People have been getting in touch because I've posted here and there (mostly there) about losing my hair to chemotherapy. They think I'm overly distressed by this development, that I'm sitting around mourning my lost... I don't know, virility or something and that I need some encouragement.
To this end, some have posted that they like the "new" look I'm spouting (as if it were a conscious decision), that "bald is in," and that my looks, such as they were, have not been damaged. I think they're missing the point.
First of all, I respond to virtually any stimulus verbally. Once after my son was born (more than 27 years ago) I overheard my wife having a phone conversation with a friend who had also recently given birth and they were discussing some of the challenges (no sleep, for example) of being a new parent. At one point it was clear her friend asked how I was coping with the situation. "The way he always does," my wife told her. "He's making jokes about it."
But the trauma here is blunted by a couple of things: 1. It's a product of saving my life, which is always a priority for me. The tumors in my lymph nodes have clearly shrunk by a very large factor and will continue to do so. Losing one's hair is a small price to pay for not dying. 2. My hair will grow back, assumedly beginning this summer, when I am no longer on chemo.
Still, there is some emotional fallout. But it's not about whether I think the Lex Luthor look is "in" or not and it's not about whether I like or don't like the way I look now. That's beside the point. Honestly, I have no opinion on the hairless look. I couldn't tell you whether it works for me or not, and I really don't care. It's temporary and secondary and I haven't given it much thought. You can believe that or not, but it's true.
The times when I do feel some pangs are when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Most of the time during the average day I'm wearing a very warm hat a friend sent from his post in the arctic. That's because, oddly, one's head gets cold when there's no hair there to insulate it and it's winter in the mid-Atlantic region (where, apparently, we are about to be socked with a major snowstorm on Tuesday and please don't get in touch with me because I'll be busy being a curmudgeon). The hat is not for fashion purposes; it's because my head is cold, particularly the back part just above my neck.
When I do see myself in reflection these days, there is that gasp, that moment of recollection. Yes, it's emotional and yes, it's upsetting. Because here's the thing: When I look in the mirror, that guy I see looking back just isn't me. And that is a sock to the gut for sure.
I've written here before about the amount to which my hair has sort of helped define my personality all my life. And that is part of the pathology here. Yes, I've identified myself (and had others identify me) as "the guy with the curly hair" enough times to be jarred when I see that other person in the mirror--the one with the curly scalp, I guess--on a daily basis.
But it's not about vanity. I've never had enough raw material to be vain about. It's about expectation. You look at yourself in the mirror enough times for enough years and you have an anticipated outcome. When that's not what you get, it can be a little surprising, and not necessarily in a good way.
Of course, there's another factor: Every glance at what I look like now is a stark visual reminder that I am ill. I'm very lucky in that I really don't feel like I'm sick very much at all and seeing what the cure has done to me brings me back to that reality. It's not something I revel in remembering. So there's that to it as well.
The hair will grow back (and please, don't tell me about your cousin whose hair grew back straight, or curly, or black, or chartreuse, or in plant form). Mine will grow back at the rate and in the form that it chooses to grow back. And I won't have cancer anymore. That's a fine tradeoff. I'm happy to make it.
But I will be glad to see someone I recognize when I'm brushing my teeth again.
Baseball season begins in 20 days.