When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, the first thing I did was cut my hair.
For me, as a woman of color, my relationship with my hair has always been a very sacred one. Whether I relaxed it, dyed it, cut it and grew it back – I took pride in my hair care and styles.
For years prior, I had opted to keep a femininely faded cut. After nearly a year of deciding to grow my hair for the sake of everyone making me promise not to cut it, *sounds trumpet* – here comes cancer!
Now, my hair actually was not the first thing on my mind. Death was not either. The first thing I thought about was breastfeeding if I am supposed to have children. It wasn’t until after multiple doctor visits and learning about my treatment plan that I realized my hair might fall out. I was naive to how much would fall out.
That weekend, I thought I should take matters into my own hands. Cancer would not disrupt my confidence! However, my barber was not available and another place I had formerly frequented refused to cut my hair because I let it grow so much and it looked “so nice.”
I was frustrated at people imposing their opinions and was not ready to disclose my diagnosis. But I did not let them deter me! I bought school-grade construction scissors and did it my damn self!
Cancer Cut to the Quick
I didn’t care anymore and just wanted it gone. I felt cancer was going to take it anyway, but if I could just take control of the situation I would feel better. Well, that feeling was very temporary. I remember being advised that at about the second round of chemotherapy, my hair would start falling out. Thankfully I hadn’t heard of the cool cap because in hindsight I feel it would have made my experience a bit more emotionally straining.
I remember thinking that maybe I would be different. Maybe my body will respond differently to the treatment. A couple days before my hair started falling out, I noticed my extremely tight 4c-curl pattern changing to a looser texture. Then only days after, while refreshing my curls, large clusters of curls came out in my hands.
“I won’t touch it, then,” I thought to myself. Unfortunately, that didn’t make a difference as even tilting my head I could see curls just falling in front of me.
I thought maybe I should tie it up. But, my hair falling out taunted me as I could feel the curls shuffling under my silk scarf causing my scalp to feel tickled. I called a friend who joked how I cut my hair all the time, so this shouldn’t be too different.
I was so upset because although it was not meant to be mean, it still minimized the devastation I was feeling. Yes, I have had very low fades that I fearlessly flaunted in the past; however, this was different. I was never bald!
Bald is Beautiful
Distraught, I searched for videos online on about how to shave your own head. “If this is the worst of it all, then it’s not that bad. I got this!” I assured myself. On repeat I played songs like I Am Not My Hair and Break The Shell by India Arie, and Aint Got No – I Got Life by the late, great Nina Simone.
Finally, it was done! I was bald! I was not going to let cancer take things from me. And then I felt a change. I felt great!
Every time cancer hit me, I hit back harder. When I felt emotionally overwhelmed, I didn’t crumble alone – I sought a therapist. When I was unable to eat all my favorite things because I was nauseous, I sought new things to eat and enjoy.
“Throughout the process of treatment, I would rock my bald head. I loved it. I could see myself. There were no distractions. I could see the beauty, strength and all other virtues I had previously doubted.”
Occasionally, and more often once returning to work, I would wear head wraps. I would also wear wigs, but rarely. I just really enjoyed being bald. On this journey I learned to be alright with me.
And I was striking!
My brows and lips were now the center of attention. My fearlessness would unintentionally bring about awareness. Often, strangers would give me compliments and share how bold I was. In a previous blog, I talked about missing an opportunity to bring awareness because I was ashamed. After accepting my status as a survivor, I became more open to sharing that I was a young adult braving breast cancer. That my bald look was not a choice. This only encouraged more conversation, inspiration and awareness.
I Am Not My Hair
One would think once my hair started growing back I would have been excited. But my hair grew back ash blonde at first. I looked like a fuzzy peach! As my hair continued to grow, it was not a texture I was used to. My crown wasn’t coming in fully or quickly. This was more upsetting for me than being bald.
I had never really been invested in hair growth until this point. Now, I researched and learned about different minerals and supplements that promoted hair growth. I found liquid biotin gave the best results. Also, at this time in my life, I was a vegetarian and didn’t consume much caffeine or alcohol either. I am sure eating super foods packed with minerals like zinc, iron and other proteins also promoted restoration in overall skin, nail and hair health.
I learned that I could do things to promote hair growth, but I could not completely control it. Often I would find lessons I learned throughout the journey reemerging. Reminders that beauty is not just what I am, but who I am. That I am not my hair. Fast forward through head wraps and accessories to when my hair fully grown in, and I found myself obsessed with it. But I did not survive to become only invested in my hair. For years to follow I would relive all the styles I had prior to cancer, fiercely and fearlessly!
And so even today, when I face doubts about how beautiful and amazing I am, I think back to this time. As I always say, beauty isn’t just what you are, it is who you are. Hair is only an accessory.
Patricia Fox is a new contributor at YSC. Diagnosed with breast cancer at age 26, Patricia now shares her insights and deep wisdom in the hopes of encouraging other young adults like her. Read more about her and her work at thepinksistah.com.