When you think of cancer patients, it’s pretty standard to correlate them and baldness. After the initial shock and despair had settled from hearing Elena’s diagnosis, the hair loss was a huge obstacle and touchy subject for me. Both of my girls were born with full heads of the perfect chocolate brown hair. I had never put a pair of scissors to Elena’s head prior to her starting chemotherapy. Nor did I have any intention to for some time. Obviously, in the grand scheme of things, hair loss is temporary and means shit when compared to the value of my daughter’s life. And yet, it still bothers me…every damn day.
When I first heard the word “cancer” and “chemo” I swore that the second Elena’s hair started falling out, I would shave it off. I wanted to spare myself and my entire family the grief of slowly watching her lose her beautiful locks. I did, however give her her very first haircut, and a damn good one at that, just 2 days prior to her hair starting to fall out. It looked so cute and so chic on this tiny toddler. And trust me when I tell you, I am NO hair stylist. But just days later, when the hair started coming out in clumps, I couldn’t bring myself to shave it. I wouldn’t even take my best friend up on the offer of her doing it for me that day. That didn’t last long though, as the following day brought on even more hair loss. Elena was pulling pieces out of her mouth as she tried to eat, it was covering high hair and her crib sheet and the bald spot on the front of her head was serving as an ominous sign of the reality soon to be. It was time.
In typical Elena fashion, she screamed through the entire process, though more so due to the fact that she had to be held still than the fact that it hurt (it didn’t) or that she cared or even understood what was happening. I cried. Duh. I went to Facebook, and stalked the crap out of the picture Kim had posted to read everyone’s uplifting and encouraging comments. The next several days, I posted picture after picture of “bald is beautiful” propaganda in hopes to lift my spirits. Not that I don’t think Elena is beautiful without hair. She is. She is so stinking cute it should be illegal. So what’s the big deal? She isn’t at an age that she has to go to school and hear her peers whisper behind her back. She really doesn’t even notice, for the most part and when she does, it’s a pat on the head and an “uh-ohhhhh, Mama,” followed by a giggle or two.
For me though, it serves as a constant reminder of the cancer that she’s fighting. It represents all of the loss she has and will experience because of cancer. It’s the hammer straight into the nail that, even on her good days (which are most days thus far) she’s sick. The initial shock and upset are gone, as we have all become accustomed to Elena’s new look. Annalise even says periodically how cute Elena looks without hair. And I smile because its true. Yet the other day, as I’m FINALLY getting around to uploading pictures from my phone to the computer in an effort to order prints for the first time since last Christmas, looking back at the pictures of Elena with hair brings such a sadness to my heart. I look at the memories created prior to her diagnosis and long for the days when I stressed over bills and finances and being pissed at my husband for ridiculous shit like having to repeat myself 100 times or having to tell Annalise for the umpteenth time to put her shoes away instead of walking out of them when she steps foot in the house, leaving them smack in the middle of the floor, perfectly positioned to break an ankle.
It’s just hair, I know. And it will all grow back eventually. Elena is beautiful with or without it. In a lot of ways, this is the perfect age to not have hair. Bath time and cleaning up after meals are worlds easier when you don’t have to pick macaroni and cheese out of each strand. But none of that makes the reality of knowing why she is bald any easier. It hurts. I hate it.
I asked Elena, about a week after her hair was all gone, “Elena, where is your hair?” She put her hands to her head and as nonchalantly as possible shrugs “I don’t know,” and proceeded on with her day. It amazes me that before she is even two years old she can teach me some of the most profound lessons I will ever learn, and in the easiest most carefree manner.