By Contributing Mama Diane LeBleu
I remember when my best friend Holly first called me earthy. All because I refused to find out the gender of my 2nd child, in utero, waiting instead for the big day. When she was pregnant with her first child and living in the San Francisco Bay Area, only earthy girls waited to be surprised.
“I am NOT earthy!” I protested huffily. Earthy girls wore Birkenstocks and clothing woven out of hemp. They were Gender Studies majors. They carried canvas shopping bags, ate soy and hummus, and purchased organic, antibiotic and hormone-free long before it became the hip thing to do. They don’t wear make-up or color their hair – in fact, they don’t care much about how they look and they certainly don’t give a flip about what anyone else thinks of them.
How could I be mistaken for earthy? I was a Business and Communications major. I drive a minivan and vote Republican. I am a breeder, with four children, a big house and a nasty carbon footprint. I was a cheerleader for crying out loud! And I invested a lot of time and money to find just the right hair colorist to apply the chemically perfected highlights to my locks every ten to twelve weeks.
At least I used to. Now I’m waiting for it to all fall out. I had been warned about what signs to expect from my twin and my new girlfriends who have walked this pink path before me. I have been thoroughly preparing myself mentally and stocking up on the essential accessories. Scarves? Check! Hats in multiple styles and colors and seasonal weights? Check! Soft knit cap for sleeping? Check! 2 wigs in different shades of warm blonde, cut and styled? Check! Bring it on, baby!
Yesterday morning, I was gently brushing through my hair, the bristles only just grazing the tops of my locks to tidy my above-the-shoulder length do. My head was a little tender (imagine a sunburned scalp) and I was trying to be as careful as possible when the end of the brush caught a snag and pulled free a massive clump. Holy cow!
As prepared as I was, the first time it happens, it is a little horrifying. “What’s the big deal?” I console myself. It’s only hair, it will grow back. My roots have become a mousy shade of rust and dirt anyway – they don’t match at all the ashy blonde sides and bottom. I’ll be glad to see it go!
Then a quiet, sly, little voice whispers “Everyone can tell it’s a wig. Who are you trying to fool?” “You have always looked ridiculous in hats!” “Hey Aunt Jemima – where are my hotcakes?”
A number of breast cancer survivors I have come to know have told me that the loss of hair is one of the most dramatic parts of their battle with the disease. Not that it is painful or messy, just that it is the most public part of having breast cancer. You can hide a scar, cover up newly reconstructed (or no) breasts under a shirt. In most cases, it is hard to effectively keep hair loss under wraps.
My husband, who has been a rock of strength, support, kindness and humor throughout this ordeal, doesn’t get the hair part. It’s a girl thing. Look around – Hair America is where we live and it is big business, especially in Texas where I live. I know it’s shallow, silly, and sentimental but it’s been covering my head for the past 39 years so I’ve gotten a bit attached to this old mop of mine.
And why do I care at all? Because I just don’t want people looking at me. Not my network of friends, family and neighbors. It’s everyone else I encounter in daily life – taking the kids to school, going to the grocery store, walking to the park. You know the feeling when you encounter someone that has clearly undergone some chemical therapy – Do I look? Do I not look? Am I staring?
I have never liked being the center of attention. Even on my wedding day, I hustled my dad down to the front of the church as fast as my heavy gown would allow. These days, I am a big enough public spectacle trying to corral and wrangle my four children along that I don’t need to add CANCER PATIENT to the exhibition as well.
My first day of chemotherapy, I sat in my recliner in the great infusion lounge watching all the other patients get their noxious doses over the course of a very long day. A young woman was there when I arrived, relaxing and watching one of the many ceiling mounted televisions as a bag of chemicals slowly dripped through the lines into her arm. She was alone – quiet, calm, self-assured and completely, unapologetically bald as a flesh-colored billiard ball shining under the fluorescent lights.
Bold. Beautiful. Earthy.
My friend Cici reminded me over lunch last week, as I lamented the loss of my hair, that it’s not the outward trappings that make one beautiful. It’s what’s in the heart.
I really believe that to be true. It’s what we tell our kids, isn’t it? Now I get to walk that talk. I’m looking to take a cue from some of the earthy girls I so easily dismissed with my quick judgments and unfair stereotypes. They do seem to have some great wisdom in their approach to things from which I could readily benefit. I have four children, three of them girls, who will be watching every move I make over the next week and coming months. I want to be brave and bald and beautiful. I want them to know – it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
So I’m having a hair buzzing party next Friday at my house with a few girlfriends and we’ll be embracing the earthy in me. The invitation reads:
No more tears! Join me for shears and champagne on Friday at 7PM. Serving appetizers of edamame, hummus, and goat cheese. Stay late for bra burning! Pink attire optional.