Friday, 5 June 2009

The long and short of it.

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.


Anonymous said...

Do it! Why wouldn't you - surely after everything else you've been through this is a very worthy calculated risk. I'm sure Mena Suvari wouldn't risk baldness. I think the risk of losing your hair thing is a myth perpetuated by dodgy hairdressers! Looking forward to the pics xx

Anonymous said...

Swanky drinks in swankier bars and beauty treatments with the wonderful Ant. Lucky, lucky you. I'll just stay here sober and fat then.

For what it's worth, your hair seems dead strong to me - I think it might be a good idea - particularly if you can use Ant's contacts to get someone fab who only uses real hair from princesses or something. I say yes. (Sorry Mrs Mac.) xx

notquiteginger said...

if it will make you feel better, then there's no question. DO IT. hell you deserve it. There's risks to everything in life, but if how you look is making you feel miserable then you have every right to do something about it, risk or no risk. Good luck x

Antonia said...

Well now I've been asking everybody about extensions. Literally everybody. I spoke to one girl yesterday who's had them for years and she said it's fine if you have them for one or two cycles, another who coaxed a post-chemo girl through nine months of regrowth with extensions and promised me that it was all in the treating them with care that kept everything on track. Another guy promised me he'd look carefully at your hair and not go ahead if he thought it would be any risk. Mena's woman said the same. All had put extensions on post-chemo hair. So lets see what the specialists you've contacted say and go from there.
Ok so the part about being a different person to the bagel man was such a brilliantly written sentence that it did me in a bit. Also, I am 100% able to roll me eyes at you old friend so never fear. Am so excited to see you it's ridiculous xxxxxxxxx

Anonymous said...

Forgive me coming over all shrink-like, but are you sure it's about either the hair or the cancer?

Just as an experiment, you could try walking down the road like a woman who has a book deal. I reckon when you're feeling confident it shows in your walk more than it ever could in your hair. (I've never seen your walk or your hair, I'm generalising, but all the people worth knowing will be more attracted by your confident "hey, world, I have a book deal" manner or even your "hey world, I'm a great person having quite a nice life at the moment, thanks" manner than they would by dream hair anyway, assuming such a thing exists. Oh, and fwiw I thought Kylie looked great in both photos.)

In case it's not obvious, I'm completely unqualified to give any advice on anything, just stating an opinion which isn't the one you asked for anyway. I should probably fuck off and mind my own business.

Weeza said...

At the risk of sounding like a heartless I'm going to give you my opinion. And I know it's none of my business, but I love you and so want to say something.

I'm not trying to make you not do anything (I know your Mum's right!), just to say my bit...and feel free to ignore me or tell me to fuck off, you know I won't take offence.

When your hair fell out, you got a wig. You thought you would feel the same way about it that you did about your own hair. You hated it - and understandably so.

Once your hair started to grow back, you went for a brand new you - and hated it. And in an ideal word, you'd have your hair back. Well, in an ideal world, you'd never have got cancer, and we wouldn't be talking about any of this.

There's part of me that can't help feeling that, no matter who the stylist, nor how much money you throw at it, you're just not going to be happy until it's YOUR long hair that you're fiddling with.

I'm not trying to piss on your fireworks, really I'm not, and I'm probably nowhere near as clued up about hair extensions etc. as you are. It's just my opinion, and I'm only voicing it because I love you, OK?

Keep us posted on whatever you decide - I think the barnet bulletin should continue as long as the blog does x

lilianavonk said...

This may not make sense to many guys (and perhaps even some gals), but IMO, it's part of our Girlyworld Contract to define ourselves by our hair, and thus I have but two words to say to you, my friend: NOTHING VENTURED.

If you don't try extensions, you'll always wonder, "What if...?!" And what's the worst that could happen? Your hair could fall out again? Shit, you've already coped with that magnificently (I know, it probably doesn't seem so on your end, but trust me, your ability to kick ass and take names when so many others woulda just laid [lain?] down and let the Bullshit completely erode their existences speaks volumes).

Cos after all, if you do manage to emerge from this with some facsimile of your former long, lovely locks, wouldn't that be yet another great way of waving a big ole whompin' shut-up stick in the face of everything you've had to go through in the past year?

And hence three more words: GO FOR IT. You deserve no less...if not considerably more. :)

Dad said...

Doof, there is a time for me to shut up and a time for me to speak.
I'm sorry but I have to speak on this one because if we get it wrong you will have bald patches forever.There will be no way back!
Weeza's comments were spot on, who is to say you will like your extensions, I would bet money after a short period of time you wouldn't.
The roots of your hair are young is it worth the risk of stressing them with hair extensions?
If you want to consider this further please take medical advice and not advice from someone whose only motive is taking money from you.
Sorry but I had to say it, love you xxxx.

Anonymous said...

Hi :) Lost all my lovely long hair thanks to chemo aswell and its been growing back for about 4 months now. I hate it! I've tried everything to get myself to like it! Dyed it 5 times now! I've considered extensions aswell but I know that deep down I'm not gonna be 100% happy with it untill it's back to the way it was pre-cancer soo I'm just going to see it through and wait until my old hair returns. I just can't believe how slow hair grows! It takes the piss really doesnt it?! All I want is a bloody fringe which I don't think is much to ask haha! If extensions are what u want and your willing to take the risk then I'd say go for it! If you decide not to, then my hairdresser recommended this 'label m matte paste' as a styling product and I honestly couldn't live without it... it actually controls the furry crap on my head and makes it quite presentable (and dare I say rather cool!). Looks like victoria beckham's did when she had it short. Just thought I'd recommend it to you! It may not make your hair look as beautiful as extensions would but it's a safer alternative :) Take care x x

Unknown said...

Like what Weeza had to say. consider that you might like the extensions any better than you liked the wig. Plus, this IS cancer hangover. So, yes, it's about hair, and no. it's not really about hair. It's about wanting to turn the clock back and extensions, no matter how pricey or done by whom, are not going to do that. The new normal has to be the NEW normal and that means the universe just makes you wait for it. It sucks but there it is. As badly as yo hate it, give your own hair time to grow. Because it isn't about extensions. It's about hiding from cancer and sorry - you don't get to do that.

Did not mean to sound so blunt. Rally do care but each person finds one thing to focus on afterwards and take out all the frustration. you picked your hair.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, this is a difficult one! I have much sympathy with you: my hair has always been my OBSESSION and - here's a confession! - I can't even do it myself! So I have a totally co-dependent relationship with my hairdresser, much like I did with fags until I gave them up e.g. can I go on holiday on the 24th when said hairdresser isn't working that morning and more neurotic nonsense like that. And now I'm going bald. Yeah, really: male pattern baldness, going thinner and thinner on top, at the moment well managed by the (you're beginning to understand the relationship, yes?!) aforementioned hairdresser and various expensive potions, but there to stay for ever - and get gradually worse. So I know what it's like to think about your hair ALL THE TIME and, however pretty the clothes you're wearing, however much fun you're having, however much you're affirmed by the ones you love, things just....aren't right because of your hair. Believe me, I've done some research too. Have you googled Lucinda Ellery??? Supposedly the best person to talk to about extensions. But, to be honest,after much thought I haven't and won't go that route. That's just me though - call her and talk it through! Good luck - you're amazing. xx

Joyce said...

As somebody who has always been defined by their hair and not always for the right reasons!(my hair defies all the rules of gravity, will frizz out at the first hint of rain and is loosing the battle against the ravages of time to stay red)I can totally understand where you are coming from. Leaving the cancer issues aside for one moment (I know, easier said than done) why the hell shouldn't you feel pissed that your hair isn't growing back the way you thought it would but do you honestly think that extensions will be the answer? The only real person I've known to have them (real as opposed to a celeb)was a colleague who after only a few weeks 'lost' so many of them we were seriously worried that she would end up bald if she didn't have them removed. I'm not going to tell you that you should look for the beauty within or any other trite homily, just next time you feel the need to look in the mirror at your unruly locks, look instead in the eyes of those that love you and see what they see - a young beautiful woman with everything to live for - don't let your hair define what you are, you are too strong a woman for that xx

Angela Phillips said...

I agree with your Dad. Parents are often wiser than you realise. You probably need something to be angry with. Shouting at your hair is giving you something to focus on. Hating it is another way of hating all the crap you have been through in the past year. You will almost certainly hate extensions too because its your way of dealing with anger and grief. There is a useful (but misguided) old socialist slogan: 'don't mourn, organise.' That is what you are trying to do. You are trying to organise yourself out of your mourning and it won't work. Mourning has a path of its own and whatever you do you will have to go with it. Probably best to give your poor hair a break. Its doing its best in the circumstances. x

Anonymous said...

I have the guilts about this. After reading what Weeza said, and Mr Mac, and speaking to L, I now realise I was blindly cheerleading without really thinking this through. It really might not be the best idea. And you look so pretty now with your lovely re-grown hair, you really don't need it. Honest.


Anonymous said...

I'm feeling guilty too. Got a bit caught up in the go girl, spice world, you can do anything you want ethic without really reading what you had written. I'm sure you are far too bright to listen to such twaddle. Take care xxx

Freudus said...

Sorry to add my kazoo to the symphony, but I'm with the nays. Sounds a lot of long-term risk to take for little or no guaranteed short-term benefit. Plus I think you look ace, even if you don't agree.

Much love xxx

Miss Leaky said...

Soz bird but Weeza and your Dad are absolutely right about this - deep down I think you know it too. And for what it's worth [and I know that ain't a lot in light of your last post] you look effing fabulous in your facebook pictures, seriously, no extensions needed there. So it's a no from me.

Love you long time xx

Anonymous said...

What about playing with colors instead of lenght? And you could change it very often.

My hairdresser had the same problem, and got bright orange hair - great!

Anonymous said...

Have a look at Rebekah Gibbs page, she had breast cancer and finished her chemo last yaer some time. She has just had some Racoon extensions put in and looks fab. I'm trying to grow my hair currently after chemo and I look like a bloody lego man at the moment so I know how you feel. x