It’s been about a month and a half since my hair fell out, and in that time I have really only left my house to do three things: 1) run, 2) get coffee, and 3) eat food. Recently I added 4) fly to Richmond, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
When partaking in activity #1, running, I generally just wear a beanie. I’m listening to music with earbuds in, the universal sign for “leave me alone,” and generally moving fast enough that no one will bother me, so I don’t care what I look like. Also, I usually look horrible when running, bald or not. I’m like a sweaty mess flinging her arms and legs all around all weirdly. So basically the beanie is probably the last thing someone would comment on when I’m out jogging, a distant third to “Are you normally this jiggly?” and “Is it healthy for someone’s face to be so red?”
When performing activties #2 and #3, getting and consuming coffee and/or food, I’ll put my wig on. Mostly I do this because I don’t want anyone to remark on my appearance in any way, but sometimes they do anyway. For example, I’ve recently become a frequent patron of a stupidly expensive and trendy but somehow really addictive coffee joint out here in LA, and the guy behind the counter is always super chatty with me and I can’t help but wonder if he is noticing the fact that my hair is not attached to my head.
Actually, one time, as I was leaving this coffee shop, one of those Greenpeace people with the clipboards stopped me and said, “You have the most beautiful hair I’ve ever seen!” In my head I was like, thanks, but I bought it in a store. No one can grow hair this nice. It was made in a factory, which accounts for its shine and straightness. My real hair was a rat’s nest compared to the perfection of my wig. Out loud I was like, “Ahhh I love whales and stuff but I’m really poor please don’t ask me for money!”
Recently, I took a huge step by boarding a plane and traveling to Richmond, Virginia, where I was a graduate student before the Boob Mutiny. (Muttitties? No, I’m reaching.) I flew first class because I had enough miles to do it for free and frankly, I really owe myself one, and it was CRAZY, y’all. I don’t know if it was just a super cheerful morning at LAX or if it was because I fly so damn often I got a free flight, but the TSA people were insanely nice to me. The guy drew a heart on my boarding pass! And lest you think he was flirting with me, let me assure you that I cannot possibly overstate how bad I looked. I barely dress myself when flying. Sweat pants? Check. Ripped, smelly stuffed animal I’ve had since I was 3 peeking creepily out of my bag? Absolutely. Zero makeup? Duh. Beanie? Yes.
I actually really debated about whether to sport my beanie or my wig on the plane. Sometimes you get those chatty seat partners who will ask you really invasive questions and there’s literally nowhere for you to go to get away from them, so throw one point up on the board for the wig, because it ensures no one will ask about my cancer. On the other hand, the wig can get itchy, and what if I fall asleep in one of those awkward positions planes force you to adopt and then it falls off or gets crooked and that’s even WEIRDER than just wearing a beanie in the first place? Also, if I commit to the wig and then it’s uncomfortable, it’s not like I can just take it off in front of everyone and switch to the beanie. That’d be the WEIRDEST.
In the end, I went with the beanie. Mostly because I’m normally a somewhat lazy person but when waking up at 5am for a cross-country plane ride I am extra lazy.
So now that you have a mental picture of my abject hideousness at the start of this plane ride, just imagine how ugly I was when it concluded, many hours and one long, boring layover later. It was while basking in this complete and utter lack of hygiene or fashion that I was surprised at the airport but some of my best friends and my very bestest friend’s mom, who is like my second mom. She came in the most breathtaking floor-length sequined gown to show her support for Glamoury Mammaries, while my friends held up whiteboard signs, balloons and flowers. I immediately burst into tears, all while my friend Tyler – a former professional photographer – snapped extremely high-definition pictures of me crying, snotting and drooling all over everyone. After we left the airport, we all stopped by a bar for a quick drink and a catch-up. (I still looked hideous but I didn’t care.) Thank you all so much; for a little while there, I felt like a normal 25-year-old, and that’s really the best gift I can ask for. I love you guys.
My first few days back at grad school, I still opted for the beanie over the wig. I’m a student in a small, close-knit program, so everyone already knew about my cancer. I got so used to wearing the beanie that I actually forgot it was out of the ordinary until I was attending a guest lecture, raised my hand to ask a question and the lecturer was like (and this is verbatim), “Yes, young man with the weird hair. Wait, that’s a girl. And that’s a wig. Wait, it’s a hat. A weird hat.”
In his defense I was seated pretty far back in the auditorium. People around me started whispering, “Tell him you have cancer!”, but what’s the point? It’d just make him feel so bad/awkward. A few nights before this debacle Gordie and I went to see a stand-up comedian at a local open mic, and he was interacting with a young person in the crowd of rather ambiguous hairstyle and dress and asked, “Wait, are you a sir or a ma’am?” This totally badass androgynous person replied, “Whichever,” with the most genuinely casual shrug I’ve ever seen. S/he is my new role model when it comes to beanie snafus.
The reason I was back in Richmond in the first place was actually to attend a job fair, and for that I did bother to actually put on my wig. Since I was meeting with a lot of potential employers, I wanted the first point of conversation to be my work, not my illness. My cancer is a matter of public record, however, since this blog and other cancer-related projects are part of my portfolio, so some recruiters did ask me about it. Amazingly, I actually met three other women who are breast cancer survivors. It was one of those odd moments of cognitive dissonance when I find myself being sort of strangely thankful for my cancer – not that I got it, because screw that, but because I’m now part of this weird breast cancer sorority of amazing women who are constantly showing me it’s possible to beat this thing and come back better, stronger and more beautiful than ever. Delta Delta Titties. Phi Mammaries. Boob Alpha Theta.
Being back in Richmond was amazing. For ten days I returned to my forgotten life as a grad student – spending too much money on sushi, getting berated by my professors, drinking on Abbey’s porch, and perhaps most excitingly, looking forward to the future while interviewing with potential employers. Nothing lifts my mood like a reminder that soon this will be behind me, and my nascent career stretches out before me, a winding path of infinite possibilities.