You have cancer. Nothing can prepare you for that news. My jaw was on the floor in the doctor’s office, and I was immediately a basket case. If not for my husband, I would still be standing there wide-eyed. He immediately jumped in, asked all the right questions, and got the process started. There were countless thoughts going through my head, and my entire world was spinning. How bad is this? Am I going to die? Can I handle the treatments? How do I tell my kids? But my most unimportant thought took over because it was one place I still had control.
The thought of losing my hair put me over the edge. Even though I knew it was going to happen, hearing the oncologist say the words sent me into a tizzy. Most chemo patients shave their head because it is less traumatic than watching the hair fall out. In my eyes, it was more traumatic to shave my head! Therefore, I wet my hair every day in the shower, patted it dry, ditched the brush and styled my hair with my fingers! Yes I was going to lose my hair, but I had control over the process.
I found out I had cancer in August and wanted my hair to last through my daughter’s Senior Night in early October. Knowing that I would be completely bald by her graduation was an incentive to make it last. Senior Night was a celebration of an amazing team, four years of friendships, and some serious soccer. I searched online for a red hat (school color) and found a cute one made of felt which would hold my remaining hair in place. I had lost so many patches of hair at that point, but I pulled wispies out from underneath the hat, and it looked like I had a full head of hair!
As my hair continued to fall out, I invested in a wig through St. Elizabeth. (By the way, St E is amazing!) My friends spent endless hours (and lots of laughs) helping me to find what looked most like my real hair. Of course we tried some that looked nothing like me too! My dear friend made many trips to my house cutting and shaping the wig to make it more natural while I sobbed. We all know the story…the hairdresser makes your hair look great, but you can never get it to look that way! I loved the wig, but I was getting more comfortable with my bald head.
As I progressed to being totally bald, I resorted less to a variety of hats and started to have just a few favorites. The most comfortable were knit hats that I wore to work and daily events; they came in every color imaginable. I started to sport big earrings to create some type of identity besides my bald head. My sister gifted me the cutest hat from Ireland, and I inherited a few other unique hats from survivors. And lucky for me, the theme to my son’s Mom Prom was country so my cowboy hat saved the day.
Christmas was approaching and I started thinking about our annual family picture. My sweet friend suggested wearing a Santa hat on Christmas. We took it a step further and ALL wore Santa hats! It truly gave us a feeling of peace and the more casual 2019 annual photo is now a favorite.
Once the winter months hit, I was totally bald and actually loving it. I reached the point where I was comfortable without my hats. I truly believe I made it to this level much easier by not shaving my head in the beginning. I continued to wear hats because it was cold outside, but could not wait to take it off once I was home. My teenage son does not at all think I am cool. In fact, I am such a dork in his eyes. But for the first time in his teen years, I might have been a tiny bit cool because of my bald head. When I was losing my hair, he told me many times to just shave it off.
Fast forward to March 2020, the pandemic hit, the library closed their doors, sports were postponed, graduation was canceled and our busy lives came to a screeching halt. At that point, I packed away all my hats in a box and have not worn them since. By the time things started to open up, I had enough hair on my head for others to just think I wore short hair.
My cancer journey is a story to tell, but sometimes it is more fun to focus on the less important. And every time I see a bald person, I only see beauty, wonder about their journey, and secretly wish them well.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Be sure to schedule your screenings!
Books about Breast Cancer
St. Elizabeth Mammogram Van
Jennifer Cheek is the Public Relations Specialist at Boone County Public Library. A graduate from MSJ University focusing on English and Communications, she previously worked in Advertising/Media Buying and still continues as a freelancer.