Wednesday 6 July 2016

Hair things and Sharing

I often find my blogs really easy to get started on, and really hard to wrap up. I do my little paragraphs about the things I did that day, but I never want to include the last bit which would nearly always be 'and then we went home and had dinner and went to bed'. Because it's not very interesting. Or relevant. 

But on my last post I omitted something because I thought it was not interesting or relevant.
Then, at 1.30am I realised that it was actually a pretty significant event.

After Chemo then Gym then Lunch last Friday, I went and got my hair cut. And after nearly twelve months I finally told my hairdresser about my illness.

Telling people is hard. Every time. Whoever it is. I've been practicing on telemarketers (Sorry telemarketers - I know you have a tough job, but now when you start by asking me how I am, I'm much more honest and direct!).

So telling people is hard. And looking sick is hard. And so far, considering the circumstances, I've been lucky enough to keep both to a minimum.

The massive burden that is sharing the rotten news of my diagnosis has been shared beautifully by all you lovely people. Many of you took on the unpleasant task of telling others so I didn't have to. Thank you!

And because I've looked disproportionately well for most of my illness to date, I don't HAVE to tell people. When I'm out and about, people don't look at me and wonder what is wrong with me (I think!). This gives me a wonderful snippet of control and normality, which only occasionally backfires.

And this is how I've managed to get my hair cut for nearly 12 months without telling my hairdressers, who of course always ask how I am and what have I been up to. I can say "I'm good thank you" (meaning today I'm up and dressed) and "Oh I had a lazy weekend" (meaning I was sleeping for 18 hours a day with Chemo fatigue) without actually letting on.

I know that there is a technical difference between telling a lie and not telling the whole truth, but the moral difference is not so clear to me, and I've never really felt fully comfortable about my veiled answers at the hairdressers. Even though I also know I am under no obligation to disclose my illness to everyone.

So today I told my hairdresser. She gave me a hug and asked me a bit about it, and told me a bit about some other cancer patients she knows. And it was fine. 

I think I'm beginning to be able to tell quite quickly the people who have been affected by cancer before by the questions they ask you, and the things they say. There are of course no wrong questions or things to say. But there are sort of 'beginner' and 'advanced' questions. And that's fine. 

Hair things:
Of course the other fairly obvious factor which has contributed to this entire scenario is that I haven't lost my hair.

The particular drugs that are used for bowel cancer don't tend to cause hair loss, although its not entirely unheard of. Breast cancer treatments are among those most likely to cause hair loss I believe.

The cetauximab that I am on at the moment is wreaking havoc with my skin, including my scalp. I've gone from noticing about one stray hair on the comb every other day or so to perhaps as many as twenty a day. I'm sure I don't spot them all. I've read online that the average person looses 50-100 hairs per day. I'm not totally convinced I've hit average yet.

I'd give up my hair forever, in a heartbeat, for a more effective treatment. To me that would be the smallest of prices to pay. It doesn't work like that of course.

I've shaved off my hair 3 or 4 times in the past. It provokes different reactions. With my current 'normal' hair,  I occasionally will get a compliment. With shaved hair, you get a much broader range of comments. 

I tend to be unsure of myself in many elements of my life. But my hair is not one of them. I'm totally confident that my hair is my business. I think shaved hair looks great. So does long hair. To me its like a bonus accessory.

There are two really important things for me to recognise though.

1. I think that shaved hair is a perfectly legitimate hair style for men and women, but not everyone does.

2. Whenever I've had no hair in the past, it was on my terms, it was by choice.

I've put this bit at the end, as this has been a bit of a long post and it's been an effort to keep away from ranting. Hopefully I've succeeded! Below, if you're interested, are some of the comments (that I remember) that I've received when I've had shaved hair before, most of them from strangers.

  • I have a great shaped head (I've been told this so many times by so many people I've finally decided to believe it. Thank you!)
  • I've been mistaken for a bloke on many occasions (no offence taken).
  • I've been told that it's wrong for women to have hair like that. (Always by older men)
  • Am I unwell/what's wrong with my health?
  • Did I get nits/have some sort of incident?
  • Why would I do such a thing? (No ones ever asked my why I would get a fringe or a ponytail)
  • I'm so brave to do that to myself.
  • They would love to do that too but they can't. (Always by women).
  • Once I asked a previous employer if I could shave off my hair, and I was told no (even though we wore hats anyway) and immediately told I could not get facial piercings or tattoos either. (neither of which I'd expressed any interest in getting).
  • Questions about my sexuality. (Or should I say, many more questions, the answer to which is of course, not important or anyone else's business).
  • What does my husband think of it? (I do value his opinion, and seek it often - regarding many things, none of which tend to be about hair cuts. And this is about the only time people who have never even met my husband want to know his opinion).

Most of these things re-enforce the stigma that seems to surround hairlessness. Which is complete madness in my opinion. And must make it harder for some people who have not had the choice. 

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if chemo gave people other sometimes stigmatized hair styles like mullets instead? Or seemingly prized styles like super straight hair or whatever it is that's in style at the moment (I have no idea). Would people get told they are lucky? To look at as a 'bright side or 'sliver lining'. Quite possibly. How people feel about it is down to the individual, and there is no right or wrong. If everyone kept that in mind, I doubt I'd have got so many of the comments above.

And now I'm at that bit where I'm done writing and don't know how to wrap up. So.... thanks for reading! The end.


  1. I think you've done so well to keep it from hairdresser for so long. I'm such a blabbermouth that I would have come out with it at the very first opportunity. I know you're much more restrained than me Fliss and admire you for that. The comments section was very interesting as I've never shaved my head (probably because I'm far too vain.) People are such funny creatures, but can also be incredibly kind and caring too. I hope you're finding more of the latter than the former in your daily life currently.
    Anna x

  2. Thanks Anna, yes I'm really lucky to be surrounded by such awesome people, the negative comments I've had have mainly been from random strangers, and I'm sure all the comments I've received have been with good (although sometimes misguided in my opinion) intentions - I've been really self conscious of posting this blog because I would hate for people to think I was complaining or being ungrateful. I'm more worried about peoples feelings then their behavior towards me. I'd rather have no hair than hurt someones feelings! (You're not vain, you're entitled to your preferences - I have them too, they just don't always match up with 'the norm'). xox