I have not worn wigs in weeks. Months. I decided bald felt more like me, it felt more honest, it just felt better, to leave the wigs hanging in my bedroom. I developed fanciful ways of responding to the inevitable comments about my baldness. Sometimes I tell people who ask why I’m bald that I was electrocuted and it burned my hair off my head. I get asked all the time. I told one person who asked I was doing an experiment to see how people responded to bald women in public places and that her (insensitive, uninformed) response would help me with my research. She said I didn’t have her consent. I said she didn’t have my consent to ask me questions about my bald head. The comments which prompt these responses range from, “So, did you do that to yourself on purpose?” in the line for coffee, to Facebook messages from people I have not talked to in over five years that read “I was wondering if you chose to be bald, and if not, please let me know what’s going on,” to various and very plentiful comments about the supposedly pleasing shape of my head.
Being bald invites cancer comments too, and like the bald comments they vary widely. Yesterday, a doctor (yes, a doctor) said to me, “So what do you think is causing all this young breast cancer, it’s probably caused by excessive caffeine and alcohol.” Don’t worry, I jumped all over him about plastics, toxins, victim-blaming, and misinformed research and he stumbled around when he realized what an ass he was. Someone the other day told me I needed to consume copious amounts of banana and tomato to ward of cancer cells, and an acquaintance recently asked me to recount my stress levels over the last decade to see if there were any links between my stress and my cancer.
That’s barely the tip of the iceberg.
People always act surprised and horrified when I tell them about this, and I’ve started to wonder why. I think we need to get out of the land of make-believe and function in reality, where this happens, multiple times a day, every day. Surprise that someone would ever say some of these things only functions to continue to allow people to refuse to know what it is like living with and after cancer. Surprise is a-political. It keeps things as they are- because how could that happen? Easily, people, easily. We cannot afford to be surprised.
I get at least two or three of these malignant comments every day. Like today, at yoga, a woman changing next to me said, “Are you injured? I noticed you were not using your arm very often.” I shrugged and said, “Nope, I just had a mastectomy.” And she said “Oh, it looks beautiful.” (What the f*ck?!?! What looks beautiful- my breast? Why are you staring at my breasts? The only people allowed to judge how it looks are me, my hubby, and my plastic surgeon- and you are not one of those people. Or are you saying it’s beautiful because you assume I had reconstruction and you can’t tell? Just stop talking already). But no- she went on. “I am a nurse and I didn’t know that was an indication. Is it forever?” By now I’m like dude, I don’t want to discuss my medical history, even if you are a nurse, which makes me think you should know not to ask these questions, so I shrugged and said, annoyed, “Uh, as I said, I just had a very major surgery.” And then I turned on my heal and fitted my wig to my head.
I fitted that wig to my head because I am worn down. I am tired of these comments. I am tired of answering questions. I do not want to discuss this with the grocer and the man on the corner and the colleague teaching the same class as me who constantly asks me if I’m OK. The wigs are a protective barrier. When I wear a wig, people don’t assume cancer -even though I now have a centimeter or so of hair- and even the people who know me and know I’m bald under the wig seem less likely to invade my space with questions and comments and magic cancer-curing powders (yes that happened).
And so I broke out the wigs. I had the long redhead one washed and styled. I’m tired. I’m too tired to rehash this with everyone. I’m too tired to explain to you why your cancer-camp in Costa Rica will not cure me, and I’m too tired to listen to your stories about this person you know who just started chemo or that person who died of cancer or this other person who saw a movie about cancer.
I’m just done. I don’t want to talk to you about cancer, especially not mine, unless you either really get it (read: you had cancer) or you have something really smart and political to say, or you are one of the very elite crew who deals with my cancer on a daily basis and I’ve invited you in already and you’ve seen it all.
I am done being your friendly cancer curiosity. I am tired of explaining away your misinformed ideas. I want my hair to be long enough to look like me. I want to feel like me. I want my hair to be the same strawberry blonde-ish it always has been, not this ashy blond that’s covering my head in soft, dewey hair. I want to feel like me, and even though many people tell me they don’t like the redheaded wig much, it is the one I feel the most like me without cancer in, and right now, I need to feel like me without cancer.
I need to convince the people around me that I’m healthy, and perhaps, if I can convince them, I can trust my body enough to believe that in fact, I am healthy. If I have to wear wigs until my hair is long enough to pass as healthy when I look in my bathroom mirror every morning, I’ll do it. Fine.
Breaking out the wigs. Ready, go. Hurry up, hair.