I shaved my head not long after this photo was taken. I had colored it for a dude who didn’t care for my grays, but a few weeks later he broke up with me on the phone while driving to play golf. I had already grown tired of having to deal with my hair. I was always trying for the lustrous long manes I saw in the salon and on the shampoo commercials, but my reality was much frizzier and lame to deal with every day. And I had never really forgiven myself for dyeing it in the first place, so I was excited to ditch the whole mop. I had a woman at the Supercuts in town shave it for me on Halloween over three years ago.
I always figured I’d grow it out again when I got tired of not having hair. Hasn’t happened yet. Every time I shave, I still get the feeling I’m leaving behind more than just a bajillion little shards of hair. Without my hair, I have fewer places to hide, and that has been a big gift for me.
Since that time, I’ve gotten into some interesting conversations over my hairless choices. And if I had a dollar for each time I’ve been asked if I have cancer, I’d have about 30 bucks by now.
The cancer questions are well-meaning and respectful. These are questions borne out of basic kindness, and I can feel the desire to connect each time I’ve been asked. Still, it’s really trippy. If I did indeed have a disease which resulted in hair loss, I don’t know that I would feel comfortable or prepared to discuss that on the fly, with a complete stranger, in the middle of the grocery store/craft store/park, etc.
I had long hair as a girl when my mother died of breast cancer. I clutched a half-used roll of Tums everywhere I went because I was a nervous wreck, with a constant lump in my throat, and an overwhelming fear of yakking all over someone in public. No one asked me anything.
My hair was much shorter sixteen years ago when my husband had pancreatic cancer, and a few months to live. I did all the shopping as John’s disease progressed and his energy waned. No one ever approached me to inquire about my well-being during those times. Several trips to the store preambled with my sobbing the whole way there, but no one knew that as I shopped a short time after.
Granted, those weren’t my illnesses and therefore didn’t leave tell-tale signs on my body. Still, they were dark times of devastation and struggle, and no one knew because I looked average and healthy.
So, when do we know? When do we really see someone’s struggles? Or joys, for that matter? Do we have a real purpose in approaching only those who may look vulnerable or unwell? I wish I knew.