Lea Guccione is writer and multimedia specialist based in New York City. Diagnosed at age 21 with Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma, Lea uses writing and visual storytelling to de-mystify the experiences of a cancer patient. As an advocate for health and human
connection, she works with health experts and organizations to share stories on wellness, lifestyle, survivorship and all elements that make us human.
The first hairstyle I tried was a mohawk. Then I upgraded.
Oh yes, I was a chemotherapy patient and my hair slowly, but feverishly, was falling all around me. A moment of silence for vacuums of the world who try their hardest to keep up with the crazy day-to-day of cancer treatment.
I, like many, had hope that my hair wouldn’t fall out. My oncologist says, “There’s a good chance it will thin,” but I deciphered what he meant. Still, maybe this pesky side effect wouldn’t work on me. I mean, everyone’s bodies react differently to the medicine, so I’m sure mine had enough sense to keep its hair on.
Round one went by and nothing. I suspected I might be spared. Then round two came and my hair remained firmly rooted to its place. I walked out of that hospital like a bank robber walks away from a cool, successful heist. It was a miracle.
Not for long.
On a casual walk the next day, the wind blew, and my hair blew away with it. I started laughing and never stopped. This speed at which it separated from my follicles was hilarious. Absolutely no remorse. Not even a heads up. Whatever, I brushed it off. This whole thing is really kind of funny. I mean of all side effects for a medicine to have; maybe headaches or numbness, tingling or even the impairing of your ability to operate heavy machinery, the complete loss of your hair as an almost guaranteed side effect is something you just can’t make up.
If my hair was going to depart from me in such a dramatic way, I was at least going to one-up it and have some fun. The morning quickly came that a complete buzz was needed – there was no salvaging the remaining strands. My friend Jess and I walked into a Hair Cuttery (far from town so no one would see me pulling a Britney Spears) and told the stylist what was needed. It was the stylist to whom I owe a debt of my laughter gratitude.
Looking at her work in front of her, she said to me “you know, I’ve had to do this before for a few people for the same reason. I always wish they would do something fun before shaving it all off.”
That’s when she suggested the Mohawk, and my mischievous side couldn’t have been more thrilled at her idea. I had given it thought previously once I knew my hair was leaving me, though not seriously. But now that I had a stylist who was willing and excited to try it, I was in.
My dad, also a former cancer patient, lost all of his hair twice, and I suppose I gained some of my courage from him. Though he never tried the mohawk (to my knowledge), he did wear a myriad of colorful bandanas, hats and décor just to enjoy that unique in-the-moment-ness of being bald. He kept us laughing, and this undoubtedly removed the natural tension surrounding us and dad as we battled cancer as a family. Looking back, he saw being bald as truly very humorous. Sure, it isn’t ideal, but if you can view it as opportunity to have fun and the fun it will bring you.
My mohawk, sadly, slowly fell out, strand by strand. But for the month and a half of its lifetime, it became my ideal vehicle for comedy. A college senior at the time, I was living on campus and mostly wearing a wig to maintain a sense of normalcy. Knowing I had a mohawk hiding beneath a set of hair, I frequently pulled off my wig to admit that I was going through a punk-rock phase.
Now, this charade may not be for everyone, but if you’re presently in treatment and looking for a good kick, I highly recommend pulling off your wig for the shock effect.
Once completely bald, the blank canvas that was available to me also held too much opportunity to ignore. What does one do? Take a blue eyeliner pencil and sketch in a large blue arrow – I was Aang, the Last Airbender.
This for me is what helped make my experience with cancer something I could simply laugh about and not fear. Laughing helped me uncover the benefits of relaxation and acceptance amidst all of the craziness. Being bald doesn’t have to be sad or regretful. For many of us, it’s a part of life.
Let it be that part of your life that keeps you laughing.