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Not Just the Sick Girl With a Bald Head

Zoë Zenklusen Payne, 42, is an English girl living in Geneva, Switzerland. Zoë was 39 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent chemotherapy, two surgeries and radiotherapy. Currently taking letrozole. When she’s not working at her cliché job at a Private Bank, Zoë enjoys spending time with family and friends. The rest of her time is spent dreaming of the day she can get her much wanted puppy!!!

2015 was always going to be a big year for me. My wedding was planned for August and I was planning to organise something fun for my 40th birthday in September. It ended up being bigger than I could ever have imagined. In January, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. A long year of treatment followed starting with five and half months of 16 chemo sessions, finishing just three weeks before our wedding ensuring that I was just the right amount of tired, and bald, for the big day.

Despite my fatigue, our wedding day was absolutely amazing, except for 30 seconds of pure fear when my wig nearly got ripped off during a raucous jump around to Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Come on Eileen! We squeezed in a quick mini-moon in Rome where my husband had proposed before checking in to the hospital for my lumpectomy.

I had to go back in for a mastectomy a week later, spending my 40th birthday, rather grumpily, in the hospital. I was hiding out in the cafeteria in a total sulk when my family arrived, though my brother performing an indecent version of "Happy Birthday Mr. President" in such a public space soon pulled me out of my funk. Tears followed when I got back to my room and found my dad and step-mum hiding on the balcony having flown up from their home in Tanzania for only two nights to celebrate with me. It wasn’t the celebration I’d had in mind, but I was allowed out for a nice dinner. I finished off the year with five weeks of radiotherapy.

I had a really hard time with losing my hair. I never wanted more than the bare minimum taken off when I went for my very infrequent trims and with the wedding approaching, my hair was longer than ever as I pored over bridal hairstyles looking for the perfect look to compliment my dress.

Before this experience I was a fairly private person so I really hated being seen without my head covered because losing your hair advertises that something is very wrong with you. I would however, go wig or scarf free behind closed doors with my nearest and dearest. It was hard but of course I got used to it.

Five of my oldest and closest friends live in various parts of the UK and we make a point of getting together at least once a year. 2015’s reunion was scheduled for the end of March. I was in the process of receiving the first of two types of chemotherapy which was the one that knocked me around the most and I was of course, also bald. I was feeling horrendous physically and so self-conscious about my bald head. But I desperately didn’t want to miss out on the weekend with the girls, even if it meant traveling from Geneva to Cardiff when feeling so terrible. I was never one to want to miss out on the party though. So I went.

I will always be pleased that I did. It was with some trepidation I removed the wig once I arrived and decided not to wear the scarf. And these girls, these wonderful, beautiful girls, who I love so very much, remarked that I had the right shaped head for being bald and then the subject changed and the weekend continued like any other of the reunions with an impromptu disco in the dining room – standard really.

The following night, whilst getting glammed up for a hen night they surprised me with, I was sharing a mirror with one of them. She was complaining that her hair looked a bit limp, turned to me and asked if I had any dry shampoo. I responded that I was the last person that was going to have any. And then we laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. Tears were streaming down our faces. I couldn’t believe my ears the following day when she asked me if I had a hair dryer, I simply responded, are you kidding me???? And then we howled with laughter some more.

My husband, (who luckily for me has a thing for Lieutenant Llia, the bald character in Star Trek), my family, my friends – they still saw me, not as the sick girl with a bald head. And I love them all dearly for it.

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