My hair has always been unruly, wild and unmanageable. A thick curly mass that could not be forced into any of the cool hairstyles of the day. But I would try. I can remember attempting desperately to straighten it - only leaving it more frizzy and disastrous. At some point in my late twenties, I realized that this war I was fighting was not one that I would ever win - and so I surrendered. And when I did, it was magical. My hair formed ringlets and waves, effortless curls, romantic and even beautiful. I began for the first time in my life receiving compliments regarding my hair. And I let it grow. My hair became part of my identity. When describing me, people would begin by discussing my hair. I would dye it and spend time creating intricate braids and buns. My hair was an extension of my creative self. People would stop me in the grocery stores to ask me about my hair. And I loved it.
It is essential to understand that in Mexican American culture, hair is extremely important. Upon having both of my children, the first question my mother asked is whether or not the babies had hair- and if they did have hair, how much. You can even buy baby wigs at the Latin flea markets in my hometown- just in case your baby was born lacking. Hair is also connected in Latin culture with femininity. The Latina bombshell always has long amazing hair. This is the culture that I grew up with.
The first thing I asked my oncologist was whether or not I would lose my hair. He said that I would. For some bizarre reason, that was more painful than the previous conversation I had with the surgeon about losing my breasts (more about my feelings on that subject much later). I tried looking up on the internet natural ways to save my hair, but came up empty handed. Of course, there are those that use Cold Caps - icy helmets that freeze your scalp so that the chemotherapy drugs leave your hair follicles alone- but the cost of such extravagance was too much for me. I couldn't stomach spending so much money for what felt like was just hair. It would grow back. I could take the kids to Disneyland for the price of cold caps!
There is another part of me that is quite sure that my journey has a meaning. That there is something about fighting cancer that will define a new purpose for who I am and how I move through this world. My life has centered around serving others- and this would be no exception. It is what I love more than anything else. So, in some ways, I need to experience every aspect of this journey. Unfortunately, that includes losing all of my hair. It is a rite of passage that I am not comfortable missing. It is also a rite of passage that has been wrought with tears.
I think that when I am bald, it becomes undeniable that I am sick. That I am fighting something larger and more scary than I have ever fought before. I will have joined the sisterhood. I will be forced to face my mortality. It will be real- and I won't be able to hide in a crowd. Everyone will know. This person, who has built an identity around being strong and fiercely independent, may be seen as weak or someone to be pitied. I will be transformed into the "other"... "other" people get cancer. I will be faced with the fact that I really can't do this alone. And that I need people. And that is scary.
Monday, I cut my hair into a cute little pixie cut. Wednesday was my birthday, and it began gently falling out as I touched my head. Saturday, I couldn't stop the shedding. My head felt like it was on fire, irritated, and prickly. With tears and a heavy heart, I had my little sister shave my head. I wore a wig for the first time that afternoon. Today I wore my first headscarf. I am surviving.. and actually, now that it is gone, I am feeling some relief. It is time to start focusing on the next part of this journey.
My calaca for today is a little drawing I did commemorating my visit to the Ocean today in my headscarf. For more October Calacas visit Rebecca's blog here.