I had long hair for nearly my entire life. I was a hippie-chick, my flowing locks symbols of flower-power, peace, and love. I couldn’t imagine cutting my hair, ever! Suddenly diagnosed with ovarian cancer in summer 2000, I now faced losing my hair ― ALL of it. How do I say goodbye to something I considered so central to my identity? I decided to make the process fun, turning my fear into a positive, empowering choice to reinvent myself. Phase One: short hair cut, donate locks to “Wigs for Kids”.
When the day came, I was in too much pain to go anywhere. My twin Elisa (monozygotes rule!) drove to the salon and apparently it went something like: “Sharon-started-chemotherapy-and-needs-her-hair-cut-now”, and I got a haircut house call. Smiling with nervous anticipation, I tied my hair into ponytails. Two quick snips from Michelle, my long hair was gone. We burst into teary-eyed smiles, and hugged tightly. My dread was overshadowed, banished, by this loving gift, making what could’ve been a somber occasion into one of my life’s most special events. This was the beginning of my coming into myself in a way I¹d never anticipated. There was much more to come (out, that is) 9 days later.
All good hairs must eventually come to a split end, and so the surreal part of this process began. I’d wake up with mounds of hair on my pillow. When I ran my fingers through my hair, large clumps appeared in my palms. I stared at them, covered in my own hair, feeling helpless. It was everywhere ― on my bed, the floor, in the sink, the kitchen. Anywhere I went was a trail of my expelled hair. The worst was washing it ― bad idea. Hair all over me, all over the bathtub, and now it was wet ‘n sticky and didn’t just wipe away. I was tarred and feathered! Finally, a mere head nod extricating a mutinous cascade of hair brought on Phase Two of my transformation: the electric razor. I sat down, took a deeeeeep breath: Wirrrrrrrrr!!
No turning back, I was a bald chick. I decided to go au natural and I began to see myself in a whole new way. As I embraced my own chemo-induced baldness with a sense of adventure, I was truly shocked by the overwhelmingly positive response I received, especially because I had been so consumed with anxiety and fear about losing my hair in the first place. It sparked in me a fierce desire to dispel the stigma that is associated with hair loss due to chemotherapy, or any other hair loss conditions for that matter. I wanted to do something to expand social concepts of what constitutes beauty and femininity, and promote the idea that women are not the sum of their parts ― with or without hair, one or both breasts, or reproductive organs, we are spiritually whole and perfect. So I started Bald Is Beautiful, but that’s a whole other hairy tale . . .
I share this story because there’s not enough awareness among people in my age group about cancer. We fall into a middle ground of statistics and research, most cases being on either the pediatric or geriatric end of the spectrum. Because we often feel invincible and indestructible during this period of our lives, it can make our experience with cancer somewhat isolating. The issues are different, the emotional and social impact is different, and sometimes even the choices of treatment are different. I was fortunate to have an incredible team of doctors and healers, and invaluable support from family and friends. But not everyone does, and it’s vital to educate ourselves and each other as early in our lives as possible about healthy and self-loving life habits and learn to treat our mind, body, and spirit as one interconnected system which must be nurtured and loved.
Cancer completely redefined my life, and I’m healthier and more self-aware than I’ve ever been. The experience of losing my hair, and ultimately both of my ovaries, gave new meaning to the phrase “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”. I gained a profound revelation about my own power, beauty, and femininity. My inner strength and self-assuredness now uninhibited, radiates out to the world. With a reinvigorated love of life, I feel more beautiful, more sexy, more ME than ever.