I was scared of how much would fall out in the process. But since I was going to have it shaved anyway, I figured I'd give it one more shampooing just to make sure I was doing the right thing. And after running my hands through my wet hair and pulling out clumps, I knew it was definitely time. I got out of the shower, wrapped a towel around my head, and one around my body and just stared at the mess on the shower floor. Jimmi had just woken up and walked into the bathroom to brush his teeth. "Look at that," I pointed at the wet, black tumbleweeds. Jimmi's face turned to pity, "Oohh, I'm sorry, pumpkin. But you'll be sexy to me no matter what!" I gave a quick, half smile, then proceeded to pick up the entire head of hair in the drain, wrap it in toilet paper and throw it away. I didn't dare to dry what was left on my head - which wasn't much, by the way. I just brushed it gently (it still continued to fall out) and threw on a baseball cap with a teal and white ribbon on the front.

Jimmi and I left the house at 8:30 AM and headed to New York City for my 10:00 AM appointment. I knew we'd probably be there for a while. Between the fact that I was basically an "emergency squeeze-in", and that I'd need to be shaved bald, then have my two custom pieces fitted and cut, I was figuring at least three hours.

We arrived at Joseph Paris Salon after hooking up with my mom in The City. It was about 9:45, so we were actually early, for a change! We headed to the ninth floor and rang the bell so we could be buzzed in. Linda, the receptionist who had managed to fit me into the schedule, greeted us with a warm smile. "How are you feeling?" She asked politely. I shrugged and let out an, "Eh." "Well," Linda continued, "You look much better than the first time you were here. You seem much more at ease with everything." I laughed drunkenly, "Yeah, I took an anti-anxiety pill about a half an hour ago. I guess it's working."

As we waited, we spoke to Linda a bit. She was a very friendly women who was probably in her 50s. She was upbeat and outspoken. "Oh!" I remembered something, "Please don't let me leave here without a steamer for the synthetic piece." The only way to style the non-human hair wig is with a steamer because a hair dryer or flat iron would melt it. "Don't worry," Linda assured me. "I'll remind you. And I have to give you a head, too." My mom and I looked up and the same thought went through our dirty minds. "Oh?" I looked at Jimmi. "Lucky you!" Neither Jimmi nor Linda realized what she had said until I made that comment, then Jimmi turned beet red, shook his head and covered his face and Linda started laughing out loud. "Wow! I should watch what I say around here!" she giggled.

At about 10:15, a young stylist who looked like he belonged in a Beatles tribute band emerged from the back room. "Suzanne?" We stood up to meet him. "Hi, I'm Joel. Come with me." My mom, Jimmi and I caravanned to a small, private room with a hair dresser's chair, a sink with a neck cut-out and a large mirror above it. There were hair and wig products all over the counter, and a window that overlooked 34th Street. While Joel went to grab a few more chairs, I sat down in the seat in the middle of the room and took off my hat. My hair was still damp from the shower, and you could really see how thin it had become in just four days.

Joel came back with the chairs, then turned his attention to me. "Are we taking off your hair today too?" he asked. I looked at him sadly, "Won't we get a better fit for the wigs that way?" Joel said we would, and I continued, "I think it's all about to fall out anyway." He started to run his fingers through my recently fine locks and what was left started to come out in his hands. "Is it starting to get tangled and matted when you wash it?" he asked gently. I nodded. "I think you came in a the perfect time. If you had waited any longer, you would start to get really knotted up, almost like dreadlocks. That would irritate your scalp and make it pretty painful. Even shaving it off would be more difficult because I'd need to lift each dreadlock and be very gentle so I didn't hurt you. You really have perfect timing." Ok, I guess I didn't jump the gun. So glad my mom urged me to call for an appointment as soon as the hair started to fall out.

Joel explained that he was going to cut my hair in sections before he buzzed it, that way, he would be able to save the long pieces in case I needed to add them to my human hair piece. He clipped up the top of my hair and I looked down and closed my eyes. I couldn't watch. "I hope you don't mind if I cry," I whispered. Joel looked sympathetic, "Cry all you want. I'm used to it. But if you cry a lot, I might end up crying too." I laughed and sniffed back some tears until I couldn't contain them anymore and they began to drip down my cheeks. Snip, snip, snip went the scissors, and I saw Joel lay a long chunk of my hair on the table in front of me. Snip, snip, snip. Another chunk. I kept my head down and my eyes closed as he cut, until Joel asked me to lift my chin. I obliged, and then I opened my eyes and looked into the mirror. My entire head was chopped except for one, last, long lock right in the front. "Whoa! You look like a Goth chick!" Jimmi joked. I didn't want to smile, then something inside me snapped and told me it was going to be ok. It's only hair. It's a new adventure. I can do this! Joel snipped off the last piece and placed it on the table with the others. Then he whipped out the electric razor and went to town. "Let me know if I'm hurting you," he said carefully.

Buzzzzzzzzzzzzz! Buzzzzzzzzzzz! Buzzzzzzzzzzzz!

I actually watched as the last bits of hair were removed from my head. I talked and smiled and was fully at peace with what was happening to me. When the buzzer finished its job, I immediately noticed the cool breeze of the air conditioning on my bald head. Wow. I've never been bald. I was even born with a full head of thick, black hair. I checked myself out in the mirror and thought about Demi Moore in G.I. Jane. A Fighter. She was fighting for her country, I'm fighting for my life. It's a good enough comparison, right? I turned from side to side. "Can I touch it?" Jimmi asked. "Sure," I agreed. "But no pictures."

Joel left the room to get my hair pieces. I continued to stare at myself, then I touched my head. It felt like the stubble on my legs when I haven't shaved them in a few days; though, that's not much of an issue anymore. One benefit of chemo, I guess. "Ok, fine," I gave in. "You can take pictures." Both my mom and Jimmi grabbed their iPhones and snapped away. I handed Jimmi my Blackberry (stupid iPhones!) and had him take one more. He handed my phone back, I checked out the photo and sent it to Facebook. What the Hell? I thought. Everyone knows I'm doing it. What do I have to be embarrassed about?

Within minutes the comments were flying! "Beautiful!" "Rock Star!" "You go girl!" My friends were sending support when I needed it most. My heart was full as I read each comment that came through, and suddenly being bald didn't seem so bad.

Joel returned with my hair pieces - one synthetic for every day wear, and the other, human hair, for special occasions...like, a wedding, perhaps. "Which one are you planning to wear today?" Joel asked. "The synthetic one," I replied. "Ok," Joel said, "Let's start with the synthetic, then we'll move on." He put the wig on my head, and I instantly looked like myself again. "We need to add a pleat to it so it fits a little tighter," Joel explained. He removed it from my head and brought it to the back to have it fixed.

A few minutes later, he was back and the hair was on my head again. Joel started by measuring exact placement. He had me take my hand and line four fingers up from the bridge of my nose to the top of my forehead. "That's where your hairline should be," he informed me. Joel cut off the extra lace from the piece that sat on my forehead, then asked me to take the tips of my pointer, middle and ring fingers and put them starting at the corner of my eye going back to my hair. "That's where the side hairline should be," he explained. Then he cut off the extra lace and hair to create a natural line across the side of my face. He repeated the steps on the other side of the piece, and then began my haircut. Trim, snip, cut, shape. Done! Then Joel said, "I'm not going to tape it on yet because we still have to cut the other piece."

Off came the synthetic hair and I felt the newly familiar cool breeze on my head. Then Joel brought in an extra long wig of human hair and placed it on me. "This is really long!" he exclaimed. "I feel like Rapunzel," I giggled. "Someone actually grew their hair this long and then donated it?" I asked. "Even longer," Joel said. "You lose about two inches in the knotting and tying." Wow. The hair was literally to my waist. I almost felt bad knowing I was going to have Joel cut it...a lot.

He repeated the same process as he did with the synthetic piece. Measuring, placing, cutting. I left this one much longer, though. Since this is the hair I'll be wearing on my wedding day, I wanted to make sure there was enough length so my own hair stylist would be able to cut it how he wants it for my perfect day. When Joel was finished, he removed the piece, wrapped it in tissue paper and urged me to leave it alone and keep it flat so it would stay in good shape for the wedding. Since this piece was made from real hair - including some pieces that were cut from my own head two months ago - it could be styled with a hair dryer, curling iron, flat iron or any other normal hair product. That's why I chose to use that one for my wedding day.

Joel brought back the synthetic wig and said, "Ok, now I'm gonna show you how to tape it and put it on." He turned the hairpiece inside out, brought out some double sided tape and showed me the four areas around the inside lace to stick it. "Only stick the one side and leave the paper on the other until after you get it in place," Joel told me. "There are two ways to put it on. Either hold it in the front with your head down and flip it over, then pull it down in the back, or pull it on from the back first. Just make sure you pull it down further on your forehead than necessary to start. It's easier to pull the hairline back than forward."

I gave it a few tries with Joel's help. "It'll take you about two weeks to get used to it, then you'll be doing it like it's nothing." After it was placed where it belonged, Joel helped me pull off the backing of the tape and we stuck the hair down on my head. "Can I sleep with it on?" I asked. "Yes," Joel assured me. "I wouldn't leave it on for more than a week, though, because the tape might stop sticking."

Joel gave me instructions on removing the tape with rubbing alcohol, washing the human hair piece in sections with shampoo and washing the synthetic hair piece with dish detergent or synthetic wig shampoo. Then he gave me a tip for keeping it soft, "Leave it in a bucket of water with fabric softener for ten minutes. That'll make it look much more natural." Who knew? I was also happy to hear that I didn't need to purchase a small steamer since the one we have at home for our clothes will work just fine.

When he was done with my lessons, Joel walked us out to the desk. I couldn't believe it was 2:30! We had been there for over four hours!! Linda complimented my new look and handed me two bags. "It's your started kit. There's tape and a comb in here. Your other hair piece is in there. Oh, and, of course, I'm giving you your head!" I chuckled as I looked in the bag at the styrofoam head and thought about our earlier conversation.

Linda wished me well and made me promise I'd come back and show her wedding pictures. Then she gave Jimmi and I a hug and we were finally ready to leave.

We got into the elevator, and I immediately turned to look in the mirror on the far wall. Will anyone be able to tell? Do I care if they can? I can't believe I'm bald. I can't believe I have cancer. I can't believe I'm getting married in less than a month. I can't believe I'll be wearing a wig at my wedding.

Then I looked at Jimmi and my mom and more thoughts went through my head...

I can't believe I'm lucky enough to have them. And not just them. I can't believe how much stronger my relationship with my dad has become. I can't believe how much support my friends have shown. I can't believe how many kind e-mails I've gotten from strangers.

Cancer is such a horrible disease, but in some ways, it has brought joy to my life. Is that strange? This terrible, awful thing has taught me what real love is. It has taught me not to sweat the small stuff. It has taught me what is truly important in my life.

I have my kids. I have Jimmi. I have my family. I have my friends.

Nothing else matters.

3 comments:

  1. This post gave me goosebumps. You are a gifted writer. And through your experience and your tears and your extraordinary strength of spirit, you are changing ALL of our lives. We will each take life a little less for granted thanks to your powerful reminder. xoxoxo.

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  3. Cancer is such a horrible disease, but in some ways, it has brought joy to my life. Is that strange? This terrible, awful thing has taught me what real love is. It has taught me not to sweat the small stuff. It has taught me what is truly important in my life. Wow this is truly moving. I hope people won't have to wait for cancer to strike to understand the truly important things in life. There are Cancer Treatment Centers in the US that have been helping cancer patients too, in case you're interested.

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