Oh, hello, wigs.

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.

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passing

Today, we’re relaxing a la grandiose. We spent the afternoon at the Scandinave, soaking in hot tubs and relaxing in saunas while the sky dumped buckets and buckets of snow on us. It was delightful. Now we’re snuggled in at the Fairmount, and we’re watching the Olympics, and we ordered room service. Oh la la! Tomorrow we’ll be on the slopes.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about passing. Passing as healthy, that is. I went bald at the spa. I soaked in the hot water and the snowflakes fell on my head and melted right away, and my pate was cold. I didn’t pass. That’s why some women wear wigs, but not to the spa. They wear same wig everyday, wigs that look like their hair. Any dumbass should be able to figure out I don’t have hair. I mean, I wear a different wig everyday. And sometimes I wear a purple wig. Come on, dudes. If you can’t put two and two together I probably need to find smarter friends. Kidding. Sort of. Last week, a colleague who doesn’t know (well, I haven’t told her explicitly) that I have cancer saw my wig, different than the wigs I’ve worn on the last two days I’ve bumped into her, and asked, “Is this a performance?” I shrugged. I don’t know what it is. I wear wigs, too, but I today I recognized that act as explicitly not about passing. It’s a lavish, extravagant not-passing. Maybe it’s a performance. I kind of like thinking about it as a performance.

I don’t want to pass. I don’t want to go around telling you, “I have cancer,” but obviously  I’m not healthy, and despite the advice from “Look Good, Feel Better,” which could be more aptly named, “Try to Look Normal, Make Everyone Else Feel Better,” I don’t have an insane desire to fool the world. I don’t care if people wonder. It’s fucked. Maybe if people wonder they’ll do something. My wigs- and this weekend on the slopes, my hats- are an extravagant not-passing.

I mean, sometimes I worry. Like I wore the long platinum wig to the bank, and the teller who goes to my yoga studio asked “how I got my hair like that.” I shrugged. Then I worried if I would have to wear only the long platinum wig to the bank, so she wouldn’t ask more, and I wouldn’t have to provide cancer-explanation about why my hair was blonde, then red, then purple, then short. Then I worried she’d find me out, see me bald at yoga and think I lied to her. And then I stopped for a second to think about if I cared if this girl thought I lied to her? Nope. Besides, I didn’t lie. I just didn’t explain. Explaining, educating, it’s exhausting. Often it leads to me consoling the other person, and hello folks, I’m the one with cancer. So, no, I don’t care. She’ll see me at yoga eventually. Who cares.

I don’t want to pass as something I’m not. It doesn’t seem fair to me, in fact it seems cruel, to ask me to participate in becoming who I’m not. It seems cruel because it denies my reality, it denies the horror and the fear and the madness. Cancer is real. It’s real in young people. My baldness is that realness. My body is invaded. It forces you to think about walking around, healthy, and it forces us all to think about the privilege of health, and to think about plastics and pesticides and health care. It’s brilliantly, horrifically, real. I hope.

So no, I’m not interested in passing.

I’m interested in playing. I’m interested in performance. I’m interested in real.

henna

I’ve done henna a few times. Once, at an Indian wedding where the artist stayed during the reception and painted hands in a booth. Another time, Telegraph Avenue, teenage years. Casual henna. Nothing serious. I’ve always thought the curls and scrolls and dots were intriguing, whimsical, fun.

ImageAnd so, Friday night after my BFF arrived I limped into the henna shop, sat myself down in a chair, and chatted with two sisters while they freehanded my head, promising me the whole time it would make my hair grow. I was limping because, well, you know, there’s so many things they don’t know about my diagnosis, my medicine, my treatment, my outcome, and this time, my side effects. To look at the bottom of my feet, you’d think nothing was wrong. They look entirely normal.

Five or so six days ago, I thought I was developing some kind of painful-ish callus on the bottom of my foot. So, of course, I set up a foot spa. I used a bubbly soap specifically for feet, soaking for a while before I went at that callus with an industrial strength pummice stone. I scrubbed and scrubbed, and my feet became oh so very soft, but the weird pain was absolutely not going to be scrubbed off. I probably made it worse in my quest to pummice-stone the pain away, but really, who would think chemotherapy, injected into my veins and traveling through my blood stream, would cause painful spots on the bottom of my feet?

By the day we went to get the two sisters in their red henna and brow bar to paint my scalp with curly cues and squiggles reminiscent of of peacocks and spring flowers, the pain was becoming really significant all over the right foot, and starting up on the left foot. What’s a girl to do? Obviously, strap industrial strength ice-packs to the bottom of my feet and curl up in bed. It was becoming so bad that I could only walk with thick fuzzy socks and slippers on my feet, even inside.

The next morning, worse. I went everywhere in the slippers and fuzzy socks- outside, grocery store, yoga, even out to dinner with my jeans tucked into myphoto(23) slippers and my hot pink extra-fuzzy socks peeping out over the side. It was classy. When I called to report this ailment to the nurses’ line, they had the on-call oncologist call me back. She was baffled. Totally confused. The kind of chemo I’ll receive after I finish the AC is Taxol, and Taxol can cause numbness in the hands and feet, but right now I’m on AC. And AC never causes numbness, which is the most common symptom of taxol-caused-neuropathy, though occasionally there can also be some pain. Nevermind the fact that my feet are absolutely not numb, but rather, intensely tender and painful. She called another oncologist, inquiring about possible causes. Nothing. No one knows why my feet decided to freak out and put a halt to walking for a few days. No one knows why they look kind of like they are the wrong color and are still tender to the touch. Simply, no one knows. Most people around me seem horrified that they could not know what is going on, or at least, that they couldn’t figure it out or venture a guess. To me, it seems par for the course. There’s so many unknowns, so much uncertainty. Cancer is, precisely, not knowing.

An hour after the sisters started my henna, they finished. I left the henna on all night, but still, it didn’t set very well, leaving only a pale orange-ish print all over my scalp. Still, it was fun. I like it the curlies and the dots and the little designs they painted. I’ve not really worn it this way in public, still wearing a wig or a hat, but I did wear it this way in yoga, which was entirely anti-climatic and totally fine despite the fact that it seemed like a big deal I was going to yoga with a bald head. I do wear it this way at home, admiring the designs in my reflection in the mirrors and windows. It’s much too cold to go out with a bald head, anyway.

Image Image

wiggin’ out with lacey bras & cowgirl boots

We all have power outfits. Clothes that, when they slip onto our bodies, breathe force into our footsteps and make the day a little bit brighter. First day of school socks. Lucky t-shirts. Magical headbands. I decided earlier this week, as soon as the requisite four-day chemo exhaustion passed, that I needed some power outfits to propel me through the next ten days, into which I must squeeze the activities, to-do lists, and writing of the chemo day and four exhaustion days.

Sitting down to write, I needed something more. The yellow cowgirl boots in the hall closet beckoned. And lingerie. Lacy and red, or a playful black tuxedo bra? Favorite jeans, new Christmas sweater. Dangley earrings and a fun hat topped it off. Now I was ready to sit down and write. It’s amazing what a little costuming can do! Evidently, it can convince me I’m ready to rock and roll.

And then I added a little something I thought I’d never add. That long red wig, sitting on a styrofoam head. I fit it to my head, tossed the curls. Huh. I was only planning on wearing a wig for job interviews (who wants to hire a bald assistant professor?!!?!) but what the hell, after all, I’m writing this dissertation conclusion so I can get a job, right? But really, I thought to myself, this is kind of silly. I already had decided how I felt about wigs: fake. Also, I hate the word wig: it sounds so nasty and so dirty, like flakey heads and horrendous baldness, and like grease behind the ears. Why would I ever associate myself? I already decided I didn’t need a wig to make me “feel normal” or disguise my baldness: after all, shouldn’t people have to confront the reality that cancer is invading our bodies? Shouldn’t they be made uncomfortable by my bald head, by the mundane nature of cancer in the everyday? Before her death from breast cancer, Audre Lourde wrote of her decision not to have breast reconstruction or wear a synthetic breast after mastectomy, deciding instead to bear the scars and show her body as a marker, an embodied political statement about cancer, and obvious sign that she was a warrior. Wasn’t being bald kind of the same, my bald head symbolizing the toxins and plastics that have invaded my body, destroying my bodies’ own knowledge about how to make cells? Besides, so many of the young women I know, just slightly ahead of me on this journey, have shared with me their own stories of rejecting the wig, rocking the bald head, being what one called “authentically bald.” Katie writes beautifully about this decision.

When I sent my brother the pictures of me in my now rapidly expanding wig collection, he responded by telling me which wig looked “most believable.” Of course, he picked the long red one, as most of the people who have known me the longest have. I had long red hair, for a long time, and so naturally, that particular gorgeous wig looks the most like what they know to be me. And isn’t that the point? Isn’t a wig to cover up something embarrassing, to make me feel like a “woman” again (uh-oh, now we’re back to gender….), to hide what’s underneath, which invariably is all that is dirty, ugly, ear-greasy, so no one knows? Oh, the stigma of a woman without hair, a woman with a wig. So isn’t a wig to cover it up, whatever “it” may be?

Well, no, no it isn’t.

It’s not really about believability. In fact, it’s not about believability at all. Nor is it about trying to recreate some image of me such that I forget I’m bald. I’m not trying to fool anyone here, and folks will definitely notice one day I’ve got long curly red locks and the next I’ve got a short blue & platinum ‘do. It will be especially confusing when I intersperse the wigs with my ever growing awesome hat collection (thanks, friends!) and then, sometime when I’m feeling brave, a henna-tattooed bald head day here and there.

When I donned that long red wig yesterday, suprise of all suprises. It was so fun! The curls were like, real curls. It was long, and flip-able. Full of body. Great for twirling. Next thing I knew, I was picking out a second wig from the Cancer Agency free wig bank. Mostly, the Cancer Agency wig bank is full of wigs that made me look like I was trying way too hard to be a middle-aged real estate agent, but I got lucky. My second wig is for those days I need to feel like Brittney Spears. It’s platinum and has dark roots and has sweap-ish bangs, and it’s long and straight. And best of all, it was free!

This morning it happened again. I woke up and bam, I needed to go to this wig store people have told me about. Immediately, I was on my way, head clad in a red cap, to Vancouver’s famed wig store, Abantu. There were wild, long, sweepy wigs. And purple wigs. I could go for inches and inches of tightly wound curls or a mohawk. And the price, the price! Affordable! I walked out with the two shorter wigs, one tinged with blue. I am itching to go back. I cannot wait. I want them all. I want color and spikes and curls and highlights and bangs and dreads and bobs.

So no, believability is not high on the list. I can say f*ck you, cancer and f*ck you, companies releasing toxins and f*ck you, systems that rely on plastic with anything on my head. It’s all about the performance. It’s about the guts to wear different hair everyday, and the playfulness in having too many wigs, the silliness in going from dark to platinum and bobs to waist-length.  Can you engage my hair drag? An endless parade of head-decorations- be they scarves, wigs, henna tattoos, or hats (and i will wear them all)– is to parody the absurdity of cancer. That is to say, to laugh in cancers’ face. To be careless with death. To dress up politics with morbid sparkle.

It’s a charade. A performance. A pantomime. A make-believe. An improvisation. A theatre. An experiment.

It’s grounded in the now, the present, the moment. That’s all we got. It’s not about hoping for a cure in the future. It’s about now.

It’s an assertion that something isn’t right in the world, and it’s way past time to notice.

It’s an insistence that we imagine something new. That cancer dis ease explode and shock. That we notice. That you notice. That something be done with morbid sparkle.

So engage my wig drag. My hair drama. My hats and my henna. We’ll see where it goes. Right now, it’s powerful, and there’s cowgirl boots and lacey bras, too. So f*ck you, cancer. F*ck you, plastic. F*ck you, toxins.

Wigs, though, love you.

A (bald & precarious) New Year

Well folks, its 2014. That happened fast. I’ve been thinking about what to write since yesterday, since it seems New Years is somewhat of an obligatory bloggers’ day. It’s a day that marks, in a public way, the beginning of something hopeful, the trashing of the old and tired and useless, the ushering in of glitter and energy and a whole new world….

This year, of course, is markedly different from the other New Years for which I’ve donned oversize plastic glasses and tooted blow-horns and popped off fire crackers. In years past, I’ve resolved to do more yoga, to eat more kale, to sit down to write upon waking, to keep my nails manicured and to juice more regularly. I’m not too into resolutions this year, mostly because it seems like making a resolution is a horrible way to start the year. Really- resolutions are about picking apart the worst part of you and resolving to fix it. And even worse, everyone knows we often fail at this fixing! How about just deciding, oh, to consider ourselves good enough as we are? Care about ourselves as is, without picking apart, without vowing to fix, without identifying that which we hate?

In years past, I’ve gone out late with friends, danced until the wee hours, watched movies and popped popcorn, crafted and listened to live music, saw the ball drop and wandered the streets teeming with party-goers. This year, we wanted quiet. We had soup and salad and organic whiskey sours. My friend A and I talked about boys and hair and organic arugula. Sam watched Edward Scissor Hands and we played footsie with the cats. We ate grapes and talked about New Years wishes a la Mexicana. We took a long walk in the Vancouver mist, and marveled at the Christmas lights decorating the neighborhood.

And, it was precarious. Precarity, in Judith Butlers’ sense of the term, is about the conditions of possibility that threaten and constrain and make im/possible life for particular bodies; conditions which demand that folks can live or die in a moment. The role of the political and social institutions in the world- you know, the bodies that are supposed to care for these people- is then to reduce conditions of precarity such that the assumption that we will go on living feels pretty acceptable, achievable and routine, most of the time.

Of course, it’s more political than that (since we’re talking about JB here) and she writes that “precarity designates that politically induced condition in which certain populations suffer from failing social and economic networks of support and become differentially exposed to injury, violence, and death” (Butler, 2009, ii). OK, so basically those who don’t fit neatly and squarely into racist capitalist sexist heteronormative patriarchy (bell hooks) are systemically less able to access and enjoy the reduction of precarity that the social/political/cultural institutions provide. That makes being outside of the norm- ie, being of color, being queer, not having citizenship, being disabled, etc- a way of being in the world that carries with it a whole lot of risk of being much more exposed to injury, violence, and death. It’s a risk of not being recognized as someone to be protected- a subject of importance and belonging in the system worthy of protection from precarity.

Before breast cancer, I really never experienced precarity—- the systemic risk of being more exposed to injury/violence/death—- in significant ways. Certainly, I watched my dear Sammy struggle with the visa system, and I knew when we crossed borders, that his risk was entirely different than mine: in a moment, his visa could be denied at the border. While I could claim citizenship, and thus, protection, he could not. I could claim citizenship and  protection, and, as a white woman, be indignant about it while any anger on his part could quickly escalate to deportation, revoking of visas, all kinds of horrendous life-altering issues. My claim to rights via citizenship was how I could use those social and political institutions to protect me from risk. Legal as he was and is, there was no such recourse, especially not for an angry man with dark skin. So sure, I’ve made life-moves with Sam given our sometimes precarious decision to build a North American life, but my body has not ever been the one to encounter precarity. Not like this.

The set of discourses, practices, and beliefs that circulate around breast cancer situate me and my cancerous breast in a particular way. The pink ribbon campaign and the feel-good quality of the mastectomy dance viral video episode and the call to eat your greens to avoid cancer are all ways in which a belief system is built such that we could be an almost-cancer-free/delusionally celebrating nation. Problem is, I’m nowhere in that nation. Nothing speaks to me. I cannot claim cancer-free-success because I ate enough leafy greens or cheered the cancer walkers on with pink pom poms. Even worse, I don’t think cancer is inspirational, and I’m pissed off at capitalism and people who let the world come to this. I am outside of that set of feel-good discourses and practices that shape breast cancer all pink and pretty. Medically, too. There’s very little research in women under 35 with breast cancer. We’re outside the structure, as if we didn’t exist. There’s endless studies on older women with ER+ cancer, but in younger women- in women where ER+ cancer is thought to signify another biology entirely next to nothing. There’s all kinds of hemming and hawing about this treatment or that, and on how we might measure the risk and the benefit and the myriad of things that are big, giant, unknowns. In fact, I’m even receiving a treatment- chemo- that ends up helping less than 10% of women. Oh, and also, breast cancer is a life-threatening disease that could kill me. And its precarious as fuck.

So, a precarious New Year. It seems kind of silly to make resolutions at the moment, to pick apart what I hate about me and swear to fix it. I halfheartedly applaud those of you who have committed to a whole new you, or at least a little new you, while I also urge to you to simply accept who and what you are and where you are, now.I urge you to be OK in the now.

Precarity urges me to turn to the only fail-safe solution, which, it seems, is living my life fully, listening to my body, and kissing Sammy every chance I get. Precarity urges me to thinking about fighting bigger battles, and to actually feel the precious million moments that make up my day. Precarity makes me think again about what I want in the world, a re-scrambling of desire and hope and despair. Precarity repaints the world in shades of intensity I didn’t know existed, shades of intensity I associate most closely with bleeding-heart Mexican rancheros.

Today I took my precarious self to yoga. My buzz cut was really starting to go. Every time I ran my fingers over my head, there were short strands falling onto my collarbone and every time I took off my hat, more and more strands on the inside of the hat. Today I practiced behind a woman who used to teach often, and who’s classes I used to frequent. Months ago, I suspected this teacher, J, had breast cancer, or some other cancer. She stopped teaching, and suddenly what seemed to be a totally fantastic version of her hair didn’t seem to sweat when she practiced anymore (was it a wig? why was it so perfect even in yoga?), and there were rumors that she had breast cancer.

Today, her hair was short and curly where it used to be straight and long. I couldn’t help but stare at her, practicing perfectly and, I suspected, as close to healthy as “No Evidence of Disease” after breast cancer can approximate. I was seriously lagging, kneeling in between postures and taking savasana and wondering why the hell I couldn’t feel the fan, but I figured I should stay in class, mostly because this J, who I imagined to be “NED” and doing yoga, was there. If she was sticking it out, I might as well. I was fascinated with the fact that A) I could see no mastectomy sentinel node scars peeping from her yoga top even though my chest looks like a war zone, even in my yoga top and B) she must have been practicing while she was being treated for cancer, if my suspicions were true, because now, clearly, her hair was growing back. If I was right, she did yoga during chemo. Like me.

I would have never said a thing to her, too worried about tip-toeing around the impossible in such a public space, dancing around a shared knowing of terror with someone who I really don’t know beyond the cursory nod at the studio.  She approached me, and told me she heard what was going on, and that she had just been through it all, every single part of it. She could only do this because she’s been in this place of strange I now occupy. What followed was intense connection and conversation, made possible by our mutual sense of precarity. She told me about her hair, and her decision to wear a wig to yoga to avoid the prying questions and curious eyes. She told me about her surgery and her chemo and her radiation. She told me about which nausea drugs she hated and how she kick-boxed through treatment. She told me about how it felt to decide on a mastectomy, and she told me about what it feels like when the friends constantly checking in now get tired in the months to come. Sweaty, tired, at Bikram yoga, she totally got it. She could ask the questions that matter, and listen in a way that knit together the silences and feeling in my eyes. Feeling precarious, and knowing that feeling is shared, lent an intensity in which we hopelessly clung to the moment, unsure when again that could happen, uncertain about futures, knowing only in the moment.

It is impossible to understand a situation one has not embodied, lived, known intimately, though all the empathy in the world makes it a softer, kinder place. But that post-yoga-class connection, for which I am so grateful today, was the embodied, knowing, intimate kind. Sometimes you never know where that will happen, and I urge each of us, myself included, to open these spaces of intimacy and intensity and connection. They are risky: I would have never opened that space with J, but she did, and I’m immensely and endlessly grateful. Her model is my precarious new year.

It’s not a resolution, it’s a model for creating more intensity, for connecting deeper safe spaces, for holding fragility and risk together at once. It’s not something I need to fix about myself, rather, it is a holding of space I know to be real and an acknowledgment of shared precarity, of precious moments. And this world needs way more of that because you know what? I bet if we made a whole lot more spaces like J did today, we’d be a whole lot more prepared to do some serious political battling around issues of precarity.

And then I came home, and rubbed the hair off my head into a giant pile in the bathtub, and Sammy shaved what was left off, and now I am bald, and so we toasted with prosecco.

What a weird way to start the year.

Butler, J. June 8, 2009. Performativity, precarity, and sexual politics. Lecture given at Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Online here.

hair

Hair is a feminist issue. That’s a no-brainer. There are fiery feminist discussions over all kinds of body hair. Today though, today for me it’s just about the hair that grows atop my head.

It was long. And wavy-ish. Curly-ish. Frizzy-ish.

Hair made me distinguishable: I am a redhead. I identify with other redheads, but sometimes if there’s too many redheads around, I’m like— dude, what? I’m supposed to be unique and special! There’s lots of my heroes who are or who were redheads, like Eve Sedgwick and Pippi Longstocking.

My hair has been short before, but not too short. More like, pixie-short. Today I had ten inches cut off, and I’ll bring them to this woman in Vancouver who makes free wigs for kids with cancer.

Long, strawberry blonde hair is part of how I see myself. I love piling it on top of my head when I am working, and the bangs have certainly been a hair adventure. Long hair is part of what screams girly about me. This time, I was shooting for it to get down to my butt. Alas, no more. Of course, long hair isn’t all peachy. It gets in the way at yoga, it takes a lot of expensive shampoo to wash, and it frizzes out like you wouldn’t imagine.

The plan is to shave my head shortly, before I begin chemo. I just don’t want to deal with hair falling out. It sounds simply horrendous to me, to go around the house, hairs floating off your head to the ground. I know it isn’t exactly like that, but its close enough. More and more hair coming out each time you run your fingers through your hair; more and more strands on the pillow in the morning; bigger, thicker clumps gathering around the shower drain. No thanks. I’ll go bald on my own terms.

I’ve thought about this a fair amount. Women with shaved heads basically always look like bad-asses. They don’t even have to do anything, except be in the world with a shaved head, and automatically they are read as bad-ass. This afternoon, I said to my bestie, “Women with shaved heads—” and she finished my sentence, “–are so intimidating. Scary. Like don’t mess with them” I think the woman with shaved head equals total bad-ass is about women saying ‘Fuck You’ to the patriarchy, as in, who cares about my long tresses, don’t mess with me. It’s being aggressive, being a bad-ass, and you all know how I love aggressive. Its kind of awesome.

There’s really not a whole wide array of choices here for me to pick from, in terms of how I’m going to respond to this. People keep saying things like “you’re so brave,” in its various iterations, and yet— I have not done anything, folks. In fact, I haven’t even survived anything except more biopsies than anyone should ever have and some other random, weird procedures. I didn’t go running into a burning building to save someone, or make a speech to thousands or foster world peace, or lift a car off someone pinned underneath, or bunji-jump off a cliff. I just went to the doctor one day, and came out the other side with breast cancer. So, given that there are not endless choices for how to handle this, bad-ass with a shaved head seems like a good-enough bet, especially so because I don’t have to do anything to be read as a bad-ass once I have a shaved head, I just have to take my hat off. I could stand being treated like a bad-ass. It certainly feels more accurate than “brave.”

And if I don’t want to be the badass girl with a shaved head, I can always wear this long, perfectly curled dark red wig. Because you know, a girl needs perfectly curled hair at least sometime in life. Chemo seems like a good time. My real hair will never curl so nicely.

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So, I’ve taken another step towards badass/intimidating/awesome on the hair spectrum today. This morning I called and made an appointment at a salon on Main. I knew it was the right place when I walked in, my hair matted under a beanie because I haven’t been able to show-show (as in, shower) since I had my Epic Day of Small Surgeries on Friday. I can’t yet get the port incision wet. Yah, that little collarbone incision is the top incision from the port. I have another, large one and a bump under which a plastic port sits a few inches below. Bionic woman, I am. Since my veins roll and retreat deep into my arms each time they try to give me an IV or draw blood, this thing is going to save us a lot of heartache. It hurt like crazy after they put it in, but it’s getting better little by little.

So, the hair is asymetrical. It’s fun. I think it will be easy to take care of, for the few days I will have it. The girl who cut is was just lovely- telling me about how her chemo clients come back with hair that is super curly. and giving me tips about short hair and buzz cuts and bald heads. I have no idea how it will hold up in yoga!

So, here we go. I start chemo in five days, and before then, I’ll shave this thing. Well, my friend C, who has a bad-ass haircut herself, will shave it. I’m slightly concerned I may have a blockhead, because I recall my brother and father having big square heads when they shaved them in the summertime. I’ve been assured by two hair professionals- the wig-maker and today’s hairdresser, that it seems I have an exceptionally round head. Which is good.

Speaking of hair, there’s a few other things that happened with hair this week. For starters, I shaved my legs, got my hair all rolled up like they did in the 50’s, and took some fun pinups! I mean, a girl must do something when she’s gonna chop her long red locks and start chemo and march forward toward mastectomy. We did all kinds of outfits, but here’s an (unedited) preview.

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