Moist air day = bad hair day, I thought as I looked into the mirror this morning and watched the corners of my mouth turn down more each time I released a lock of hair from the round brush to find it still wavy despite my efforts.
Sighing and clenching my eyes shut, I put the brush down on the vanity counter and realized, not for the first time, why it’s called a vanity. I’ll admit it, I’m vain. I want my hair to look the way it looks when I walk out of my stylist’s salon with it freshly colored and cut. But this morning, I looked at the gray roots and didn’t even bother to use the color wand that my stylist had given me to get me through those last few days before each appointment.
Now here’s the thing–nine years ago this month, I was about to learn what it was like to have no hair. And one would think that after spending four months with no hair and another year waiting for it to grow back, I’d really appreciate having a bad hair day…because it means I have hair.
I had surgery for breast cancer in October 2003 and my first chemo treatment on December 4. I remember that because my oncologist told me that unless I was among the lucky 1% of patients who do not lose their hair, I would start losing my hair three weeks to the day after the first treatment. Now I can hear you Christians–and maybe even some of my non-Christian friends–out there calculating when that would be. And you guessed it. I got into the shower on Christmas morning, put shampoo into my hand and rubbed it between my palms, forgetting what my oncologist had said. But I remembered the moment I pulled my fingers through my hair and looked down to find clumps of hair wrapped around my fingers. I stood in the shower and cried, my tears mixing with the water from the pulsing spray from the shower head.
I stepped from the shower and wrapped my head in a towel. When I unwrapped the towel, I found more clumps of hair stuck to the terrycloth fibers. I pulled the wig I had bought with a friend’s help from the styrofoam head at the top of the closet, placed it on my head, and walked out of the bathroom and into my husband. He looked at me sympathetically and hugged me. He didn’t need to ask what had happened in the shower.
On the day after Christmas, I called On the Edge Hair Studio, my salon, and explained what had happened. I knew that this was their busiest time of year, as clients came in to get their hair done for New Year’s Eve galas. I asked Cathie, the receptionist, if I could possibly come in and have my hair stylist, Angie Cassagnol, shave my head. I told her that I just couldn’t stand day after day of having my hair come out in my fingers. “Oh, honey,” Cathie said, “you know that Angie will take care of you.”
And so, two days after Christmas, I trudged into the shop, blinking back tears as I walked toward the window lined with blinking white lights and green garland. Cathie and Angie greeted me with a smile and complimented me on the human hair wig that cost me a year’s worth of appointments with Angie. I smiled half-heartedly and sat down in Angie’s chair, as I’d done for years. I looked at Angie’s thick, dark hair enviously and wished I had her talent for doing her own hair.
I took a deep breath and pulled the wig from my head. Angie gasped, and her eyes filled with tears. “Okay….okay,” she said. “I’m going to have to cut it short before I can shave it.”
I made myself breathe. “Okay,” I said, closing my eyes. I heard the sound of the scissors snipping and finally found the courage to open my eyes. Tears streamed down Angie’s cheeks, and I found that I could stop crying, perhaps because she was crying enough for both of us. “It’s okay,” I said. “You’ve told me lots of times when I was afraid to change the style that it’s only hair and that it’ll grow back,” I smiled.
When she finished, I had a boy cut. And at that moment, we both knew that we couldn’t go on. She had performed an incredible act of love for me, and I knew that I would never have another hair stylist.
Ultimately, it was my husband Matt who found the courage to shave my head–one of the greatest acts of love of our 21 years together. And six months later, the hair started to grow back.
But even though I remember the pain of having no hair, which in some ways was worse than losing my breast because it was so visible to the world, I still get frustrated on bad hair days. Until I remember to laugh at myself and thank God that the world has people like my husband and Angie, who love me even when I’m having a no-hair day.