Okay, so the last Barnet Bulletin was supposed to be the final one. But this, I’m afraid to say, ain’t over. (Well, it kind of is – this is less an update than an essay-long moan.) I wish it was over – frankly I’m sick of talking about my hair, just as I’m sick of cursing at it, crying about it, buying useless products for it, trying every chuffing morning and night to just. do. something – anything – with the sodding stuff. It won’t sit straight. It won’t even sit curly. It’s too long to do a Natalie Portman, but too short to do an Agyness Deyn. I’ve tried running my straighteners through it, but I end up looking like Basil Brush. I’ve tried leaving it curly, but I end up looking like Susan Boyle. I’ve tried greasing it up with gloopy straightening creams, but I end up looking like Danny Zuko. I honestly think I looked better bald.
Almost a year ago, when I was a long-haired, cat-hating, anti-tattoo kind of girl, I wrote the following. (Ignore the context though please. I was an idiot back then, obviously.)
‘My hair is my everything… My hair is where I carry all of my confidence; the top line in my personal appearance. Anyone who knows me will tell you what a pain in the arse I am when it comes to my hair. Nobody's even allowed to touch it without prior warning, I'm always that conscious of it being nothing less than the best it can be.’
‘My hair is where I carry all of my confidence.’ How astute that was. Because now, with little better than an unruly, furry swimming cap covering my scalp, I’ve got nothing in which I can carry my confidence. I’ve frantically been trying to find something else to trade off. Figure? I wish. Face? Not as long as my eyelashes remain stunted by chemo. Height? Fine until you cripple yourself walking home from the tube in six-inch wedges. So what else is there? People don’t take one look at you and think, ‘Well she’s got a glittering personality.’ And so I’ve settled on an unusual combination of smell (thank you, Calvin Klein) and my handbag (Marc Jacobs is more than worthy of being the carrier of my little-remaining confidence). But, nice as my perfume is and proudly as I carry my tote, they fall pretty short of the mark, no? Personal ads aren’t filled with blokes looking for a woman with musk-scented pheromones and good taste in leather. It’s a damn good job I’m married, and have a husband who appreciates my contempt for my hair and yet always tells me I look ‘cute’. That ought to be enough. But it isn’t.
I’m still conscious of my hair being ‘nothing less than the best it can be’. Overly-conscious. Because, of course, it’s a bloody long way off its best. ‘Have patience,’ said Dad when I whinged about it for the 450,865,986th time this week. The ‘pah’ wouldn’t come out of my mouth. I’ve done nothing but be patient. Patient throughout five months of chemo. Patient throughout six weeks of radiotherapy. Patient about waiting for the first bits of bumfluff to reappear from my balding head. Patient about hanging on for the requisite amount of time before getting it coloured. I’ve paid my dues. Patience can kiss my ass. Because, in all that time of being an oh-so-patient patient, all I’ve been waiting for is a normal life – with normal hair. Actually, I’ve pretty much got the first part. And yes, of course that’s the most important thing. (Lovely locks mean nothing without a healthy body to back them up.) But, dammit, I. Want. My. Hair. Back! ‘No, no, you’re right. Fair enough,’ said Dad, when my eyes bulged out of their sockets at the sound of his suggestion.
Post-treatment, I’ve done everything I can to get my body well. I’ve started being more active, I’ve given myself time out when I need it, I’ve looked after my wounds, I’ve taken all the right pills, I’ve eaten greens and berries like they’re about to be rationed. (I’m currently on a ludicrous pre-Glasto diet regime. Endless fruit and veg + green tea = all kinds of boring, but vital campervan calories to play with.) But what’s the right thing to do for my hair? How can I make that well again?
The simple fact is, it’s making me miserable. It might sound daft, given what I’ve been through, but I shed tears about it regularly. And I’m angry that I do. I’m furious that it’s pissing on my chips at a time when everything else is going right right right. I’m feeling healthier than I have in the best part of a year. I’ve got a happy, hectic summer of fun lined up. I’m going to be Cool Auntie Lisa to Tills’s baby. (Yay Tills and Si!) I’m back working in a job I adore. I’m writing my book, ferfuckssake! I don’t want to be miserable. I want to be relieved and content and as carefree as my hospital schedule allows. I want to bask in the glory of everything finally coming up roses. And I’m really bloody pissed off that it’s something as seemingly trivial as the stuff on my head – rather than in my head – that’s raining on my glorious parade.
My LA-based mate Ant is the one who takes most of the brunt, since she’s the only person who’s been able to understand just how low I’ve been feeling about all of this. Everyone else thinks I’m just being dramatic, batting it off in a ‘how can you be worried about your hair when you’ve had cancer to contend with’ fashion. ‘But this hair is cancer!’ I want to scream. ‘It’s a daily fucking reminder of what it’s done to me!’ But instead I shrug, nodding helplessly to their ‘it’ll grow’ suggestions and ‘but it suits you’ compliments, just as I did when they tried to reassure me that I was ‘nearly there’ when I had two chemo cycles left to endure.
It’s no coincidence, then, that I’ve just booked a trip to visit Ant. She read my mind when I told her about the flights. ‘Have you considered getting extensions while you’re here?’ Have I? Shit, I’ve done nothing but fantasise about having beautiful locks sewn in, swishing my new hair around, having something to play with and smile about and not use as an excuse to avoid socialising with my mates or having my photograph taken. I’m salivating at the thought. Hair extensions are my porn. Ant was talking to Mena Suvari the other day – fabulous friend to the stars that she is – and got onto the subject of extensions. ‘I told her about you,’ she said, ‘And she’s going to give me the number of her stylist.’ So not only could I have my hair extended, but I could have it done by an A-list stylist. Sold.
Or am I? Because throwing a giant, alopecia-shaped spanner in the works is the advice I’ve taken from a number of different sources. ‘It can pull the hair permanently from your head,’ one said. ‘Hair is really weak after chemo, so you can’t risk losing the hair that’s grown back,’ said another. I headed to the usual cancer messageboards for more and discovered, rather comfortingly, that I’m not alone in cursing my regrowth. ‘I just can’t wait any more!’ declared one woman of her impossible-to-manage locks. ‘I thought they would grow out faster than this… I just don’t know how I’m meant to style it,’ said another of her post-chemo frizz. It’s a common problem. Even Kylie arguably looked better at this point than she did a matter of weeks later.
‘You’ll do what you want anyway,’ said Mum, immediately after a lesson in the dangers of hair extensions. ‘Just like you did with the tattoo.’ (I fear that may haunt me for the rest of my life – it's the one time I’ve ever knowingly done something my folks would rather I hadn’t. Frankly it’s the sign of rather a crap rebel that I’ve only started upsetting my folks now I’m pushing 30. Next stop, then: nipple piercing.) ‘But you’re not appreciating just how miserable this is making me,’ I protested, to a repeat of the ‘you’ll do what you want’ mantra. But will I do what I want?
What I want is to have my hair extended. I’ve even been in touch with a specialist hair company to see whether I’m suitable for a new scheme they’re running to provide extensions to confidence-low cancer patients. (Hello, by the way, if you’re reading this. I will return your call soon, I promise. Just as soon as I’ve taken a straw poll in this comments section as to whether I should go ahead.) But should I do it at the risk of losing my hair again? And is that risk really real? Is it worth hanging in there just a bit longer to see if another month’s growth makes a difference? It’s bloody confusing. I’m all tangled up. I just wish I had hair I could say the same for.
I’m pretty embarrassed to have filled so much space with this stuff. The balance of paragraphs is all wrong here. This post shouldn’t be about how unhappy my hair is making me. It should be about how wonderful my new normal life is. How much I love walking into an office three times a week. How I can’t even pretend to be cool about the book stuff because I’m just so completely jump-up-and-down, shout-from-the-rooftops excited about it all. How I’ve become obsessed with the weather forecast and have mentally planned a Glastonbury outfit for every conceivable change in climate. How I love being able to fill my diary with lovely things to look forward to. (Actually, one day I’m going to force that kind of cheerful post on you. Hold onto your stomachs – it’s going to be more feelgood and sickly-sweet than a Disney version of The Sound of Music performed by fluffy kittens. You’ll be begging for a return to my blow-by-blow bowel movements.)
The thing is, if you take my hair out of the equation, life is G-R-E-A-T. In fact, life is so great now that it’s freaking me out a bit. Just as I can’t get over the stupid, stupid hair that’s taking me into my new life, I also can’t get over the utterly brilliant weirdness of not talking about cancer all the time. I feel like I ought to be telling the guy I buy my morning bagel from where I’ve been over the last year (although I’m sure that with the crap hair and all, he probably just thinks I’m a different person altogether – and he might be right). I even sat in a features meeting the other day and, when talk turned to the beauty pages and mentions of hair-straightening treatments, I thought ‘right, here’s my chance to get a cancer mention in’ (as though it were an unspoken elephant in the room) and launched into a wholly unnecessary monologue about how annoyingly crap my chemo curls were – right in the middle of something that should have been normal and cancer-free. Everyone looked nervous and laughed politely. ‘But it looks lovely!’ they said. ‘No it sodding doesn’t,’ I said. ‘It looks like my hair fell out.’ (To her credit, my boss stepped in with, ‘You can’t tell her; she won’t listen.’ I’m pleased she knows me well enough not to bother with the pleasantries I don’t know how to handle.) Cue more polite tittering. Because you can’t roll your eyes and tut at the girl who’s had cancer, can you?
I’m sure there’s an argument here that this continual whingeing about my post-chemo hair is a way of hanging onto cancer in some way, like a weird illness version of Stockholm syndrome. Because, I’ll admit, I’d almost forgotten how to live a life that isn’t dominated by The Bullshit, and the thought of doing something different does, in an odd way, worry me somewhat. But since that’s all a bit deep for a Friday night, I’ll swerve that theory and instead suggest that the issue is more that – at least when my clothes are on – my hair is the one physical thing that remains from my Bullshit experience. It’s my cancer hangover. And in the same way that you want to disappear under a duvet the morning after the night before, there’s still a part of me that wants to do the same every time I wake up, thanks to the shame of my miserable, meantime hairdo. And you know what? If my life weren’t so bloody brilliant otherwise, I just might.