“I need you to cut it all off,” I told my hairdresser.
For a second, he grinned like a child being told they can have all the toys in the store, rather than just the one. Hairdressers relish clients who want a dramatic change instead of the usual trim.
But his smile didn’t last long.
Like all great hairdressers, he’s perceptive and picked up that I said need rather than want and that I wasn’t smiling when I said it.
His hands on my shoulders, with both of us looking into the mirror, I told him why it had to go.
One of the hardest things about chemo is losing your hair.
For most women, it’s such an important part of our identity, that knowing it’s going to be taken from you without your permission is devastating.
I’ve always been a long-hair girl, aside from a short bob while living in London in my early 20’s I’ve worn it in long layers which trailed down my back.
I’ve left it out, put it up, braided it, curled it, bleached it, straightened it and coloured it.
It’s an accessory I’ve taken for granted, assuming it would always be there.
Last year I graduated to the lob, a long bob, which swished just above my shoulders but still long enough that I could play with it.
The first chop was just after the surgery. My breast care nurse was surprised that I was doing it so soon, a month out from my first chemo session, but I was adamant that it had to go.
It was about attempting to wrestle back some semblance of control over a situation where I am completely powerless.
So much about chemo is unknown. I don’t know how I’ll react to the medications, what my side effects will be or how well I’ll recover.
What I do know is that I’ll lose my hair, as much as I don’t want to, so the least I can do is decide when it goes.
I’m grateful my hairdresser took control of the situation. Rather than go all out with a pixie, we went shorter back and sides with long layers on top which I could still curl, style and play with.
It gave me a chance to get used to it my new reflection while still recognising it. I even grew to like having short hair, it took a bit of styling after the first wash, then I didn’t have to do anything to it, apart from some dry shampoo and finger combing, for the next few days.
Hair usually falls out 16 days after the first round of chemo. My first strands came out seven days later. And that was the moment it hit me, shit’s about to get real.
As strange as it sounds, I’d forgotten about the pain of the surgery and the devastation at being diagnosed. It had happened and I’d recovered. I also had minimal side effects after chemo, which lulled me into a false sense of security and helped me hang onto the delusion that I might be spared this.
Even though I knew it was going to happen, I freaked out when it did.
So I booked in for my second chemo crop the next day.
I was, and still am, terrified of washing my hair and finding clumps come away from my scalp. At least this way, there’s less hair to lose.
I still don’t know how I’m going to feel when it happens. I’ve got five days until it does.