With everything that’s been going on lately, lots of friends and family have been asking some awesome questions that I’d love to address in the coming months. Some of them are easier to answer than others. But since starting chemotherapy, one of the most common questions has been, “So, are you going to lose your hair?”
Quick answer: Yeet. Yeah. Yasss.
Yes mama, I’m going to slash already have lost my hair.
Two weeks after my first chemo treatment, I went to bed with some rather itchy tingling in my scalp, and having been told that signs of hair loss usually begin two weeks after the first round, I wondered if hitting the two-week mark would signal some kind of reaction in my body.
And did. It. EVER.
The next morning, waking up in bed, I stretched a bit, trying to slowly wake up my muscles before getting out of the warm cave I’d made underneath my pink comforter. As I’m looking out my window at the mist covering the ground outside, I run my fingers through my hair. Not thinking twice about this, I audibly gasped a little when I saw that rather than the usual 2-3 strands that would come away, it was closer to 10. Another run through revealed, yup, another 10-15 strands that came away from my scalp. It wasn’t painful, just shocking and, well, not what I expected.
The next few days, the strands went from 15 to 30. Then to 60. And this increased more and more to the point that when I took a shower, enough was coming away at a time that I couldn’t identify how many hairs were intertwined in my fingers.
And finally, there was one shower where it just kept shedding. And shedding. And shedding.
And I felt awful. Embarrassed. Devastated, even. And I was even more shocked at the feeling of devastation. Get a grip, Megan. It’s just hair.
When I found out I was going to lose my hair, there was a part of me that thought, “No worries, piece of cake. I’m not vain! I’ve always wanted to shave my head just to see what it’d be like. And hey, I’ll get a break from dealing with my hair and it’ll grow back thick and strong!” I immediately entered “looking-at-the-bright side” mode without even considering the emotional impact of going from a full head of hair to bald in a matter of weeks.
While the attitude and intent was genuine, I’d left no room for myself to be upset. I forgot that I was allowed to be bummed, pissed off, and that the sadness I felt didn’t necessarily have to do with being vain. I’d forgotten to give myself space to grieve and process, and that there was nothing silly about acknowledging this as painful. So when I got to that point where it was continuously coming out, I was both shocked at both how emotional I felt and which emotions were being felt the most.
Over Facebook messenger, I was chatting with my Aunt and cousins, a group of strong women who’ve readily made themselves available to me in all kinds of circumstances throughout my life. Needless to say: they rock. When I was sharing with them about how surprised I was by my emotions, one of my cousins aptly pointed out:
“Of course you’re feeling emotional about it. How we look day in/day out is usually comfortable and not at all shocking… There may also be a bit of, “Now everyone will know what I’m going through,” going on. You normally have a sense of safety just walking around. Your business is yours. Now strangers will be aware of something private going on.”
Up until this point, the only people who knew about my diagnosis were the people I had chosen to share my life with. I got to choose who was in the know and who was out. And with losing my hair, it was just another thing that I didn’t get to choose. Another piece of life out of my control.
It was only about three days of experiencing hair loss before I chose to shave my head. It was a choice that I could make and that was a source of comfort to me. But after thinking about it, I knew that choosing to shave my head would be better for me than having to lose my hair over the course of the next several days.
Once the clippers started, my disappointment turned to excitement. That positive feeling, the ooh-I’m-going-to-shave-my-head thoughts quickly came back and alleviated any nerves I’d brought into the salon. And, much to my delight, this salon offered free haircuts to chemo patients!
With all that’s going on: the medical treatments, managing side affects, adapting to a new job and community, and now needing to adjust to a drastically different visual of myself, I hadn’t let myself grieve something as small (or, let’s be honest, as big) as losing my hair. Too often, we are quick to make light of the things that are part of our grieving processes when facing suffering or loss. Whether it’s losing a job, experiencing the death of a loved one, mourning expectations of what we thought life would be like, all suffering needs to be acknowledged before it can heal. No matter how “big” or “small” the loss, it is loss all the same.
What if we made room for all of each others’ suffering, no matter how “big” or “small”? To mourn a missed job as much as a friend canceling plans with us? To weep over lost hair as much as the cancer diagnosis? What would it look like if we just allowed ourselves to mourn what affects us rather than suppressing our emotions for the “more important” moments?
Amidst the mourning, a prayer comes to me from scripture that has been used in all kinds of music (see links at the bottom of the post):
“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
This isn’t a message of suppressing emotions or resisting suffering. It’s a message of “Be still” and feel your feelings; “Be still” and allow yourself room to accept help; “Be still” and rest; “Be still” and remember.
Wherever you are, whatever you’re experiencing, God is with you.
You are known, you are loved, you are God’s beloved.
Even when you’re in the middle of your suffering.
As I adjust to my new haircut, it marks a new opportunity to be reminded that every part of suffering is worth working through. That every piece of grief is valid and meaningful, and sometimes require us to be more vulnerable with the people around us. May we be willing to be still amidst the suffering and to welcome others’ in so that we are not alone.