Monday, August 13, 2018

Cancer: Hair

The other night, I used clippers to cut my wife’s hair.

Hair! What a crappy movie.
Like so many women past, present, and future, Cathy places a lot of encoded meaning on her appearance. She’s not traditional in the sense of always needing to wear make-up and a pressed frock to do the chores, but she takes rigorous care of her skin, is very particular about what kinds of make-ups and soaps she uses, and so forth. This includes her shampoo. She’s got a delicate ecosystem going on, and is a lifetime user of moisturizer and other similar salves and unguents, all of which has managed to delay her aging process by five to ten years. Of course, she’s colored her hair for as long as I’ve known her.

Now it’s falling out, and she’s really upset about it. She’s intellectually aware that this is a temporary thing and for the past few weeks, she’s been gradually working up to the idea that at some point, her hair was going to fall out. With that would be the need to either cut it or shave it down to the scalp, and of course, what to do about covering it, because society can’t stand the idea of a bald-headed woman for any reason whatsoever.

We discussed wigs briefly. The actress side of Cathy toyed with the idea of getting several, one for each mood she might be in. But the economic impracticality soon shot that idea down. She hasn’t entirely given up on the idea that she might want a purple wig. You know, just ‘cause. But she settled pretty quickly on the idea of various hats and scarves and turbans. I told her, if she wanted to, we could go full-on Eryka Badu. She hasn’t said no to that idea, either.

Badu's turban-fu is extraordinary. 
I am certainly sympathetic; as someone who had thinning hair so bad that, by the time I
was twenty-three, I was clipping my hair in what Bruce Willis called “the nineties combover,” I know how that feels. I also know this, intellectually and otherwise: it grows back. In the case of chemotherapy, the prevailing wisdom is that her hair will grow back thicker and fuller and maybe even curly. I’m sure there’s reasons for this, but I don’t feel like googling them at the moment.

Cathy understands all of that. But it did not lessen the impact of her running her hand over her hair to get it out of her eyes and catching a tuft in her fingers. It’s scary; one more reminder that her body, the thing she’s tried so hard to take care of all these years, is in open revolt, and the medicine she’s taking is designed to kill part of it off. That’s terrifying if you let it bounce around in your head like pachinko balls. And Cathy is a champion and playing pachinko.

She told me she wanted me to shave her head three days ago, but she said it in passing, like how you’d have someone put eggs and milk on the grocery list. She asked me about the plastic blade guards that go on clippers to make the hair a uniform length. She asked me if shaving my head hurt. She went and found my bag of clipper accessories and asked me which one was the shortest one. She sidled up to the idea gradually, until I could see it was freaking her out to keep talking about it.

“Get a towel,” I said. “We’re doing this.”

She seemed relieved that I made the call. I told her what I was going to do. I even showed her on my own hair. I was very gentle and checked in on her often to make sure she was okay. As soon as it was done, she hopped up and went to the mirror. She opted for really short instead of stubbly. She couldn’t go that far, and my suggestion to match her in a gesture of solidarity did not amuse as intended.

Little Steven, of the E Street Band.
I tried my best to be as gentle and upbeat as I could be while pushing down the idea that I never thought in a million years I’d be doing this for my wife.

As soon as I was finished, she jumped up and ran for the mirror. “It feels so much better,” she said. She spent the rest of the night trying on her various wraps and scarves and turbans. I was proud of how brave she was being. It bothered her to have it cut, but it bothered her more to have it falling out. This way, she kept a little control over her appearance, even if it’s temporary.

Now she’s digging the turban/scarf combos. A couple of them make her look like Lawrence of Arabia. Or Little Steven Van Zandt. I’m still holding out that she’ll want a big-ass purple turban or something.

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