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I ordered my wigs before I lost my hair, with the attitude that it would be fun to try something new.  With different styles and colors, I could choose a different wig for whatever mood I was in that day.  Who knows, maybe even after cancer there may be an occasion where I want to be a sultry flaming red head.   

ImageI ordered three different wigs, two cheaper ones, a red one named Sugar Rush and brunette one named Cosabella and a more expensive blonde wig called the Scene Stealer.  I even considered ordering a blue one in a bobbed hairstyle just for fun called the Go, Go Girl.

ImageBut wearing them out in public made me feel as though I was dressing up for Halloween.  It was just as if I was wearing a rainbow colored clown wig or an Orphan Annie wig.  And physically it felt like I was wearing a mop on my head, hot, and itchy and after chemo my hair literally hurt for several days just before more of it fell out.

A few days after shaving my head we made a trip to Montana give a Precision Planting clinic.  It was my first trip off the ranch to be seen by the rest of the world without my hair and I was so excited about the opportunity the trip gave me to reconnect with one of my best friends. 

Our first night in Billings we were to have dinner with clients and I decided to don the brunette Cosabella for the occasion.  I was so uncomfortable in it that I would fidget with it creating tangles in its nylon threads and had to get up and use the restroom several times to make sure it hadn’t slipped out of place or to make sure it didn’t look like I was wearing a wig.  Each time I looked in the mirror I wondered, “Who is this person?”  I was so used to seeing the same girl staring back at me each day and it was still a shock to not recognize myself.  I ended up leaving the dinner early to go back to my hotel room with my confidence shot.

ImageTo me my hair had been a defining feature, something I considered central to my identity and a symbol of femininity that was important to me working in a career field with mostly men.  And it was finally one of the few things about my looks that I liked and was confident about. Loosing my hair was a reminder that my cancer was real and my otherwise very healthy body was sick.

Not to mention I have this huge scar across my scalp from “inappropriately” playing on the beach in California.  Normally I am proud of my scars, to me they are proof that I have taken a risk, taken a chance to fully live life, even if it at the time it was a stupid thing to do.  But they certainly weren’t beauty marks.

ImageI purchased the wigs or ‘cranial prosthesis’ so that I wouldn’t be cancer identified because often cancer patients are made to feel it’s socially inappropriate to be a cancer patient.  You certainly don’t see many out and about donning a bald head.  We are expected to file away the reality of the situation  in some far-off emotional safe so that others can feel comfortable. 

When you tell people you have cancer everyone who loves you is freaked out.  Friendships shift.  Family roles and dynamics change.  You find out pretty quickly who you can really count on and who you can’t.  True colors begin to appear like a neon sign.

It has been extremely interesting to me to see how others react to the news.

People’s body language reveals a lot about our society’s preconceived prejudices about cancer.  You’re often treated like you have a scarlet letter C pinned to your chest. 

I was surprised by how many people needed me to make them feel better about my cancer.  I found myself comforting friends and loved ones as they processed my news which has been a good lesson to me in setting boundaries. 

For one family member it has brought up unresolved issues from their cancer treatment that often get projected onto me.  I read in one of my cancer books that “cancer patients go through the same post-traumatic stress disorder as soldiers or rape victims.  Cancer as trauma is multifaceted, includes multiple events that can cause distress, and like combat, is often characterized by extended duration with a potential for recurrence and a varying immediacy of life-threat. (Smith 1999)”

Yet, no two cancers are the same, and neither are the experiences that surround them or how we each as individuals choose to deal with them.

The worst is when others made my cancer all about themselves.  I wonder sometimes at the human urge to attack the vulnerable in order to make themselves feel better about themselves.  These people like to decide who deserves their own pain, who is owed their own suffering and are just emotional vampires.

Cancer is not a punishment because of my previous wild and crazy ways.  It’s not a disgrace.  It isn’t a curse passed down through generations.  There is nothing taboo about it and it certainly isn’t contagious.

Then there are those who I know have good intentions but come across as patronizingly pitying you. Don’t say things like oh, you poor thing.  Don’t pity me or tell me you know how I feel.  I am not a victim I am a survivor and I certainly don’t pity myself and you have no clue how I feel, nor do I expect you to. 

One of my greatest supporters has been my 18 year-old son.  When I spoke to him about shaving my head he said, “I have no doubt mom, that you of all people can rock your bald head.”  He never fails to remind me of who I truly am!

So day two of our Montana trip on our way to Ft. Benton, I made sure we stopped at one of my favorite western wear stores in Harrlowton, Ray’s.  There I purchased a new silk wild rag and a new raspberry Stormy Cromer, determined to embrace my chemo baldness with a sense of adventure and pride, cowgirl style.  And in some small way it was an empowering choice to reinvent myself.  It was one small thing I could do to prove to myself that cancer wouldn’t consume my life and hold me back.

ImageI was shocked by the overwhelmingly positive response I got that night wearing the new wild rag, especially since I had been so consumed with anxiety and fear about losing my hair in the first place.  I was told by several people that night I was beautiful.  I was even hit on, and continue to get hit on every time we have gone out since, leading me to believe that our vulnerabilities and imperfections makes us even more approachable, more human.  I am beginning to learn that the most beautiful asset a woman can posses isn’t her hair, her breasts, or curvy figure, it’s truly her imperfections that make her unique.

ImageI have also learned that people will take your lead.  Most people take their cues from you.  When I walk into a room thinking yes, I have cancer, I’m a survivor and I’m fabulous, others have a tendency to treat me that way too.  If I deal with it well, so will they.  Which is pretty powerful and applicable to every other area of my life cancer or not.

It has also a powerful reinforcement about the importance of authenticity.

I’m not interested in engaging with the rest of the world or connecting with others on a superficial level.  Each of us wants and needs to be seen for our uniqueness, for our unique skills and talents as well as our pains and lessons learned and the expansive capacity we have for experiencing beauty and joy. 

Setting aside our roles, masks of personality and false fronts of always being okay, being emotionally congruent, genuine and telling the truth are major components of authenticity and integrity.

The greatest gift we can bring to any relationship is being just who we are.  Giving ourselves permission to just be who we are can also have a healing influence on our relationships.  When we relax and be ourselves, people often feel much better around us than when we are rigid, nervous, repressed and pretending to be something we aren’t.  Who we are is all we can be, it’s who we were intended to be, and has always been more than good enough!

I think there comes a time in everyone’s lives when it is more painful to not be yourself than it is to be fully yourself.  It is important that we become willing and ready to take the risk of being authentic, because in order to continue to grow and live with ourselves we realize we must liberate ourselves.  We have to stop allowing ourselves to be so controlled by others, their opinions and expectations and be true to ourselves, regardless of their reactions.

The relationships that end, would have ended anyway, the relationships that don’t are nurtured by our authenticity, and it is these people who love and respect us more for taking the risk of being who we truly are and this is where real connection and intimacy begin and where we find relationships that truly work.

While scary at times, it truly is empowering to feel what you feel, say what you want, be firm about your beliefs, and value what you need – to own your power to be fully yourself.

While I have yet to fully embrace my new Styrofoam headed life, I have certainly learned some valuable lessons and am truly coming into my own in the process.  Everything in life is a process.  Change takes time as well as kindness and self-compassion.  And who knows Halloween is just around the corner.  I’m thinking of going as Lady Godiva if I have to wear a wig.  Unfortunately in this neck of the woods they won’t let me ride my horse through the bar.