My name is Tina Conrad and I was diagnosed at age 37 with Stage 3A Breast Cancer in August 2013. One of my biggest fears was definitely to lose my hair. One of the hardest parts of my cancer journey was losing my hair. I think it has to do with looking like the poster child of cancer. You know the one with no hair, no eyebrows, and pale skin. Society also places a LOT of emphasis on hair. Currently living in Fort Wayne, Indiana, you can find my website and podcast on my site.
Women notice EVERYTHING about other women’s hair. We get one inch cut off the ends, highlights or lowlights, straighten it up vs. beachy waves and chances are good another female will take notice. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just a girl thing. We take note of anything with hair. Most of us grew up with Barbies, dolls, and My Little Ponies and spent hours grooming their hair, braiding their hair and sometimes in acts of defiance and rebellion, cutting their hair. Our mothers chastised us if we gave our dolls a haircut and taught us how to brush and take care of our own hair.
Then, there are the guys. Many only notice if you cut a foot of hair off, but most will tell you- DON’T CUT YOUR HAIR! There are definite social pressures to have long beautiful hair. Anything different is a crime or a travesty. In some ways for me, it was actually very freeing to shave my head. I controlled the environment, and I had it shaved at a Sports Clip before it fell out. I felt a femininity in my shaved head that I never thought was possible. I felt beautiful and strong, but I sure did miss my long hair. It had been my identity for so long. I had this mental picture of myself, from my wedding photo, from my work badge and yet, I looked in the mirror confused at the image staring back at me. I didn’t feel like “me” anymore.
One weekend, my friends were donating their hair to a cancer organization, and I came across a sign in the window that said “Hair Model wanted." It made me laugh to see the stark contrast of my bald head against the blaring red and white sign. Maybe my career as a hair model was on hold, but I still could have fun. I could still have a sense of humor. I could still be me!
Like anyone trying to grow out their hair, there were many stages of awkwardness (mullet, moppy top, and a whole lot of 70’s and 80’s child star comparisons), but looking back I have to say that I loved them all. I was just so ecstatic to have my hair back. It had slightly more curl, but not crazy, more of a wave/body. I invested in colorful headbands and bobby pins and loved finding a new way to style and have fun with it.
My friend and I devised a game plan of holding off on haircuts, as we felt there is always a conspiracy of hair stylists to not let you grow it out. All kidding aside, I saved a lot of money on hair products and cuts. I tried a hair highlight kit to make my pixie do blonder and rock it out like Charlize Theron, but in all honesty, it took nearly a year for my hair to take the blonde, for it to be more like my hair of old. The first ponytail was an event worthy of a celebration and I have seen many other pink sisters celebrating the ponytail.
Five years after my cancer diagnosis, I have started a Podcast, called DJ Breast Cancer and there is an entire episode dedicated to hair, “Rock Yo Bald Self." I want other cancer warriors to know that they are not alone and they are beautiful!