At a Loss for Hair

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My oncologist gave me a prescription: "Cranial Prosthesis. Use as directed." "Cranial prosthesis" sounds like a remedy for the temporary chemo-induced memory loss. But really it's just the medical term for wig. So far, I've bought only the Friar Tuck, a fringe of hair that frames my face but leaves my bald head showing on top. It's meant to be covered with a hat, giving some sense of normal appearance, but cancer-induced hair loss takes you a long way from normal. So my partial prosthesis sits in its box, a disguise I'm not yet ready to wear.

Going bald symbolizes emotional shedding and reveals that my facade of vanity, productivity and competency have been shorn away. It's a visual reminder of my inner journey to fix a worn-out marriage, a feeble connection with my children and a low self esteem. Like wearing your heart on your sleeve, being bald lets people know what I am going through, that I am under construction.

My eight-year-old would be relieved to see me sporting any amount of hair. He's been anxious ever since I buzzed my tresses rather than watch them clog the drain in fistfuls. When a friend of mine asked him about his mom's hot new hairdo, his doleful reply: "She looks like an alien."

I'm not exhibiting fierce, bald pride, however. I wear hats, and some days I wear scarves, turbaned or twisted and draping, gypsy-like. The stares don't bother me but sometimes my son pleads that my style looks "too chemo." My 11-year-old's flip interpretation: "What's with the pirate look?"

Now, a couple of months into treatment, my eyebrows are dropping like fall foliage leaving my face a tabula rasa and my determination to embrace the chemo look wavering. Then I remember: Letting something go makes room for something new to fill its place. Losing my hair gives me a chance to start anew with a clean pate.


With a perspective, I'm Kira Halpern.