Traces - One artist's Breast Cancer Journey. Finding wellness through art, writing, photography, and travel.
Three or four months ago my sister and I both lost our hair. We are step-sisters, but have been siblings since we were both four years old, so we never thought of each other in terms of "steps". We shared our bedroom, we were dressed alike, our hair was always curled the same way (with pink plastic foam rollers), and we did everything together. Our parents bought us the same dolls, bikes, shoes, roller skates, transistor radios, stuffed animals and bedspreads. So, I suppose neither of us were all that surprised when we were diagnosed with cancer within a month of each other. Mine is breast cancer, hers is ovarian. Not sharing any genetic material, however, this seemed to be too much of a coincidence to both of us, and we decided that our bodies must be overtly sympathetic to each other in ways we never thought possible. Cancer wasn't the only experience we were about to share, but also many of the symptoms that go along with the treatments, as well.  Jeanie, as I like to call my sister, needed a hysterectomy, and the result was immediate menopause, which of course, brought about the dreaded hot flashes. I had not experienced hot flashes to speak of (other than the sort which come from being on the streets of Florence in 100 degree weather in July), until Jeanie told me she was suffering from them. Within a week, so was I. So annoying! I am just praying that she doesn't have anything else pop up!

I started chemotherapy in January 2012. At first, my treatments were three weeks on, one week off. My white cell count couldn't handle the three weeks in a row, so my doc switched me to two weeks on, one off. My sister started her chemo in February 2012, and hers was scheduled for one week of chemo with the following two (or was it three?) weeks off. She had a lot more nausea than I did, but mine caused bone pain that she didn't experience, so I guess we did have some distinctly different experiences. However, our hair loss came at about the same time.

Losing one’s hair is a singular experience. Never have I thought of myself as a raving beauty, and I suppose I never really thought of myself as vain, either. However, if I am truthful, I must admit to the latter being true. I found myself unwilling to just watch my hair exit the scene without some regret. My sisters cut it short for me (as it keeps the mess on the pillow and in the shower drain to a minimum), but when the last 30 or so hairs refused to fall out, I couldn’t bring myself to buzz them off. They were trying so hard to give me back some small degree of dignity that is lost when one’s hair deserts one, that it just didn’t seem fair to chop them off and be done with them. Jeanie, however, had no qualms or illusions about how her hair felt, and she cut it off and subsequently shaved it off as soon as it started falling out in clumps. She always was a practically-minded girl.

We got together for a family visit one weekend while our brother was in town from New Mexico. By this time, Jeanie’s head was shaved, and I think I had about 16 hairs left. I didn’t actually count them, but you get the picture. I was looking forward to having a picture taken of the two of us with our bald(ing) heads, but Jeanie was a bit uncomfortable with the idea. I guess she takes after our dad, who has worn a hairpiece for about 50 years, and in that time, I think I’ve only seen him without it on one time. On this memorable occasion, our family was spending a few days at the family cabin and Dad heard a strange noise outside. Highly atypically, he came out of his room without his toupee and with bare feet, which is another story for another time. Suffice it to say that my dad likes to be completely put together before he leaves his bedroom in the morning.

Unlike my father, I am overly-casual. I run around in my house-dress unless I am leaving the house. My slippers are my new best friends (another side-effect of chemo, my toes are numb and feel like they’re freezing all of the time, even though they are not cold to the touch). And, since I don’t have to fix my hair, it takes me just a few minutes to be ready to go out. It’s been a few months now since I’ve been without anything more than stubble on my head, and I have found it to be so freeing. I spend all of my time in my home without anything covering my bald pate, unless I’m feeling chilly, which sometimes happens with the a/c running. I forget, sometimes, that I’m bald, and will walk outside to watch my grandkids play in the little wading pool, or ride their bikes, and not think of it until neighbors have passed by with a friendly wave. I must be scaring their children.

My four-year-old granddaughter came into my room last night and asked me what I looked like when I had hair. I guess 6 months ago is a long time for a four-year-old to remember. She sat on my lap in front of my computer and waited while I searched for some photos of myself sporting a full head of hair. When I finally found a few, she smiled with her twinkly eyes and enthusiastically exclaimed, “Honey, you look funny with hair!” (My grandkids call me “Honey” instead of “Grandma” – another long story.) If I’m wearing a cap on my head, my grandkids beg me to take it off so that they can see my hairless crown. I started it, I guess, because I didn’t want them to be afraid of me when they saw that my hair was falling out, so when I showed them my gradually balding head I laughed about it and said, “Doesn’t my hair look silly?” Now, it seems, at least one of them likes me better bald.

There are so many advantages to being hairless! Having grown up female, my friends, sisters, and I spent what seems to me today, an inordinate amount of time fussing about and trying to control something that has its own will. We permed it, dyed it, blew it out, teased it, kinked it, streaked it, cut it, curled it, braided it, added hair-pieces to it, ironed it, and pony-tailed it. For me, all of these things were in vain, except perhaps the braiding. I do love hair on most other people, but for some, it’s a rather unfortunate addition to what could have been a lovely face (and I’m not talking about whiskers). I’ve decided that I am going to thoroughly enjoy this time without hair, when showering takes half the time (no hair-washing, and no shaving), and when, the moment I’m a little too warm, I can whip off my head covering and cool off immediately.

I’ve found that I’m not entirely looking forward to my hair coming back.

6/21/2012 18:35:24

Oh dear Jayna, I loved reading your advantages of having no hair to fuss with ;-D
And some day, you'll have to write that "Honey" story – I love it!

6/21/2012 21:30:39

I spoke with Kent a short while ago and he mentioned that you and Jeanmarie were going through Chemo....My message to you is that as a youngster I enjoyed being in your home and have many fond memories of your entire family. Both of you were always very kind to me (some goofy neighbor kid ) it was very much appreciated.
I enjoyed your blog entry I hope to read many more!
Michael Throckmorton

6/21/2012 23:29:26

Sunshiny Jayna, I will be thinking of you as a sit and endlessly, it seems, tweeze those whiskers you referred to.

6/22/2012 08:05:49

I love to read your emails/stories. I hope you are feeling well. Thanks for keeping me smiling!

6/29/2012 20:13:03

I enjoyed your stories.You have a upbeat attitude, keep it up there.
I hope you are feeling better. You are in my prayers


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    I am a daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, friend, artist, and genealogist. After raising 5 children, I went back to school, earning my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. Two weeks prior to receiving my Master of Fine Arts degree at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, I was diagnosed with Stage IV Breast Cancer. That is a fact of my life, but I'm trying not to let it be the only fact.


    June 2012