My Mom lost her hair to cancer

by Nota Vakola

My mom lost her hair to cancer - Photo of woman with bald head looking intently at camera. Her blue-gray eyes seem to suggest worry. She is wearing a black tank although we can only see her head and shoulders. She is in front of an electric blue background.
Caption:

I picked up the hair clippers, turned them on, and tenderly removed all of my mother's hair. My mother sat there in silence until all her hair was gone. Then, when it was all done, I held my mother as she sobbed into my arms.

Credit:

©michaelcourtney / Adobe Stock

Modern society has this strange rule.

Women, in particular, are not supposed to have any hair whatsoever, except on their head.

Now, I’m not going to go into a rant about how the whole thing is – pardon my language – bull-crap. Okay. Maybe just a little rant.

Body hair removal is painful, time-consuming and quite frankly, a very boring exercise. And the very fact we have been so conditioned to perceive it as normal should be questioned. But that’s not why we are here today.

Though strides have been made in recent years, and women sport all kinds of hair lengths and styles, one fact that remains. The first thing that comes to mind when someone sees a bald woman is… say it with me now:

C A N C E R ! gasps


Granted, some women chose to shave their heads as a statement of self-empowerment, but you get my point.

Also, a special shout-out to Emma Gonzalez, who is an all-around badass girl. In relation to her buzz cut, she told Vogue:

“People asked me ‘Are you taking a feminist stand?’ No, I wasn’t. It’s Florida. Hair is just an extra sweater I’m forced to wear.”

Amen to that, sister.

Don’t concern yourself with hair

When I was growing up, my mother was never the type to get her hair done every week. Nor did she get upset if the hairdresser chopped off more length than she wanted. In fact, not counting a casual remark or two, we rarely spoke of our hair. Except maybe to complain about how much of it we both had, and what a hassle it was.

That trend continued on into my adulthood. We have this saying in Greek, which roughly translates to “Don’t concern yourself with hair.” Where ‘hair’ is used to signify something unimportant; something that you should not waste your time on.

I have never been a girly girl, and so the hair on my head has never been a big deal in my life. I always thought, at least in part, I had gotten this perspective from my mom. And then she got cancer.

Besides our world getting turned upside down, another shocking revelation came to light: my mother DOES actually care about hair. A LOT!

Mum losing hair is the last thing on my mind

Now, let me tell you, as her daughter, my mother losing her hair due to her cancer treatment was the last thing on my mind. Precisely because in our family, we had never been obsessed with how our hair looked. But also, because there are a lot scarier chemo related side-effects to worry about.

Also, you know, CANCER, man.

But none the less, “Will my hair fall out?” was one of the first questions she asked the doctor. And the first time she got teary was when she saw bald women walking through the oncology ward that first day. I was so confused!

Throughout my mother’s diagnosis and current treatment, I have done my best to think before I speak. I want to be respectful and considerate, and not say anything that will upset her. Because this is her battle, and the hard time I might be having, is nothing compared to hers. But the first time she got upset about her hair, it seemed so out of character that I just stared at her and laughed uncomfortably.

“It’s just hair, mom,” I said apprehensively, actually thinking she must be joking.

According to studies, Caucasian females’ hair grows an average of 5 inches a year. Which means that within 12 months of stopping chemo, she’d be sporting a chic pixie cut. And another 12 months after that, her hair would be back to the usual length she wore it in.

How my mom lost her hair to cancer

And then the fateful day came. The day I would shave her head arrived. I had been waiting for her to provide me the call to action. When she did, I responded.

I sat mom down on a chair facing the window. Away from any mirrors. She didn’t need to see the process. Nor did she want to.

I picked up the hair clippers, turned them on, and tenderly removed all of my mother’s hair. Most of it had already fallen out, but some strands remained tangled in the hair she had left. She hadn’t had the emotional strength to brush it out until it had gotten too uncomfortable. My mother sat there in silence until all her hair was gone. Then, when it was all done, I held my mother as she sobbed into my arms.

 

“This was the hardest moment of this journey, and quite possibly my life.”

In my 27 years of life, this was maybe the third time I had ever seem my mom cry. And it was the first time that I was the one comforting her. This was the hardest moment of this journey, and quite possibly my life.

Not about when I heard about her cancer, or when we learned that it was aggressive. Not when I saw her space out while the doctor spat out cancer lingo and treatment plans, or when I saw her on the chemo chair for the first time. But that one moment, with my mom leaning on me, when I realized that I would no longer be the “kid.” I had to mother my mother now.

We are in this together

That day my mom lost her hair was a threshold in our relationship. We are in this together. We have an open line of communication where she helps me understand how she is feeling, and I offer whatever comforting words I can. Or I just crack jokes. Gallows humor is part of my life now, I’ve gone to the dark side, y’all.

I stand next to my mother and stare at the long road ahead. Many obstacles block our way, most of them we cannot even see yet. Some parts are sunny, others are gloomy, and the end of the road is not readily visible. But when I turn to look at my mom, she is walking right there beside me. Never missing a beat and keeping up with me, even though her side of the road is uphill, while mine lays flat.

 


Article by Nota Vakola

Growing up an only child, Nota Vakola had to heavily rely on her vivid imagination to escape the dreadful clutches of boredom. Her parents hoped she'd grow out of it, but thankfully she didn't; because grown-up life needs even more escaping.

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