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Drugs, Hugs and Losing My Jugs: A Breast Cancer Journal - May 20, 2015 - I Took My Hair

This is the fifth entry in a 31-day Breast Cancer Awareness Month exclusive series featuring the real journal entries of breast cancer survivor, Jessica Sliwerski. Read the previous entry here.

After I had Penelope I anticipated losing tons of hair around the time she turned 4 months old. I’d read in my “What to Expect” book and seen other mothers post about it online. Luckily, it didn’t happen to me. Or if it did, I never noticed because I’ve always had so much hair.

I was relieved, thinking I’d dodged a bullet. But really, I just took a different bullet.

Tonight I cut my hair. “Mad Max” and my girl crush on Charlize Theron were my inspiration; breast cancer was my impetus.

Like my mastectomy, I didn’t really think twice about this decision. With my chemo treatment, it is absolutely certain my hair will fall out. I can’t think of anything more traumatizing than eating a bowl of kale and suddenly having a clump of hair fall out. (Though, perhaps this would make the kale taste better.)

It felt paramount to me that I take my hair, not cancer.

Unlike my mastectomy, I am in a much better place mentally as I approach chemo. Prior to my mastectomy I was so worried about what would happen and what they would find that I could barely function, even  with copious amounts of medication. I was an absolute mess as I fretted about the surgery.

Since then, I’ve had a sense of calm. The cancer was not in my lymph nodes. The tumor is out. Everything from here on is adjuvant therapy — additional cancer treatment to lower the risk of the cancer coming back. Any and all microscopic cancer cells floating around in my body will be killed.

Some of my cancer friends had boob parties before their mastectomies. I was not in a good enough place to do this. When I decided to cut my hair, I initially just wanted Kyle and Penelope there. In a conversation with one of my friends, he asked when and where I would be doing this and then said he wanted to come.

This got me thinking: “Why not make this otherwise traumatic time joyful?”

I know distraction is a strong coping mechanism for me and I also know being surrounded by friends and family is what makes me happy. So I invited my closest friends (my NYC family) to come to the salon and take part in the ceremonial sacrifice.

I chose Kyle’s salon instead of mine. It’s right here in the neighborhood and about three blocks away. My salon is in Manhattan on the Upper West Side, and traveling all the way there and back was just too overwhelming. I may be brave enough to cut it all off, but to then get on the train and have everyone looking at me? I’m not there yet.

Also, the thought of John, my stylist, taking all of my gorgeous hair was just too upsetting. (I did call him and tell him what was going on, though, so he didn’t think I was cheating.) I liked the idea of a complete stranger doing this.

At 6:30 p.m. this evening we all assembled at the salon. Kyle poured champagne for my friends and Marlo, the stylist, began tying my hair into several small ponytails. Then everyone gathered round and she began to cut one ponytail at a time until all were gone. I cried. (But not as much as I would have, thanks to the medication.)

Then Marlo washed my hair. She gave it a good hard scrub and used a conditioning treatment with soothing peppermint. She massaged my hands and then my neck and shoulders. It was nice to close my eyes and quietly breathe while listening to the people I love chatter happily around me. Then, using a razor, Marlo went to town.

When she finished, she showed me how to put product in it and style it.

Jessica Sliwerski new haircut
Photo of my new haircut.

I kept looking at myself in the mirror, not recognizing the person staring back. As long as I didn’t look, I could pretend I still looked the way I used to look. But then I would catch a glimpse of myself and feel so shocked, naked, exposed, ugly.

I think I look like a boy and this makes me uncomfortable.

I do not feel attractive or powerful.

I feel like a sick, silly poser and even as Kyle told me how much he loved me and how beautiful I am, I couldn’t accept his words because I don’t believe them myself right now.

Just as I am slowly getting used to my new breasts, so it will take time to get use to my lack of hair. The part that scares me even more right now is things are going to get much worse before they get better.

Afterwards, we went to a hipster swank steakhouse in Carroll Gardens where nobody thought twice about the woman with a boy haircut. Everyone drank and had a great time and I was so happy to be surrounded by such loving friends.

While we ate I kept tucking my hair behind my ear, a habit I had with long hair, but there’s nothing to tuck anymore. The back of my neck itched. I excused myself to use the restroom at one point and after seeing myself in the mirror, quickly averted my eyes.

I’ve never done well with change and even though I controlled this change, cancer was still the catalyst.

I loved my long hair. It was beautiful, thick, lustrous, silky, blonde hair. My hair was enviable. My hair was part of how I defined myself, part of my identity. My hair was what caused Kyle to notice me once upon a time at a bar. It was good fucking hair. And I am grieving hard.

Jessica Sliwerski and Penelope
Me with Penelope: I love my hair and I’m going to miss it so much, but it’s just hair. It’s just hair. It’s just hair.

I try to remind myself it’s just hair. It will grow back. And people say it grows back thicker, a different texture, sometimes even a different color.

Personally, I hope it grows back as an afro.

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All photos courtesy of Jessica Sliwerski