Baring it All
Bald is Beautiful - At Grace Jones Movie Promo
There is just no hiding the fact that I have cancer anymore. There's no hiding if you don't have hair - especially if you are a woman. You lose your hair and your eyebrows and your eyelashes and you look like David Bowie in Man Who Fell To Earth but not as cool. No one will think this is a fashion statement or a choice. There's no disguising it.
It's winter and it's cold and I really do like to have my head covered for that reason alone. I gave away my awesome faux fur hat to a twenty-something cancer survivor, and my Coney Island High knit cap to a friend because I was never going to wear it, right? Now to acquire some "new favorites". I have some amazing scarves I got as gifts, some I stole from my mom, a couple of knit caps, some handmade (thanks Joey and Stephanie) and a bunch of other ones like "Fuck Cancer" (Thanks Laura!). I am also fortunate to have a lovely human hair wig (Thanks, Lindsay!) that is more like a fashion accessory than a disguise. I declined the "free wig" program for someone who is a. more needy and b. someone who cares.
I may have successfully magpied some headgear, but I am also LAZY. I don't feel like dressing my head just to make a trip to the Dunkin' Donuts down the street. People look at me, not sure if it's okay, as I almost forgot what I look like - I have not had my caffeine yet. One guy asks if I am in treatment and and I say yes. He tells me about his mom who is a survivor. He's trying to be encouraging, and let me know everything is going to be okay. I also feel he wants to share his story as much as help me. I thank him and get my coffee and think, "Wow, who knew that having no hair at all was also letting your freak flag fly!", to steal a phrase from Crosby, Stills & Nash. I'm a walking ad for cancer.
At least a bald head fits somewhere into the counter-culture lifestyle I have gravitated to since the early 80s. I had a flat top in my senior year of high school that was close. There was a bald woman Star Trek movie character who got a lot of media attention. Still, being a musician, your hair is a huge part of your image and can even define a genre of music, from Hair Metal to Skinhead. Ziggy Stardust made the mullet fashionable. I had a "Human League" haircut, which 30 years later was called "emo". All the neo power pop kids have bongos or shags. Even in the 60s, long hair was the "freak flag", and a badge of belonging in a group of social misfits. It's how you found your tribe and still do.
My first few gigs without hair I still fit in because I wore a wig, which is standard clubwear, so no funny looks there. Then summer came and wearing a wig was like wrapping my skull in plastic. I was going to a record release party in New York City and thought, "Screw it." I didn't feel like putting on makeup or anything and figured this was a test. If my friends weren't weirded out by the mangey egg pate, then they were true friends. And who cares what you look like in NYC. I've seen men in a club in a diaper, which is ho hum compared to a bald woman. I would have other badges of rockness, like my T-shirt. Oh, yeah, I guess the only thing I would have is my T-shirt. Better pick a good one.
Aside from my band, which I don't think I have a T-Shirt of, all I have is my former club, Coney Island High. Just as people used to ID me from my collection of pink cowboy hats, I'll wear the T shirt as my badge of belonging, my ID card, my club membership. It's ironic that it's 20 years gone at this point so maybe only the oldsters will recognize it, if not me. This will always be my tribe, probably to an embarrassing age when I'm in a wheelchair mosh pit or something. I'm certainly not going to wear any kind of pink ribbon merchandise. The whole "breast cancer awareness" campaign and the millions if not billions that go into "awareness" makes me crazy. Everyone is aware of breast cancer. Everyone including nice man in Dunkin' Donuts knows someone with breast cancer. DO SOMETHING about it and funnel that money into treatment where women have gone into bankruptcy or died because they could not afford treatment. Shove your T-shirt up your ass.
I made it to the gig and felt a little self-conscious at first, this being my first time out with the cool kids with my not-so-cool hair don't, not of my choosing. Slowly, as I chat and mingle, talk to friends and band-members, listen to music and people watch, all of that melts away and it doesn't seem to matter anymore. I vascillate between wanting to fit in and being proud of being an outsider. If they don't like it they can lump it. Fuck it.
I also realized that I took a break from the band, but my treatment does not stop me from playing at all. I want to feel normal. I had no idea what to expect, but after 12 straight weeks of Taxol, I feel pretty good. I have some aches and pains. I got some stuff imported from Colorado to help with the treatment and aches and pains (Thank you, Kirk) and that makes me feel kinda wonky, so only before bed (I learned that the hard way). I want to challenge myself to do more.
They say keep moving, 20 minutes of exercise a day. UGH. I hate working out, but I'm worried I'm going to lose muscle strength. I hate running, but it's easy and free to put on trainers and run out the door. My friend Monica always does these charity runs, and she had Stage 3 breast cancer before me. I thought, "Don't be such a wimp and push yourself out of your comfort zone!". The first 5K was for St. Patrick's Day , so we got dressed up and there was a Guinness waiting at the end for me. Then there was the benefit run for Sparrow's Nest, which is like meals-on-wheels for cancer patients. Then the Cider Run, where there was cider at the end that I could drink because my Taxol was done. Cider and Herceptin get along just fine. I will probably never run again after all of this, but to run a 5K during chemo, even if I walk half of it, is something I need to do to prove that everything will be okay. That I will get through this. That there is some kind of community of cancer in addition to the bald head or the pink ribbon. Maybe my bald head is my badge for now. I should work it, because this is all temporary. Just as I may never do another 5K when this is all over, I'll never be bald again, either. I need to acknowledge it for what it is in the present moment - a symbol of my struggle, which will be a memory soon enough.