07 April 2010

An Armor of Scarves and Pencils

I've always admired women who have the courage to "rock the bald" (as my boyfriend put it). Persis Khambatta took my breath away in Star Trek. Melissa Etheridge's brave appearance at the Grammy's drove me to tears. I can't count the hours I'd been mesmerized by Sinead O' Connor, whom I can't think of as other than bald. And I sat in admiration as I talked to a young breast cancer patient at my oncologist's waiting room, resolved to "not care" that she was walking around bald, because she had worse things to worry about. Right on, sister!

That's all well and good for others. Brave women with hairless pates are so powerfully beautiful. Here's to breaking conventions of beauty! (You go, girls!) But not for me, thanks. All it took for me was my first gaze at my bald self. If I weren't in such shock, I would have probably been horrified. I felt so, so.... naked! There's something about being stripped (pardon the pun) of one's mane that leaves a certain feeling of being exposed and vulnerable. Gone was that hair behind which to hide or to frame oneself. And, if my reaction to my reflection in the mirror was of such potential horror, what more for others? I had cancer to deal with. Don't make me garner up more strength to endure unwanted gazes (whether imagined or real). . .please. . .

Thank goodness for the good folks at Look Good Feel Better! They anticipated that there would be a need to reinforce female cancer patients' self-image issues through make-up tips, hair/wig tips, and head wrapping tips. They have classes around the country. Or, if you can't make it out, they have tutorials on their website. Not only was there a make-up artist during the classes, there was also a wig/hair expert. It's an invaluable service! It also felt good to sit with about a dozen other women in various stages of chemo treatment. I wasn't alone. Plus, they sent you away with a "gift bag" chock-full of new make-up and skin care from the best brands in the country! Thank you, Look Good Feel Better!

After my class with Look Better folks, I played around with a wig and concluded that I wasn't a wig person after all, much as I'd have liked to have been. It just wasn't me and I would have felt more self-conscious about the baldness. So it was on to scarves. And with those, I wanted a form that most resembled hair (a hair bun?) and not just something tied around my head. I found this very helpful video on the basics of how to wrap a scarf on my head. She provided the basic mechanics and I came up with my own "formula." I started with these turbans as the base (so that the scarves had something to grip on to and also to serve as "cushion" for my head) and then wrapped two layers of scarves (one layer with one of these jersey (t-shirt) scarves and then another with these lovely scarves. The materials I chose with which to wrap my head were all of soft cotton -- very important for one's bald sensitive pate. Also, my wonderful daughter, who is a MAC make-up artist extra-ordinaire, taught me first-hand how to draw my eyebrows in and do my eye make up so that it's not the focal point of my face. All this comprised my armor of scarves and pencils that enabled me to navigate the outside world without exposing my head.

I've never been one to spend much time in primping. Fifteen minutes and I'm ready to go. But with all this wrapping and drawing, I had to add 30 to 45 minutes to my "primping" time. Not only was the wrapping and drawing taking time, I also had to allot time to figuring out what scarves to combine with the turban so that I'd know what to wear with them. Man, I needed a whole styling team, didn't I? It was quite the involved process, all to be done first thing in the morning. Not a good thing for someone who dreads mornings. Good times! But, I guess it was a price I had to pay for choosing to wear this armor of scarves.

Like to real armors, mine proved to be an inconvenience over time. The scarves gave me a gargantuan headache during the day. I guess I always wrapped my scarves extra-tightly around my head for fear of them coming undone. The headaches became so painful that I actually considered going without the scarves (just for a minuscule of a second though). Man! What a great feeling it was when I unwrapped my head at the end of the day at home! It was like a release. All the pressure on my head would be gone all at once and the headache disappeared in an instant. But the welts of my head from the scarves stayed through the entirety of the evening. Looking back, I don't know how I endured that every single day. I can only attribute to my attachment to hiding behind my armor or scarves and pencils. No one, but three people: my boyfriend, my daughter, and my brother, R-- had seen me bald during. These were the ones who loved me the most and therefore I trusted not to run in horror upon seeing me "naked" like that. Otherwise, I endured the armor headache or no.

What was the point of all of this? Well, first I hope that the information above about help regarding "beautifying" whilst ill with cancer can help someone else; and second, if you are reading this and are having self-image issues because of hair loss, it's okay. If you don't feel like being brave and want to hide behind an armor of your choice, please do so. See, when you're up against something as insidious and big as cancer, you need to be pragmatic. If what you need is to don a wig or wrap your head in scarves OR walk about bald, then that's what you should do. This is your battle. So, you should arm yourself they you deem fit. Don't let anyone else tell you otherwise. Be gracious to yourself. Give yourself whatever works. There is no one one way of contending with this. You don't have to wrestle with self-image issues whilst wrestling with cancer. Do what feels right to you.

I'm glad to have found my armor of scarves and pencils. Who knew that the scarves of cotton and wax pencils would fortify me during my cancer bout? Strength comes in so many forms, even in the softest.


Karen said...

Wonderful post! I remember how horrified I felt when my hair first fell out -- in large clumps, onto my shoulders, into my hands and all over. Then I had it shaved. And when I stared into the mirror and my head shone in the light, I thought I'd never be the same again.

Now, four years later, when I see someone going through it, wearing the scarf or even braving it bald, I instinctively try to talk to them. It seems that we connect in a way that is surreal, indescribable.

Yes, God's plan is a mystery. I know that it happened to me so that I could really relate to others with cancer, which I try to do. And I'm not the same person I was 4 years ago.

ce_squared said...

Hi Karen~

Thanks for your comment. You're right though. Most of us have been extremely affected by cancer. It's like a left turn or a "reset" button. It changed us. I don't quite know yet whether I like the change. But I know I have changed.

As to instinctively wanting to talk to others whom we see are going through it, it's like an automatic button, isn't it? I haven't yet approached someone I've seen. Circumstances just hadn't been right. However, I do root for them instinctively as well -- sending positive energy their way.

Post a Comment