Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wig On, Wig Off

When you transition from being someone with cancer to a cancer survivor, you survey your life and think about doing some things differently. I want to live this next phase of my life with less fear. I want to be more adventurous. So, in that spirit... here is a little game I think of as "Wig On, Wig Off."

I can hear what you're thinking... Oh no she didn't!....Oh yes I did.

It's ok for you to think that. I remember when I first got diagnosed and started web surfing for wigs and scarves... I stumbled across some photos of women completely bald and thought to myself, "I would never do that! The world doesn't need to see that! Bald is not beautiful... it's just bald!" It's amazing how much can change in just a few months.

MerMer as a 2-year-old Diva
So why did I decide to do this now? We'll get to that. First let me tell the story of letting go of my hair, since it's been one of the more frequently asked questions. As women, we link a lot of our identity and beauty to our hair. I have to say that my hair, at least in my teen and college years, was my "signature." I had a love-hate relationship with my hair at times, but also appreciated a few very memorable rockin' hair days. So, after the word cancer officially became a part of my life, one of the first things I did was go wig shopping. Mom and Alyson went with me a few days before my surgery to Gayla Wigs in The Woodlands... if you know anyone in the market for a wig, she's the lady to talk to! We were all surprised when she measured my head and told me that due to the size of my big head, there were only about 4 wigs that would fit me out of her entire inventory. Luckily one of them was the one I had spotted in the showroom and really liked. At the time I still had my own thick hair, which we clipped down and put one of those stocking caps over, but it only added to the bulkiness of my large cranium, so when we tried on the wigs they didn't really fit. I realized that I wouldn't be able to wear my wig until I was bald... in other words there would be no test drive, I would only have the option of debuting the new me on game day.

The day my hair started to fall out
Then I talked to the oncology nurse. With my particular kind of chemo, they told me from the start my hair would fall out around day 14. So chemo started Oct 8th and I did the math. There are some kinds of chemo that are less prone to alopecia (hair loss), but with the adriamycin, it was close to a sure thing. After beginning chemo, I started to feel some changes in the texture of my hair that wouldn't be noticeable to anyone else, but my hair had become my friend over the years and had the courtesy to give me some notice that it would be moving out. Then it started to happen... after being at the oncologist's office one day, Alyson and I stopped to get lunch... I stepped outside to check my phone and the wind blew my hair, which is not an unusual event, except this time it HURT. My scalp had become extremely sensitive and any movement of my hair was uncomfortable. The next morning I wanted to wash my hair, but realized I couldn't because when I barely ran my hand through my hair, it came out in a big chunk (see photo.) I immediately knew I would have to just have dirty hair for the remaining time it lived on my head.  Can you imagine shampooing and having tons of long hair totally clog the shower drain and fall all over the bathroom floor? ... yuck!

With Alyson the day my head was shaved
My entire head of hair on the salon floor
Trying on my wig for the first time
Every woman is different in how they want to handle the hair loss issue, and it's important to let them do it their way. For me, I realized that I didn't have a choice IF my hair was going to fall out, but I could decide WHEN and HOW it happened. So I made an appointment at the hair dresser- Alyson came with me for support and I got the GI Jane buzz cut for the first time in my life (don't have a photo of it.) And yes, I cried the first time I looked in the mirror. My scalp continued to be really sensitive and it hurt to wear my wig at first, so I stepped out on the back porch and rubbed my head with my hands... and the hair fell off. Then I was bald. For the next few weeks when I would walk into the bathroom and catch a glance of myself in the mirror, I startled myself several times. It takes time to adjust. Then it got to the point that the person I recognized most in the mirror was the bald one or the one in the cotton cap.

My "slumber party" with Katie & Gracie in our matching pj's and pink caps

Gracie in my wig
Katie's handprint
Alyson, Wayne, Katie, and Gracie were all very supportive of me and my big bald head. Humans lose alot of heat through our head, so my cotton night caps were crucial during the cold winter nights.  Alyson had ordered pink caps for the girls to match mine, and we had matching pj's, so of course we had a slumber party one night to make it fun for them. The girls had a great time trying on my wig... this photo is of Gracie.  Then one day when Katie came home from school the girls wanted to paint, and an idea struck me... how often to you get to paint someone's bald head? That would be a fun first for them... so they put their hand prints on my head... Katie's is the orange one and Gracie's is red.

Gracie's handprint
When I started wearing my wig I got tons of compliments on it... I still do. The highlights in it are awesome. And the best feature is that synthetic hair does not frizz in Houston humidity. It's also cut way down on my get ready time in the morning to be able to throw on the wig and not have to deal with shampoo, conditioner, blow-drying, and a flat iron. A couple of weeks ago I was in 5 o'clock traffic on Beltway 8 while on the phone with my mom. The cars were barely moving, and in the lane next to me was a truck full of guys that I'm guessing were in the landscaping business based on their trailer. They kept looking at me and whistiling, etc...which was encouraging to hear in a way, then I said to mom "hey, do you think I should rip the wig off and see if they keep whistiling?" I refrained from doing it, but it would have been funny.

The wig in alot of ways is better than my natural hair. People constantly told me during chemo how great I looked, which is a compliment I always appreciate. However, there was a part of me from time to time that felt like an impostor. There were a few moments when I wanted to rip the wig off and show the world what was really going on with my body, but of course I was too embarrassed to ever follow through with that impulse, and I didn't want to make anyone else feel uncomfortable.

When you think about it, don't we all play the "Wig On, Wig Off" game? Do you find yourself putting on some form of "disguise" for the world? It may not be a wig, instead it may be a brave or happy face, or the facade that you have things under control and in order. Maybe sometimes you get tired too of the illusion and have the urge to show the world what's really going on in your life.

This brings me to answering the question of why show my bald head now. After all, these pictures I've posted are a couple months old and my hair is now starting to grow back. The reason I'm doing this is because I want to embrace this "do-over" chance I have in my life with bold honesty. We are all, at least at times, broken, hurting, and scared people. None of us really have it all together, at least not for very long. And that's ok because God is in the business of broken people. Even on the days we skillfully cover our flaws, He still knows exactly what scars, bald spots, and insecurities we bear. And sometimes He allows us to encourage and bless others by enduring suffering in order to inspire hope, to say to someone that we've been down a path they're about to face and can provide some insight. Because the main message that we want to hear is that we are not alone.

So, there you have it America. Mer Mer's bald head. With a wig, some make-up, and a pair of upgrades on my chest, I'm kinda cute. (And yes, I do know that inner beauty is more important than the outside appearance.) I am sooooo far from having it all figured out. And some days I'm just a big hot mess, with or without a wig. I hope that my admission and vulnerability in this blog sends the message to you that you are not alone. God has been ever-present with me through every breath of this crazy journey, and I'm so grateful that He is the constant that never changes, regardless of my many changing hairstyles in life.