15th December 2011
The other day I visited the hair dressers for my Christmas hair do.
“Wow, what a lot of hair you’ve got” said the junior as she massaged my scalp.
I brushed aside the urge to answer like Little Red Riding Hood “All the better to flick you with my dear”.
Instead I smiled, said “Yes, don’t I – very thick –very lucky” and thought “if only you knew”!
My hair was always my thing.
Thick, long, wavy, with a slightly reddish hue, it always did what I asked of it. If I put it up – it needed one pin and it stayed put all day.
My hair was what defined ‘my look’.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, my consultant, almost as a passing comment said;
“And of course you will lose your hair. But we can sort you out with a wig. They’re very good these days.”
My consultant was a man – I sometimes think they just don’t get how important a woman’s hair is to her.
In the great scheme of things, it’s the least important thing to worry about, but losing your hair is the ultimate ‘cancer badge’. I know, I did the same myself before I got ill – not intentionally, but I’d see someone without hair wearing a headscarf and I wouldn’t see the person, I’d see the disease. You can see why the Nazi’s shaved the heads of their Jewish prisoners. It’s very dehumanising.
While you have your hair, no matter what is going on with your treatment, to an extent you can still look normal and pretend it’s not as serious as it really is.
Before I started my treatment I went to the hairdressers to have my beautiful hair cut and styled one last time. Then a photographer friend came round and took photos of me which I printed out and kept as a reminder and incentive.
A week later I was back at the hairdressers. My treatment had started and it was just a matter of time before the inevitable happened. This time they cut my hair into a short bob. I couldn’t believe what was happening and sobbed so much that they ended up taking me into a private room. I kept my ponytail and put it away in a special bag in my top drawer.
For the next couple of weeks I monitored the plug hole for normal / abnormal hair loss. But when it finally started it came out by the hand full. You don’t realise how much hair you have until it all falls out.
When I finally couldn’t take the daily distress any more, my sister came over from Liverpool, we borrowed a friend’s hair clippers, sent Tris to the pub and shaved my head. No one should have to do that for their sister. I sobbed again – mourning the terrible loss of my hair and the terrible things that were happening to me. My sister was brilliant – gentle and sensitive. Reminding me about how, when we’d been little girls, I’d found a pair of scissors and cut all my hair off from one side of my head, announcing to our horrified mum with a great sense of triumph “I’m a skinhead now!”
“You’ve got quite a nice head” my sister reassured me.
Although people were quick to point out that it would soon grow back, it didn’t feel like much of a consultation. That was me now – Alison – cancer victim. You might as well have just branded me.
That night I wouldn’t let Tris see me without my hat. I let him feel my head, but only with the lights turned off. I covered over the mirrors and refused to look at myself.
I remember my first trip to The Trafford Centre in my wig. I was elated that I’d managed to do it without anyone noticing and shouting out “There’s a person in a wig over there (snigger, snigger)”.
I managed to wear my wig for seven months – until I went in for my stem cell transplant and high dose chemo. It was a whole month in one room, feeling dreadful. The treatment was so extreme that I only remember the first 10 days. My wig was no longer important, it was all about surviving.
I never wore my wig again. There was no point in trying to hide it anymore – this was what I’d become. I have a new found respect for bald men. Being bald is bloody chilly.
When I came out of hospital we’d have a ritual in the mornings. Apparently a bald farmer’s hair grew back once after he’d had his head licked by a cow. Tris didn’t actually lick my head – but every morning he’d gently give my bald scalp a ‘special rub’ to try and get it going again.
Two months later we took my dad and Tris’ parents to Anglesey in Wales to show them where we’d got engaged. As we walked along the deserted windswept beach, with my dad holding onto one hand and Tris holding onto the other, I took my headscarf off for the first time. I had the very earliest signs of growth.
|I look like I've got nits.|
Four months later and I felt able to take my headscarf off in public. When I went to choose my wedding dress, the lady in the shop said that she just thought I was very funky and stylish with my number 2 crew-cut!
|Coming along nicely.|
Iwan Thomas. We all took part in a 24 hour bicycle challenge world record attempt. Yes, in the words of the lovely Roy Castle – I am a “RECORD BREAKER”!
One of my criteria for booking our wedding was that I wanted it to be far enough in advance for us to put some distance between my illness and the wedding – and for me to have grown some hair back. No bride wants to walk down the aisle bald. So......
Twelve months later (and two months before the wedding) I went for my first hair cut. My hair had grown back vertical and really curly / very fine crimp. It’s known as ‘The Christie Perm’ as the chemo damages your hair follicles.
I went to a different hairdresser this time – Jayne - a friend of a friend who had experience of post chemo hair (from her mother) and who’d caught me snivelling at the gym a few months earlier.
I never thought I’d see the day.
I never thought I’d get to the point where I was back at the hairdressers.
Jayne spent all afternoon working on my hair trying various different Afro products and meticulously straightening it. And would you believe it, there hiding underneath all the time was a style.
|My first hair cut.|
I cried, she cried, all the other stylists and customers cried. There were rivers of mascara.
When it came to the big wedding day, my hair looked sensational.
|Picking confetti out of my hair.|
And now, I look back at those pictures taken before I started my treatment and it looks like someone else. I actually like my new shorter do. I think I’m going to keep it like this. I’ve gone back to how I was when I was very little – straight at the front and curly at the back.
It still takes gallons of Frizz Ease (or this is what happens) .....
.......... and reverts to the texture of an Old English Sheepdog when it gets wet, but I’m back to the point now where my hair is my thing.
So when the junior made envious comments about my luscious locks when I went for my Christmas hair do – I just thought I’m back baby – Happy Christmas to me!