My oncologist called me the other day to check in and make sure I was feeling alright as we begin the countdown to my next chemotherapy treatment, which will be on Tuesday.

“I’m doing well,” I said, “except that my hair is rapidly falling out. I mean, like, rapidly.

“Yeah, it’s about that time,” she said. “Generally, about two weeks after the first treatment, the hair starts releasing.”

“Releasing” is the medical term for the way the poor, sad little strands come out when their little follicle homes are obliterated by the chemo drugs. It seems, to me, to be the most accurate term possible for the process. In many ways, this whole cancer experience has been about releasing. Releasing control. Releasing expectations. Releasing vanity. Releasing fear.

Due to the speed with which my hair began abandoning my scalp, I decided to come up with a measurement unit for it. So far, I’d say I’ve lost at least 2.5 cats of hair, a “cat” being defined as the amount of hair one can brush from a domestic feline in a one-hour period. If you have ever owned a cat, you know that this is an enormous amount of hair, yet my bald spots were still easily covered by my remaining tresses up until Friday night (more on that shortly). Nevertheless, I started wearing my caps anyway, in order to: a) prevent uncontrollable shedding all over everyone and everything I love, and b) get used to people staring at me as I meander around in 85 degree SoCal heat in a ski beanie.

Now, the shedding is moot: I am bald.

Or, more accurately, I am buzzed – shaved down with an electric clipper and a 3-guard like a fresh-faced army recruit.

For one thing, I got tired of waking up to a pillow so covered in hair it looked like I’d grabbed someone’s shedding collie in August and rubbed him on it. For another, watching yourself go bald is emotionally trying, even when you’re expecting it. Plus, the “releasing” process is actually sort of painful – my scalp was sore and sensitive, like I’d had my hair pulled back too tight or parted in an unnatural way and secured it that way with tons of hairspray and bobby pins for two to three weeks.

I’d heard enough horror stories about cancer patients weeping quietly as, resigned to their fates, they shaved their own heads, alone, in front of the bathroom mirror. That wasn’t going to be me. I wanted a party, because why shave your head if you’re going to be just as miserable doing it as you’d be sitting in front of the Oprah Winfrey Network pulling it out by the fistful? I called up my brother, who has sported varying degrees of buzz cuts over the years, and asked if he’d shave me down. “I’d be honored,” he said.

We invited some friends, bought a bottle of wine and some beer, and set out a chair in his living room. I felt strange – like Old Yeller being taken out back – yet strangely excited about my fate. I wasn’t scared, because Gordie surprise-shaved his head in support, and that made me: a) cry and b) get psyched up to join him. Could I have found a better man? I literally, honestly do not think I could have. I only wish he were here so that we could rub our buzz cuts together and give each other static shocks.

After we’d gotten my area set up, we poured some drinks, put on a great party playlist and my friend Pat, who has the most experience with the buzzer, had the honor of sending my tresses to hair heaven. The whole deal took 10 silly, adrenalin-pumping minutes. I honestly think my brother may have a calling in starting a business that throws big parties to shave cancer patients’ heads, because this is the way it should be. I’m so glad that I can look back on this memory as a fantastic night with friends instead of something sad, lonely and upsetting. I mean, if you’re going to shave your head, the only way to do it is with a glass of vino in hand, tons of friends surrounding you and 2Chainz on in the background.

Honestly, it’s a relief to have the whole thing over with. This is probably the most universally dreaded side effect of them all, and here I am, living through it. Kinda makes me feel a bit invincible. In fact, I’m so alright with my new look that we took it out for a test run by heading over to my brother’s friend’s apartment for more drinks, some Cards Against Humanity and a great night out.

You want to see a picture of me rockin’ the G.I. Jane? Well, I did say that this experience has been about releasing vanity…


Interestingly, today was supposed to be the day of my first marathon. March 16, 2013 – the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Marathon in Washington, DC. I couldn’t run it, obviously – I can barely run a 5K these days – but I ended up testing a different kind of endurance. The endurance of self-acceptance, of identity, of friendship. And I absolutely cannot stop rubbing my head.

31 thoughts on “Releasing

  1. ubensmom says:

    And you look adorable. It’s a look you can absolutely rock. Mine comes off in 8 days and I will be happy to be 1/8 as cute as you!

  2. SDS says:

    Three things: 1. Gordie gets an A+ for everything all the time, 2. you still look adorable, 3. more than I was at all surprised by the GI Jane look, I was shocked by the fact that Ryan is like a grown-ass man. WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN?

  3. Cats says:

    I love you! I just freakin’ love you … and I never met you. Your wit, your strength, your attitude just knocks my socks off! I started following your blog a few weeks ago and am continually amazed by you. I recently celebrated my one year anniversary of my mastectomy and I thought my attitude was upbeat thru out all the testing, surgery, recovery, etc… but it’s nothing compared to yours. You are an inspiration to not only those going thru BC, but to everyone.

    p.s. You look adorable buzzed

    pps. Gordie is pretty spectacular too!

  4. Alyssa says:

    I don’t remember how I found your blog, but I’m so glad I did! I’ve been reading the last few weeks, and your posts are so uplifting and inspiring and funny! You seem like a truly amazing woman. Best wishes!A

  5. fransiweinstein says:

    I hope you plan to turn this blog into a book or a documentary because the whole world should get a chance to know you, your friends, your family and your boyfriend.

  6. There’s a whole lotta warm fuzzies coming off that picture! All the best to you all. x

  7. beadstork says:

    You’re rockin’ it, girl! You just so happen to be one of those enviable women that look great clipped. You and Sigourney Weaver – total badass!

    • Michelle says:

      Haha, thank you very much. While we were shaving, my brother’s roommate rubbed my head and said, “Who invited Natalie Portman?” I am very lucky to have such amazing friends.

  8. robindcole says:

    You’ll get your marathon, and it will be even more worth it when you cross the finish line. Good luck with your next round!

  9. Laura says:

    Wow you look sooooo cute

  10. la-fille-rêveur says:

    “I only wish he were here so that we could rub our buzz cuts together and give each other static shocks.”

    That made me laugh out loud in the middle of class…

    I really love this blog, and I check it every day for updates. This is the most inspiring blog I’ve ever stumbled across. It reminds me that if you can survive cancer, I can survive the trivial events of adolescence I get so stressed about.

    Thank you. ❤

  11. Forrest says:

    Thumbs WAY up to everything in this post. Especially to Gordie and Ryan. You are rocking the buzz cut like it’s a fashion statement, and I love it. And your jacket. And I second the person in shock over Ryan being a total MAN. When did we all become real people??

  12. You look sooooo pretty… 🙂

  13. Ryan says:

    Thanks Forest. I’m making a real weird face in this photo and i look like i need to do some serious sit ups, but nontheless, appreciated haha. Thumbs way up should go to Michelle. She is an inspiration to our family, to my friends, and to the world.

  14. Kiera Rooker says:

    Fuck yeah, girl! Way to turn releasing into liberation. You look mad cute. Honestly, the shaving party idea sounds like a rad supportive service and something Berwyn would be all about.

  15. Daile says:

    You are totally rockin’ that do! Own it girl because you are as cute as Natalie Portman when she went for the buzz cut. Gordie is a total champion too.

  16. karen says:

    Even with the buzz you look like a girlie girl. Adorable. You look free – released from the bondage of bad hair days. Diggin’ the brother/sister love. You’re
    an inspiration.

  17. lisacng says:

    You rock that new look! And glad Gordie did it too. “Release” – how amazing you are relinquishing control of the things we all take for granted.

  18. Great picture, fantastic look, amazing spirit! Keep going- everything will be fine! Your attitude is inspiring!

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