But I did know that my hair would fall out. That’s just what happens with chemo. It shows the chemo is working, so in one way it’s a good thing. But I didn’t know how it would make me feel the day I woke up after my third chemo session and found big clumps of hair all over my pillow. I cried as I swept them away before anyone else saw them. This was my hair. I was losing my hair. I actually felt mortified.
I need to talk about my hair. It is thick, it is chestnut brown and I have always worn it long. Since the age of 18, I’ve had lots of compliments about my hair – even back in the Eighties when I had a big bouncy terrible perm. And being married to a hairdresser, I’ve always felt my hair should look as good as it could. But to be honest, I’ve always taken my hair for granted. Until it started to go.
Joe had cut it into a bob before my chemo started. And as it fell out, which it continued to do, he would talk to me about my hair. I don’t think even to this day he knows how much that helped me because I couldn’t find much help online and I felt it was silly and vain to talk about my hair to people when what I was going through was so much bigger.
We talked about wigs. I didn’t want to wear a wig. Real hair ones cost hundreds of pounds and even then they didn’t look right on me. Joe understood. Scarves slipped off my increasingly thinning scalp but in my local shopping centre I found little cotton skull caps Muslim women wear under hijabs. Miraculously they kept the scarves in place. That felt like a triumph, a big step forward because I could go outside and not worry about my scarf falling off. But then my eyelashes and my eyebrows fell out and at Halloween I made a joke to the boys that children coming to the door would think I had made myself look scary. I don’t think they thought it was any funnier than I did, but we all tried to laugh. There was no hiding it. I looked like a cancer victim. And I didn’t want to be a victim.
That very day whilst the boys were out I asked Joe to shave off the remains of my hair. We both cried as the electric razor buzzed over my scalp but he told me it would grow back and I completely trusted him.
I can’t tell you every step I went through of my treatment – some dark, bleak parts I have tried to forget. But I can tell you how I felt when bits of chick like hairs began to sprout on my head. It was exciting and I felt reborn. My body was fighting back. I looked different. There were tiny curl, grey hairs, there were patches thicker than others and Joe took a personal and professional interest in every single hair that popped out of my scalp. He researched shampoos, chemical free dyes and new ways to frame my face. I went from Mia Farrow cut to a chic, short French bob. My boys didn’t avoid looking at my head. Matteo wanted to touch my new curls. It made me feel human, reborn, brave, happy and in April I got a compliment on my “lovely haircut” from a stranger. By the New Year, my hair fell – with Joe’s help – into a 1940s wave. Right now it is straighter, longer and – believe it or not – thicker and in better condition than it was before I had cancer.
I am a very grateful woman. I am grateful to the doctors who helped me, the friends who supported me and my family who were by my side every step of the way. But I can never even put into words how much compassion, hope, faith and self-esteem Joe gave me by a series of simple haircuts and an awful lot of love.
With special thanks to Louise Gannon for writing our stories.