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Certified Health Coach, Award Winning Author, Motivational Muse

You’re So Vain

I just finished reading an article on MSN.com about the “38 Most Iconic Beauties in History.” Here’s the link below. You can click on to any of these icons of perfection to view endless photos gathered over time. http://specials.msn.com/A-List/Entertainment/Iconic-beauties.aspx?cp-documentid=25779667&imageindex=1&GT1=36010

“Vanity thy name is woman,” said William Shakespeare. I confess. I am a vain woman. I have worked hard to protect- preserve- my looks. Stress, sun and genetics are my foes.  Exercise, water, a healthy diet, facials and a decent night’s sleep are my friends. Somewhere in -between are those countless serums and creams I have tried over the years. I am not sure if any one of them works better over the other but I now prefer botanicals over chemicals. After undergoing chemotherapy, I have had enough chemicals in my system. But, I shudder to think how much money I have spent over the years on products, treatments and dermatologists for the sake of feeling beautiful.

Cancer really simplifies your beauty routine. And it redefines how you look at yourself as a beautiful person. Let’s just start with the hair and address that issue in this posting. Because once you are diagnosed with cancer, the first questions (mine at least) are:  How did this happen to me? How serious is it? Am I going to die? Am I going to lose my hair? What is my insurance going to cover?

First, with some chemotherapy treatments, you are stripped bare physically. Mind you: not all chemotherapy results in hair loss. Just don’t panic and have a hair loss hissy fit. It is not worth it when you are facing a health crisis like breast cancer. Breasts can be reconstructed, and hair will grow back. What’s inside is more important: your internal organs and your inner strength. Focus on these and keep them healthy.

My oncologist told me that my hair would start falling out after my second treatment. It did like clockwork, exactly on my birthday. It doesn’t happen all at once. First your hair kind of dies and goes dull. That can be for a week or two. It happens fast.  You could cut it short right now to give it some life and make the loss less dramatic.  I cut my shoulder length hair to chin length.  Then, tendrils start falling lightly onto your sweater, your pillow, your desk, like dandruff, but it’s your hair. You are shedding like a dog. Then it comes out in larger chunks in your hair brush, or in the shower, or in your fist. Your scalp tingles as it “releases” which is the official term the wig wags and cancer docs use. You reach a midway point in your hair loss where you can keep going with the full head shed and wear scarves and hats and cover your pillows at night. Or, you beg a friend, in my case my husband, David, to shave the rest of it off and set you free.

David’s shaving my head was one of the most intimate, emotional and exhilarating moments of our marriage. He was so excited. I was so nervous. I felt like a virgin. It was my first head shave. I tried to stay calm. Visualize. The electric shaver buzzed and vibrated around my scalp. It tickled. It took several takes with the electric razor. I squeezed my eyes shut and then opened them to a new look in the mirror. I was an egg head. My face looked so small!

David smiled and said, “You are beautiful! I like the new look! It’s sexy!” Mind you: He decided to not cut his hair until I was finished with my cancer treatment. So while I was bald and beautiful, he started to look somewhere between a hippy and the hero of a romance novel book cover.

My Maltese dog, Chance, stared at me very intently, trying to figure it all out in his microscopic brain. So, I let him smell and lick my bald head.  Of course, Chance always stares at me intently and only sees “beautiful” when he looks at me with his big round brown eyes.

I sat down and started to play with my makeup to define my new “face.” It was kind of fun in a weird way. It was still hard to look in the mirror as bald Melanie. But then I put on my gorgeous new wig and I was a transformed woman.  I vowed to myself: “Cancer, you will become me, and I will become more beautiful. And I will become an example for other women facing the same challenge. We will remain beautiful and think beautiful thoughts to get through this.”

I was blessed. Health insurance covered one wig, and my generous, wonderful girlfriends led by the lovely Valerie, who looks like Elizabeth Taylor, all chipped in to buy me a second “crown for the queen.” One friend’s young daughter sent me a cartoon of a girl with long blonde hair wearing a crown. Underneath it said, “To Princess Melanie.”

You need two wigs: Hair and a spare. When one is getting washed, you have a back up. I being a bit obsessive and, remember, vain,  had four wigs: my synthetic wash and wear gym do, my country weekend hippie hair, my “win that business presentation” career cut and my “knock-em dead” look like a million bucks va- va- va- voom blonde mane (my personal favorite, of course!) People used to come up to me all the time asking me who did my hair and how did I keep it so nice? I loved it! I told them I was lucky to have great hair.

You don’t need wigs at all. I admire women who choose to go “commando” on their head and have soft, shiny bald crowns. Men do it. They are sexy. Women should be free to do the same. It wasn’t for me, and it is a personal choice. Choices when you have cancer are great.  How you handle your hair loss should be easy and over when you are faced with bigger decisions about doctors, drugs, surgeries, treatments and keeping your normal life in check.

Here’s the good thing about losing your hair:

It is great for your budget: No more cuts, coloring, chemicals, shampoos or body part waxing! You save a lot of money every month!

You never have a bad hair day! In fact, it’s kind of fun letting the rain spill over your bald head. Of course: you do NOT want to get your wig wet in the rain. Not comfortable.

With a great wig, your hair always looks good. And you can change styles to suit your mood.

It really makes you rethink your style, makeup and attitude about beauty overall.

It’s temporary. My brows and lashes- truly the bigger hair loss emotion for me- grew back in six weeks. My head hair grew back in about eight, slowly. I could have cared less if my body hair ever grew back. I loved not having to shave or wax!

Now, here’s the scoop: Your hair will grow back differently. Curly most likely. It’s called “chemo curl.” And I am not sure how long it lasts since I am still experiencing it. At first my hair grew back so thick and curly I looked like a bichon frise dog. Then the curls softened out, and they were sexy and cool.

My hair grew back about four different colors, too: white, gray, copper and blonde. When it was long enough and I felt strong enough to handle chemicals, I had my hair colored icy pale blonde- very Gwen Stefani. Everyone loved it; they said I looked like a movie star. I was BACK in a big way!

This month I passed my one year “chemo-versary.” I have kept my new short, curly “do” with its new pale blonde  color. Some people say I look like Mary Martin (I hope in “Peter Pan”) Others say I look like Sharon Stone when her hair was short (That works for me!).

 In September I packed up my wigs carefully in protective covering. I am not ready to give them up. They represent a strange milestone in my life. They remind me of the generosity of my friends. They remind me that I, a truly vain woman, had to face an ugly period when the physical beauty I liked about myself was stripped away: gorgeous hair, long lashes, healthy skin, strong nails, physical strength. I learned to focus on the beautiful, strong and determined woman inside who, in one very strange year, faced down cancer, buried her father, kept running her business, developed stronger bonds with her family and friends and came out  on the “other side” healthier, stronger, more balanced and more beautiful than ever.

 By the time of my fifth treatment my eyebrows and eyelashes and all of my body hair were gone. I was pale, soft and had the smallest pores on my face ever. Putting on makeup was like painting a blank canvass.

6 Comments
  1. Great points altogether, personally I’m gonna have to bookmark this and come back to it. I’m curious if you have any follow ups to this post?

    • Hi, thanks so much for your note. Yes, I plan to follow up this post. I have had a good deal of feedback.

  2. my views on this topic differ from you.its good that you brought this up on your blog,it was a nice controversial read.

    • I am glad I am stirring up the pot! This particular post stirrednup a lot of emotions for me,

  3. i still dont know whether i agree with you on this one or not. but its good arumentative post.

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