Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Work It Girl!

Once I began to accept my breast cancer prognosis, the next step was accepting the fact that I had to lose my hair. Right after my first chemotherapy treatment, I kept capping my head with both hands, squishing my hair to my scalp as if somehow I could prevent the inevitable.

But just as my chemo nurses predicted, five days after my second chemo treatment, I awoke to see the telltale strands of blonde hair on my pillow case. That was on a Friday. By Sunday, I had to put a wrap kerchief scarf around my head and top it off with a straw fedora, a la Alicia Keys, to keep masses of hair from dropping to the floor.

On Monday morning, I had no choice but to wear a hat to work. Now my hair was flyng off my head with the blowing wind just like a tree shedding its leaves in Autumn. I asked my friend Dawn to come to the house after work and just get rid of it--buzz it off. As soon as the buzzer started shaving off the last vestiges of my platinum blonde hair, I started crying uncontrollably. Then Dawn started crying and my boyfriend Joe-Joe bravely stepped in to finish the job.

After I took a good look at myself bald in the mirror, I promptly put on the wig I had bought weeks earlier and came upstairs with a forced smile. The moment I feared most was now done. And once I crossed that bridge, somehow I felt oddly relieved.

I walked into the office the next morning donning my new blonde-bob wig with my head held high, fully aware of the stares that followed. Everyone was very assuring and supportive. "That wig is so becoming on you! You look great," my colleagues would say. I just lowered my head demurely and said thanks.

Once I got used to having to cover up my head with a wig, a scarf or a hat, I pulled out all my most dramatic earrings out of my jewelry box and started buying big, bold and unusual earrings wherever I found them. I splurged on a pair of big designer sunglasses that I knew were becoming on me. To keep my wig from looking too artifical, I tied beautiful silk scarves around the top of my crown--gypsy style.

What with the dramatic scarves, hats, glasses and earrings all worn at once, I was definitely making a fashion statement. But all those props came in handy as my skin got more pale and my eyebrows and eyelashes started to fall out. One particular morning,, I walked into Dunkin' Donuts and I remember one of the black girls behind the counter exuded: "Lordy you sure are stylin' today! Work it girl!"

"Thanks so much sweetie," I replied. That comment made my day. I had reached back to my days as an executive editor at Accessories magazine and found a bag of tricks to fake prettiness with fashion until I made it through treatment. A couple weeks later, that same girl at Dunkin' Donuts told me one morning at the drive-thru window, "I don't know your name, but I pray for you every night." As I drove away, all I could do was cry. Workin' it got me another person calling on heaven to get me through cancer. Who knew?

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