Several years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. One of my elder sisters had died of it at the age of 39. Although the rest of us females in the family did not go through testing to see if we were genetically predisposed to it, it clearly made the case when I found out I had it – decades after she passed away. For most people, Cancer and Hair Loss will come together. This is the story of my journey.
Genetics, stress, diet, lack of exercise and pollution are all contributors to disease and we just have to deal with the bodies we are given. Since I have a small frame, the external effects of mastectomy did not sink in as much. I was not giving Kim Kardashian a run for her money by a mile before the surgery, so looking like Kate Moss afterwards was not such a bad prospect after all. It was useless taking before and after pictures because one would not notice the difference if someone was flat as a board from the start.
Then it dawned on me – it is easy to have an appendage such as a breast taken out because no one would notice it as much anyway unless you had triple D implants done before. What was difficult to accept, and adjust to, was the imminent hair fall as a result of chemotherapy. Hair, or the lack of it, is something that is more difficult to cover. And in most cases, cancer and hair loss are linked together. I have had all sorts of hairstyles in the past – from pixie to shaggy, from Goldie Hawn curls to Mulan straights – but I have never, ever been bald before. Not until my chemo.
Two weeks after my first treatment, my hair was still hanging onto my scalp for dear life. I was about to give myself a pat on the back for growing such strong hair but that moment did not last long. I was sitting in front of my work desk one morning and I noticed a few strands falling. It looked as if chemo, cancer and hair loss do coincide, even for people with a lot of hair. As I sat down to work each day, the strands seem to fall faster – first, they fell on my shoulders and I would grab a handful and put them in the nearby trash bin. Then they fell on my lap, and soon gathered in a pile on the floor beside me.
I realized that I could just sit there and my hair would literally shed, just like leaves falling off a tree in autumn. The difference was that autumn leaves are always beautiful but my hair fall was not a pretty sight. Soon, I had filled up the trash bin and I had to empty it so I could repeat the same process. It was getting obvious that my hair was thinning out faster in some areas. When my scalp started to look like a map of islands, that was the time I decided to shave my head.
A lot of decisions during a cancer journey are made because one has to, not because one wants to. It feels better when one has a choice to make, or several choices to choose from, but disease has a way of pushing you against the wall, staring you in the eye, and sticking a gun against your chest.
You decide either to live or to die slowly. To resist or give in. To breathe or suffocate. To fight back or crumple on the ground.
When my doctor told me I had cancer, I knew I had to undergo surgery – as soon as possible. There was no other choice for me since I did not want to die just yet. In my mind, dying before one reaches 50 is not an option for someone who still has family to take care of, and a promising future ahead of her.
After surgery, I made the decision to go through chemotherapy. As much as I wanted to try alternative methods, I did not think time and genetics were on my side.
A month or so after my first chemo, when I was having seriously bad hair days on top of a compromised immune system, I had no other choice but to shave my head and go bald. I will never forget that day because that seemingly trivial event of having a haircut completely changed the way I viewed life.