Favorite hair milestone: All I wanted was to reach the stage where I felt comfortable leaving my hair uncovered. Until then, I constantly felt “cancery.” I returned to work while I still wore my headscarf to cover my mostly bald head. I knew my patients’ parents were looking at me sadly. I had been out for a few months so those who were established (rather than new) patients probably figured out what had been going on. I didn’t want to explain and I didn’t want them to worry that their surgeon was weak or compromised in some way. Once it grew long enough that the super-short style looked intentional, I was finally able to relax.
Pet peeve: During chemo, people kept making the same weird comment: “You’re so lucky that you have a face that looks good bald.” I didn’t really feel lucky at the time. I would answer, “Well thanks, it’s the only face I’ve got,” and chuckle.
How I practice self-care: Maintaining super short, dyed hair is time-consuming and costly. It’s a big indulgence I have granted myself. Even the time I spend in the [salon] chair is a gift to myself. I would never have believed it was possible to fit that frequency of personal care into my hectic schedule. I was once a woman who, between work and kids and home, could barely make it to the salon every six months. I now see it as a choice of allowing myself some self-care that I deserve.
Biggest benefit: I now feel very empowered with the platinum blonde pixie cut I gravitate to most of the year. I would never have believed this is where I’d end up aesthetically. It’s been a strange feedback loop. My hairstyle makes me outwardly look more daring and “edgy.” In certain ways, I think I’ve evolved to be that woman on the inside, too. After publishing my medical memoir on the experience of being a surgeon-turned-patient, I have become a speaker as well. My hairstyle has made me more socially sure of myself because there is nowhere to hide anymore. It’s just me and my face. That’s all I have to show.
Advice for other women growing back their hair post-treatment: Mainly I would say to really figure out the perfect shampoo and styling products. They may be different than they once were, just like you are.
— As told to Jennifer Garam. Survivor interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
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