Being “bald and beautiful” was a persona I took on while going through treatment. I loved the way I looked bald — never in my life would I have thought I would say those words. Leaving that piece of me behind was a bit difficult. I was bald for just a few months; it was short-lived, but it became my other identity. I felt powerful. I felt like I looked like a warrior. Once my hair started to grow back, especially in the very early days, I felt like it made me look sick. My hair initially came back thin and gray and it worried me. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was also worried my curls wouldn’t come back.
How I handled the awkward phase: There were some days I really hated my hair — the little wisps that would stick out, the hair that was not yet long enough to curl. I wound up using DevaCurl Styling Cream. I rarely wrapped my head, but when I did it was with fun scarves and turbans.
Favorite Hair Milestone: The first time I felt my hair blow in the wind. What a wild feeling to feel again.
Pet Peeve: Please do not touch my hair. I cannot believe the number of times people would go in to touch my hair when they would say hello — friends and strangers. I get stopped often. People ask me if it’s real, if that’s the real color, or if I perm my hair.
Funniest Moment: Going through the various phases of Lionel Richie’s hair has kept me smiling. Right now I look like Lionel Richie from 1983, which is fine — he’s one of my favorite artists! It’s always useful to have a sense of humor. I kept saying, “Cancer looks better with a smile.”
Biggest Lesson: I was known for my hair before I got sick; people have always commented on it. But before chemo, it was different. It was my identity and my femininity and what set me apart from other women. I was my hair. Post-chemo, and being stripped of what I thought made me “feminine,” I’ve learned that I am not my hair. I am not any physical piece of me.
Advice for other women growing back their hair post-treatment: Be patient with yourself. And know that everything will pass. Keep moving forward, and take the next smallest step first.
— As told to Jennifer Garam. Survivor interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
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