There have been so many parts of cancer that I wasn’t prepared for, that no matter what someone could have said to me, no one would have prepared me for what cancer does to you, both physically and emotionally. Lately, I feel like it’s more of a matter of when it is coming back rather than if it’s coming back. The other day, I heard someone said that at the 3-year-post-cancer-mark, the fear of recurrence lessens, so I guess I have a while to wait and even then lessening isn’t disappearing.
I have been struggling lately with my physical appearance. I have been trying to eat properly and am really trying to walk, a lot. I feel good physically but mentally, I feel bad about the way I look. I have a lot of guilt, I feel like I have done some of it to myself (mostly weight but even my breast, why do I feel responsible for what has happened to me?).
What is very frustrating, more frustrating than I thought it would be, is my hair. I used to have really long blond hair and when I wanted it curly, I wore it curly and when I wanted it straight, I wore it straight. I could wear it up or down or half and half, in a pony tail or messy bun or in a braid (I loved braids!).
When I found out that I needed chemo, my hair wasn’t a big concern of mine. When I cut it, I felt good about donating it and when I buzzed it off after my first treatment; I had a surprising feeling of pride. When it started falling out and I started to go bald, I wore my bald head like a badge of honour; never ashamed, never embarrassed; it was all part of the journey. Then, it started growing back, and kind of fast, and I loved it. Everyone was used to me not having hair, so I was getting so many compliments on my new pixie ‘cut’. I felt good.
As it grew out, it got curlier and curlier and now it’s ringlets. I don’t mind the curls, and even though it’s curly because of chemo and because of cancer, I don’t mind the curls. For me, it’s the length. I haven’t had hair this short since I was in grade 3 and as my Papa told me in 1992 in such a Papa-esque way, ‘I liked it better long.’ So did I Papa, so did I. Now, I can wear my hair one way; short, curly, and maybe with a head band. I don’t have any choices!
Aha! And therein lies the issues; the lack of choices. Isn’t that the issue as hand?
Cancer has robbed so many of us of so many choices. I don’t have a choice in my hair length along with having one breast, breast feeding, taking steroids, being so f*cking tired, feeling so much less of a woman, being on estrogen blockers at 27 years old, getting pregnant, and so on. Cancer has decided many of these things for me and while something like getting pregnant is still up in the air, I know that cancer has made its decision already, regardless of if I’m aware of it yet.
So many young women, who have had cancer and gone through treatment, have talked about choices. I hear all the time ‘I wasn’t sure if I wanted children before I had cancer, but now that I may not be able to, I’m upset that the choice has been taken away from me.’ I feel that way about so much anymore.
I know that I need to mourn the life that I used to know and the body that used to be mine; I know that I have to do that, I just don’t know how to do it? I don’t want to get used to this hair, or this breast, or this steroid induced weight, or these doctors, or the needles, or the prescriptions or the surgeries, or the word cancer having a whole new meaning compared to two years ago. I’m tired of thinking of my funeral or wondering if cancer is going to ‘get me’. I think of all of these things when I look at my hair.
If I were to describe someone to you, who has short hair, a small chest, a big belly and was on a lot of prescriptions, you would most likely think I was describing your grandpa or a great uncle, but instead, I am describing myself. I think what’s crazy is that I can feel this way about myself on the inside and still laugh and still act like everything’s ok. How is it that we can function when we feel so poorly about ourselves?
I write this blog to get it out there, not because I need sympathy or because I need the external validation (like I have needed my entire life). I think a lot of ‘cancer’ isn’t written about and because treatment is over, there’s sometimes an assumption that life should ‘go back to normal’. I just wanted to write about the way I see things.
I know that this is about more than hair. It’s about having to go through with something because a disease has left you with no options. It’s about being robbed of my womanhood. It’s about being given one option when others seem to have a variety of choices. It’s about not having the control over your own life that we are all supposed to be given. It’s about being tired of relying on inner beauty when all you want in some outer beauty.