Hair Update | Four Years and Counting

Four years ago, Sally and I set out for a fun photo shoot day to document my barely-there hair. It was soft and blond, and while it definitely still looked like a decision that was made for me, I actually really liked it super short. So it seemed that four years later was a good time to check in. At one point, I figured out that it would take 4.9 years for my hair to completely grow back to its pre-chemo length, and it turns out that math was pretty good. So for a little walk down memory lane:

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There were definitely struggles, especially when I was a week or two away from a haircut. But really, I liked a lot of the styles as it grew. I put this collage together for a new friend who is starting to grow out her hair after chemo and had asked about products. I realized that since we’ve only known each other around 6 months, she never saw my short hair. And as I put it together, it struck me how much I really loved the 6-9 months stage (pictures 3 and 4).

So I’ve been thinking about that hair for a while now. I even had a dream that I showed up and demanded that Dragan cut it all off! And while I fantasize about that a lot lately, I can’t seem to take the plunge. It’s taken so long to get to this point!

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I was having a hard time figuring out exactly why I can’t cut it. I really did love the way it looked short, and I loved the powerful feeling short hair gave me. But it took so long (four years!) to get to this point, and there were lots of maintenance haircuts and more than a few rough patches. And while it was quicker to get out the door, no ponytail could change my look or save a bad hair day.

But I realized something funny last week. I was in Illinois, seeing friends and family I hadn’t seen in years. In situations like that, people want to ask if you’re still healthy, but they have a hard time knowing how to do it. I choose to just make it easy and at the first suggestion,  I will say something about feeling great and having good reports at my latest checkup. Now, to emphasize how long it’s been, I have caught myself mentioning that my hair is long again and I’m feeling great. And so this weekend I realized it. My long hair is a milestone. The further the end of each strand of hair is from my scalp, the further I am from cancer. Now when I tell people that I had cancer, they can quickly know that it was a while ago, because otherwise, I wouldn’t have such long hair, right?

My hair desperately needs to be cut. As a matter of fact, I think my last haircut was just before that curly shot in November. The ends are starting to split and it’s just getting that unhealthy look to it. I had been putting it off, and about the same time I realized why I’m holding onto the long, high maintenance hair (which I do love, too, by the way), I realized why I haven’t scheduled that appointment. I can’t decide whether to ask for a trim or to go back in time three and half years.

Three Years and Counting | The Great Post-Chemo Pixie Growout

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It’s been a while since we had a hair post, no? Since it’s been three years this week since my diagnosis, I thought it might be fun to see how my hair has changed each October…

  • October 2012: That’s how my hair looked when I was diagnosed. Gorgeous, right? I know they were all just being nice, but at one point I thought I was going to cause physical harm to the super sweet nurse who must have been the twelfth medical professional that week to tell me that my hair was beautiful. It was all I could do not to remind them that I was there because I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I mean, they all got that it was about to fall out, right?
  • October, 2013: Just six months of growth after chemo and it was so dark and stylish! Instead of words like beautiful, people now told me that I looked strong and fierce. Man, I loved that hair, and I loved being strong and fierce! It’s funny how people assume things about your personality because of the way you choose to wear your hair. (And I loved feeling like I could pull off such dark lipstick–that Nars 413BLKR, was a go to back then!)
  • October 2014: I snapped this before heading off to a conference on 3D mammography. That was admittedly the start of a rough hair year. I had to fight the weather girl vibe on a daily basis and eventually went to a flat-ironed spiky look most days to avoid the over rounded coif that my hair apparently prefers.
  • October 2015: The light at the end of the tunnel! I’m pretty sure I had my hair like this once on purpose! It’s still a little short to get into a ponytail without too many little clips holding in stray pieces, but it’s pretty much a normal hairstyle for me now. I don’t hate it every minute of the day, and that’s major progress. It’s lightened up, too, thanks to time spent outside with the kiddos and my running buddies.

I guess I have to count it a win that I was happy with my hair in three out of four pictures… I’m on my way back to the first ‘do. If I ever make it, please don’t tell me that it’s “so 2012.” I think my family would still love for me to get back to the old pre-cancer me for a while, and I’m finally close enough that it seems possible. I just hope they don’t totally revolt when I decide I’ve had enough of the blow outs and curling iron and chop it all off for the 2013 look. But who am I kidding? At that point, they can revolt if they want. Because the next time a huge pile of my hair ends up on the floor, it will be by my choosing, and I think I’ve earned the right to pick my own hairstyle!

Thanks to Sally Brewer for the 2013 picture and Crystal Hardin for capturing the 2012 image just two days before Dragan shaved my head.

The Great Pixie Grow Out Saga: Two Years and Counting

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It’s a shocking before and after, no? It’s been forever since we’ve had a hair post.  I got a haircut this week, but wasn’t hoping for any dramatic change as I continue to work  through the grow out process. (Don’t you love the red lipstick, though? It’s my Nars Cruella lip pencil that was part of my birthday gift from Sephora!) It’s hard to remember, but this was my hair two years ago:

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Super short and white blond. I actually quite love that look.  Then as it grew back in, it got so much darker. I assume that it came back the color my hair always was, but my hair has always gotten lighter from the sun, and the new hair hadn’t been in the sun at all.

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So I quite like it that way, too, though it was awfully dark. (And look how nice my fingernails look. I really should polish them more.) Sorry no lovely professional photos of my new hair, but Dragan and I agree that it’s getting back to its old color.

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The ends are getting lighter, he commented it looked like we had done an ombre color treatment on it! I’m still working on getting it styled the way I want it– it’s so hard to work with hair in this in between length. Apparently, my hair “wants to behave” and adopt a round newscaster-y coif, so I’m working with products to give it a more disheveled, edgy look. So I’m currently on the lookout for some Redken Fashion Waves 07– a sea salt/surf spray to texturize it. Why can’t everything be available on Amazon prime? (And for the record, I took that last picture at a very long stoplight in Georgetown. I wanted to get a pic of the hair before it lost the “just left the salon” look!)

Two Years and Counting | Post-chemo Pixie Grow Out

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We all have dates that we remember.  Some very important, some rather mundane.  I could never remember dates for history class.  But I’ve got a slew of dates floating around in my head.  March 8– my first date with Clay.  May 1– the day I had to finally send in the acceptance to the University of Illinois (it was not my first choice for college, but I couldn’t get the scholarship support to go elsewhere.) July 18– my first best friend’s birthday, and we haven’t lived in the same town since first grade.  October 5– the day I found out I had breast cancer.  February 1– my last day of chemo.

Wow, that was a lot of writing to get to the “it’s been two years since my last day of chemo” line.  But, there you have it.  Two years from completely bald to Rapunzel-like hair.  I was shocked last week when someone compared my hair to Rapunzel’s– I was thinking of the long blond braid that reached to the base of the tower.  Apparently in Tangled, her hair is cut at the end of the movie, and as it turns out, my newest style looks very much like hers.  (Like how I tried for a concerned, wide-eyed stare just like hers?)  And here, I thought growing out my hair would take forever.  All I needed was two years to get hair just like Rapunzel’s.

The Great Pixie Grow Out Continues… | Hair Growth After Chemo

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At this point in the great pixie grow out, my hair pretty much looks different every day.  This afternoon I pulled on my trusty smartwool beanie to head to the bus stop, and I decided it looked kind of cute. I mean, if it’s good enough for Tom Brady to wear to a press conference, I should be able to leave it on inside, too.  Mine’s not quite as vintage as his stocking hat, but since it’s the hat I bought what seems like another lifetime ago as I prepared to lose my hair, we’re going to go ahead and call it vintage.  It does look a bit cuter now with some wispy hair sticking out than when I had it pulled tight over my bald head, but it served me well then, and it’s still a handy little hat.

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Since it really started growing, I have been getting my hair cut every 5-6 weeks because it gets so bulky, and I’ve always wanted my haircut to look intentional.  It would be a little longer if I’d have just never cut it, but I’ve really loved a lot of the styles that I’ve had along the way, and it never looked like an awkward grow-out phase.  But when I got my haircut just before Christmas, it was starting to get long enough that it wasn’t quite as bulky, and the haircut didn’t help the shape nearly as much.  And so I did something very brave. Or very stupid. I set my next haircut for 8 weeks. (Which is two weeks away.)  Yikes. Lately, I’m wearing it straight more than I’m sporting the polished weather girl coif, and occasionally I bust out the sprouty pigtails or the trusty bandana.  I have another new style that someone compared to a Disney princess (you’ll never guess!) that I”ll have to show off next week!  Stay tuned for more fun as the great pixie grow out saga continues…

My Ambivalence of Normalcy | “Normal” After Breast Cancer

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After I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I can remember that maintaining normalcy, especially for my family, was one of my main concerns.  I didn’t want to hide the fact that I had breast cancer, and I knew that things would be different for everyone.  But, for the most part, I wanted things to feel normal for them. I wanted to help with homework, drive to gymnastics, play games, and do Girls on the Run.  But I wanted things to be normal for me, too. Not to pretend that there was no cancer, but to give me some sense of control.  I wanted to be stronger than the cancer, I wanted to be my normal self in spite of the breast cancer. That’s how this blog got its name– I was determined to keep things normal by going for a run and always putting on some lipstick, even if chemo was my next stop.  It did take a lot of energy to be nothing more than normal, but it was energy that I wanted to expend.

But now I have a love/hate relationship with the word normal.  Exactly six weeks after my mastectomy, I went out on my first run post-surgery.  That  night, I was standing in the kitchen, and I remember Clay congratulating me on my first run, and he asked, “So is everything back to normal now?” I bristled. Was I supposed to be the same as before? Was he just hoping that he was off dishwasher-unloading duty?  Of course, I know his question had more to do with the relief that I was healthy and cancer free– free of treatments and their restrictions and side effects– than the dishwasher.

But back to normal? No.  Of course, physically, I don’t have any more restrictions.  I can reach what I want, lift what I want.  I don’t take any medications. (More on that in a future post, if you’re curious.)  But seatbelts still irritate me. My hair is growing out and driving. me. crazy. I have scars and tattoos. I have worries that no elementary school mom should have.  So maybe  a new normal, then? Lots of people love that phrase. I am not one of them, for the record.  I guess technically I have a new set of things that are part of my “normal” everyday life.  But to embrace the phrase new normal seems to acknowledge the fact that there’s no going back to the old normal, there’s no going back to that girl.  The girl with long hair who blamed headaches on PMS. The girl who went for a run because she wanted to lose ten pounds and be healthier, not because she feels like she’s inviting a cancer recurrence with her couch potato ways. The girl who bemoaned having to wear her cute little balconette push-up bra.  She’s gone, and sometimes it makes me sad.

Of course, there are a lot of good things about the word normal.  In fact, when I enter the auspices of Virginia Hospital Center, I crave the word.  My MRI? The PET scan? Normal.  Blissfully normal.  All my genes? Plain old vanilla normal. At support group? It is so reassuring to hear that what I’m feeling is completely normal. Normal is good.  Normal is just, well, so normal.

And so I find myself walking a very fine line.  Between loving and hating the word normal. But I continually strive spend more time considering the good, plain old vanilla type normal than mourning the old normal that is gone.

Post Chemo Pixie Grow Out | Nineteen Months and Counting

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So we are now approaching nineteen months after my last chemo.  I’ve just had another haircut, and Dragan warned me that I’m getting to a difficult stage.  “But you’re doing a great job faking it,” he reassured me. We talked about the growing out process.  He conceded that I could have just let it grow instead of coming to him faithfully every five or six weeks.  That may have been a little quicker to shoulder length, but I know I’d have hated every minute of it.  This way, I’ve had a lot of different hairstyles, but they’ve all looked intentional.  Intentional.  That one word makes a world of difference to me.  As soon as it was long enough to get cut, I never again looked like a cancer patient growing out her hair, I looked like a woman who had chosen to have a short hair cut.  (Of course, I only looked like I had made the choice, in reality, it had been made for me.)  Dragan’s encouraged me to really play with my hair and see what I can do– see how I like it.  The bottom two pics are my normal looks– more rock and roll on the left and smooth, tucked behind the ears weather girl style on the right.  I tried out the rocker style last week when I was headed into Turner’s classroom, and upon my entry, he loudly exclaimed, “It looks like you have bed head!” Um, mommy’s trying something new, sweetie.  Thanks for noticing.

I was chatting with a short-haired friend who lamented at how long my hair is getting– she really loved it short.  I told her I was growing it out, mostly for my family.  As we chatted, I had to admit that pre-cancer, I would have considered Clay’s opinion of my hair but would have likened letting the kids have a say in my hairstyle to letting them eat cookies for breakfast.  Sure, sometimes they want something, but kids don’t always make the best decisions.  I’m the adult.  It’s really only because of the cancer that I’m making that concession.  I want to be able to give them the “normal” they remember– the wife and mom with long flowing locks who didn’t have cancer.  Of course, it will be years before I have those same long locks, and by then I’ll be over forty and probably due  for the “I’m getting to old for this” chopping of the hair.  But it wasn’t until this weekend that it dawned on me– I’ll grow it as long as I can, but the next time I end up with a pixie or a faux-hawk, it will be my choice– not a necessity brought on by cancer.  And somehow, I think that small distinction will make all the difference.