Losing My Signature Curls
When the inevitable happened, I got wiggy with it.
Before I got sick, I looked at bald women with pity. I think everyone does this. We presume that she is sick (understandable), but we don’t think about the reason she’s lost her hair: she is getting treatment. That means she may be getting better! Having cancer deserves pity, for sure, but as a young woman living with the disease for the rest of my life, I can’t operate under a universal gaze of condolences every time I leave the apartment.
I kept my hair during years of chemo, using cold cap therapy. I was an unremarkable woman in the world, and it was glorious. But then I developed brain metasteses that required radiation, and there is no way to save your hair during that.
I ordered a wig online, which was a gamble, but since the site accepted returns I figured it was worth a try. I got a bob style. Longer wigs read, to me, like walls of hair and didn’t have the movement of real hair. I thought that less synthetic hair overall would create a more realistic look. The “shortie” (actually, “The Meg”) is synthetic, wavy/curly, and a decent color match for my natural hair, with restrained highlights. It wasn’t terrible, but it also wasn’t quite right.
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I knew there had to be someone, especially in NYC, making good wigs. Celebrity wigs. Fancy wigs. Hyper realistic wigs. The kind that women are wearing all the time and we don’t notice - where do those come from?
Merria Dearman, for one. She creates custom wigs for celebrities and photo shoots, etc., as well as for women with alopecia and women like me. She is an expert in her field, and very kind, and knowledgeable about the health conditions that require her services. Merria is also pricey; my wig is now the most expensive thing I own. But she made me feel so comfortable, and she is also full-service, helping me throughout the loss and regrowth of my hair: she buzzed my head (something I was reticent to do on my own for fear of messing it up); made adjustments to the shortie to improve its naturalness (thinning it, dulling it and making the roots darker); sent me home with the things I need, like wig tape and a wig cap; and will keep me as a client as my hair grows in, showing me how to incorporate the new hair and making adjustments to the wig as needed. I met with her when I had my hair, felt comfortable that she knew what I wanted, and would have my “Cadillac” wig in about two weeks.
Exactly as predicted by my doctor, two days after I finished radiation my hair started falling out. I got a quick chop to a pixie style, so that I could get used to having short hair. I hated it, but the context had something to do with that. Pixies are cute and flattering when you’re happy and confident, but when you’re unwillingly hacking off beautiful shoulder-length curls because you’ve had radiation to the brain - it’s a less fun cut.
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The pixie didn’t last long, as my hair was still falling out. Two days after the chop, I went into Merria Dearman to get my head buzzed. Again, if I had done it because I was being a badass, I might feel empowered by this look. It took about two weeks from the time I first experienced loss to go completely cueball bald. Around the same time, I entered the “baby bird hair” phase of regrowth: the hair starts to grow in, but fuzzier and fluffier than what it will eventually be.
Hair grows at about a half inch per month. Genetics play a big part in this, but there are some things you can do to help it along, from taking supplements like vitamins A and D, biotin and zinc, to applying minoxidil (Rogaine), and many more in between. I had anecdotal good results with Viviscal back in 2013, when my hair thinned while I was undergoing the harshest chemo: I noticed the hair on the rest of my body was growing faster than normal, so I assume my head hair was too. It’s impossible to say what works, if anything, but in this regrowth phase I have incorporated a topical steroid cream (Rx from my doctor), made sure that my body’s nutrients that promote hair growth are at sufficient levels, and resumed taking Viviscal (with my doctor’s approval).
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While I wait, I have three looks. I wear a headscarf around the house, to work out and when I simply can’t be bothered to put on a wig. The shortie looks and feels better with a scarf (or headband), for two reasons: the scarf secures it; and it also obscures the part and hairline, making it more realistic. And the Merria Dearman is for when I want to “pass” and to look and feel like myself. It is more labor-intensive to put on and take off, as it is feather-light and needs to be secured with tape, so I don’t wear it every day.
My hair loss has been a burden, emotionally and financially. It’s hard to look at old photos of myself and not miss it. It’s hard to see beautiful hair in ads or on a woman on the subway and not feel sad or a little resentful. But there simply isn’t anything I can do but deal with it. For me that means doing what I can to encourage regrowth and getting myself a wig I feel comfortable in. And I am also making sure I do things to make myself feel beautiful, like working out, painting my nails, dressing cute. I still want the outside to reflect how I feel inside.