Back at the beginning, when I learned I had cancer, I accepted hair loss as a likely byproduct of my misfortune. I consoled myself with the promise of a wig that was so beautiful that I wouldn’t miss my own hair. It’s true what people say… you don’t always appreciate what you have until it’s gone (or in my case, has an expiration date).
I have a love/hate relationship with my hair. It’s hot. It’s heavy. It feels like a sweater when I wear it down. It frizzes. It’s unmanageable. I can’t do anything with it unless I wet it first. It’s so thick that airport x-ray scanners can’t see through it so TSA thinks I might pose a threat (true story).
Despite that, years of wrangling my mane has left me with a deep understanding of how to tame it. When treated with the perfect combination of conditioner and products the result is long, Shirley Temple calibre curls. It’s truly beautiful hair.
Now, it’s one thing to expect the inevitable hair loss that goes hand in hand with chemo. It’s another thing to be told by your oncologist that there’s a tiny possibility of permanent hair loss with my chemo drug of choice.
Before being warned of this fun fact, I had written off the use of cold caps. I had concluded that they were just too expensive and the likelihood that they would work on my ridiculously thick hair was pretty low. Having my oncologist suggest them made me take a second look. I watched YouTube videos. I asked the girls in the Facebook groups. I found less expensive brands. But despite all of that, I was still unsure that this technology would do anything more than slow down the inevitable loss of hair.
I was beginning to feel suffocated by my own questions… Should I atleast try? If my hair never comes back, will I be ok with the fact that I didn’t even attempt the cold caps? How disappointed will I be if I try and it still fails? Can I even handle the temperature? Should I cut and thin out my hair and try it?
I’m pretty sure I stressed over this decision more than I have with any of the life or death cancer decisions I’ve made so far. I prayed for clarity. For a sign that I could trust. For the faith to just let it go.
I decided that I should go and see about my alternative hair option… wigs.
In my research, I’ve learned that the opinions and preferences on what covers each individual cancer patient’s head are as widely different as the types of cancer we each have. Some women hate wearing a wig. Some women hate the loss of their hair so much that they glue wigs to their scalp. Some women enjoy the variety that wigs offer, so they have several synthetic options. Some women find them to be hot and uncomfortable and prefer hats and scarves.
What I know for me is I want to feel “normal” and normal means hair.
So, last week my mom and I went to the Festival Flea Market (south Florida’s mall for old people) and did a little wig shopping. We walked into a small shop with wig lined walls that was set up like a salon. Upon arriving, we were guided to one of the stylists. She looked at us with curiosity, as we didn’t fit her usual demographic. She asked how she could help us and I forced out the bitter tasting words, “I have cancer and I’ll be having chemo, so I wanted to try on some wigs.” I watched the woman’s face soften as my words hit her heart. She immediately became a member of Team Sarah.
Her first instinct was to grab a wig with long, curly hair. I immediately denied that wig. “No no no. I don’t want hair like mine, I want long, silky dream hair,” I said. She appeased me and pulled out wigs that were closer to my description. I tried on human hair in varying lengths. I tried synthetic hair. Some were pretty. Some were mediocre.
I tried on a pretty synthetic wig named Amber with a little too much shine and soft barrel curls. It was nice and would probably be good enough, plus it was nowhere near the $2000 that the majority of the dream hair wigs would cost.
Then my stylist asked one more time to try the wig with long curls like mine on my head. Why not? “You will want to feel and look as much like yourself as you can,” she explained as she fit the wig on my head and smoothed the long strands of hair.
I looked at myself in the mirror and smiled. I looked like me. The hair was definitely thinner and lighter than my own hair. The curls weren’t as tight, but I still felt sort of “normal”. This wig is what my own hair would look like if I could make minor adjustments to the thickness and texture.
My mom and I agreed, the wig was perfect for me. Brenda, my stylist explained that it was weird for them to have this wig in stock. They never carry this brand or texture because there just isn’t much demand for it (among all the old ladies). I knew she wasn’t blowing smoke either. There was not one single wig in the shop that could even pass for a sister to this one. As a result of the low demand, this extra long, human hair wig was on sale for a very good price.
We decided to take a walk and think. I called my sister (who is a wig expert) for a second opinion on purchasing it. She agreed that the price was great and if I felt like myself in it, it was probably worth having.
We walked back. I had decided to get the wig. It will be colored darker and styled for me when the time comes. I put a deposit down so that I can get a refund if I miraculously end up not needing chemo.
Brenda went to grab the wig so it could be set aside until the day I may need it. That’s when I got the sign I had been asking for. Brenda noticed that her name was handwritten on the tag of the wig. She was so confused. She brought the tag to her boss and to the other stylists in the salon, but nobody knew who wrote it or why it was there. Brenda’s eyes began to tear up as she became overwhelmed by the coincidence.
Sometimes things just line up perfectly. Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time with the right people. At that point I knew that it was ok no say no to cold caps.
In the days since my visit to the wig shop, I have started to experience anticipatory grief about letting go of my long curls. They drive me crazy, they are frustrating, and I do sometimes in fact want to shave my head. Despite that, they are my curls and I will surely miss them.
Oh well, it will grow back. I have to have faith in that.
A tribute to my annoying hair: