Kim MacDonald is an award-winning weather journalist for The Weather Network, who is currently documenting her experience with breast cancer on her blog, as well as sharing her story for Yahoo Canada.
Like most women, I’ve had a fairly healthy albeit tumultuous relationship with my hair. There have been days when I look in the mirror and think, “How can I go on TV with this?” Other days, I can’t believe I haven’t been scouted for a shampoo commercial a la Sofia Vergara.
It’s been short, long, curly, straight, dark, light, highlights of every variety and, for most of my life, included bangs. I also have a stylist who takes good care of it for me. I feel partly responsible for her bicep muscles, due to weekly blow drys of my very thick locks.
That’s a quick history. Let’s fast forward to my first oncology appointment on Dec. 8, 2016. I had heard from a few people that not everyone loses their hair during chemo. I’m an optimist, so I asked. My kind, but very blunt oncologist said “Yes. You will lose your hair. It will start falling out 15-18 days after your first chemo treatment, a day or so after your second treatment.” Quick math: First chemo Dec. 16, second scheduled for Dec 30. Happy New Year!
People say “It’s only hair.” I get that. I have breast cancer and it needs to be eradicated. That’s what’s important here. That’s what the non-vain, practical side of me says. The other side of me says “Oh no. What if I look like Dr. Evil?” I really had no idea what my head would look like without all that hair framing it. Dr. Arnold said to me that the most upsetting side effect to this chemo treatment is the loss of hair. Suddenly, I’m not feeling so superficial.
I’ve learned over the last month that a cancer diagnosis is part physical strength and part mental fortitude. Your brain plays a huge role in how you are able to deal with and overcome the many challenges that have suddenly been laid before you. My hair is going. Do I want to wake up one morning with a giant clump of it on my pillow? NO! Holding handfuls of hair while I’m already in an emotional state is not my idea of a good time.
My aforementioned stylist and dear friend, Andrea King, has had a client go through this before. She advised me to get a wig before anything started happening, and to cut my hair very short, even shave it before it started falling out. In other words, take control of a situation I had very little control of. It worked.
Getting the wig and having it ahead of time gave me a sense of comfort that I would be ready when the time came. Side note: my insurance company pays 90 per cent of the cost of a wig for chemo patients. BONUS.
The next step would be the head shave. Watching “G.I. Jane”, “V for Vendetta”, the new “Mad Max” movie or old Sinead videos can be helpful but may give you a false sense of confidence. I have a pretty healthy ego — but realize I am no Natalie Portman or Charlize Theron.
I made the decision to do it publicly with the option to back out at the last second. The idea of doing it in front of an audience emboldened me for some reason. I decided to not make it about me or my hair — but to make it for those who have gone through it, those who are about to go through it and for those who are supporting loved ones facing the same situation.
I also have a great respect for those who have done this to raise money for the cause. That is real bravery and selflessness. Making it about others and not about me was a game changer. My attitude changed from fear and negativity to positivity. On New Year’s Eve, I went live on Facebook with the whole thing. My husband shot it, using an iPhone, my 13-year-old came for support and my friend Andrea did the honours. Since then, it had been viewed nearly 100,000 times.
At first, as I read the encouraging messages and supportive words from friends and complete strangers, I was elated. Going public was the right decision. This is giving me the strength I need. The positive feedback flowing toward me was far greater than the personal fear I had about losing my hair. Plus, my head wasn’t nearly as freakishly shaped as I had imagined.
But then I started to receive these kinds of messages.
“I have to do this, too. I was so afraid but you have given me courage. I will get my daughter to shave my head tomorrow.”
“I am very, very scared and emotional and so sorry you had to do this but thank-you. It has been helpful and amazing. You have great courage. Thank-you.”
“I have been struggling a bit with the thought of losing my hair but after watching you, I know I can do this.”
And that is why, on New Year’s Eve, I had my head shaved live on FB for all to see. Take that, cancer.
Let us know what you think by tweeting @YahooStyleCA.