Being Bald is The Most Rock n’ Roll Thing I’ll Ever Do
The knife was dull. It was probably designed for spearfishing, to make quick cuts while 10ft under water, with a smooth, sharp edge, and a serrated section toward the handle. It was sandy, slightly rusted, and probably the worst tool I could have chosen for its next use. I channeled some of Mulan’s bravery and grabbed my curly, sandy, blonde-ing locks of my planning-to-grow-it-out-to-my-waist hair, and sawed it off with the fishing knife. As short as I could go.
“How did that feel?” One of my friends asked.
My response came out slowly: “So much better than carrying the weight of the fear of losing it.”
I knew it wasn’t the end result; I was going to be bald for crying out loud. But it was another step up the mountain.
Rewind a week, when I was meeting with an oncologist about my fresh TNBC diagnosis. She told me right away that I needed to start chemotherapy—fast. “You need to know this now: The next year of your life, lets say, Summer 2019 to Summer 2020—this is your year of fighting: chemo, surgery, radiation, maybe more, depending on how everything goes. You’re going to have to clear your schedule, and the kind of chemo you need for breast cancer will make you lose your hair.”
The weight of my fear sunk in each time I looked in the mirror. Of all the things cancer and chemo would do to me, this felt like the true sacrifice. I was a tough, brave, cookie, but going bald seemed like one of the scariest things I’d ever have to do. How would I walk in public, go to a bar, get on stage? I feared I’d look weird, frail, ugly, or weak — like a sick person.
On top of that, I’m in a rock band. That summer of 2019 was booked full of shows, and most of the venues were cramped music clubs and bars full of people. The music scene was my life force. But an immunocompromised bald girl in the middle of it all? My doctor recommended I cancel my shows.
Two weeks after the first round of chemo, my fishing knife-pixie cut hair was falling. I invited some friends over to help me shave my head. The night before, I sat in my room, looking around at all the gifts people had sent me. Well-wishing cards, pink T-shirts, weed gummies, flowers. I crawled out my window onto the roof to watch the sunset alone, and my armor shattered. All of my strength I’d built up—my shield of bravery and courage I carried—vanished there on the roof that night. I spent the rest of the evening hours alone, crying in my room. Unable to write, read, distract myself with music or TV. Trapped in a dark psychedelic psychosis that kept me awake but submerged in bad dreams until early the next morning.
When I woke up, I started writing about this dark, twisting vortex of a rabbit hole I’d gone down the night before, and it took shape in lyrics. My band turned it into a song called “The Situation.” It had a thrashy, punchy, hard rock n’ roll feel to it, influenced by the Pixies and the Rolling Stones. It was the exact emotion I felt the night before as I stared in the mirror and cried as I tried to imagine myself bald (tip: don’t do this). But then I remembered something my aunt told me when I shared my fears of becoming un-beautiful:
“Creativity is a much better mirror than the one on the wall.”
Something got me to turn all that angst, anger and fear into soup and throw it on the walls. To jump around my room with headphones on and remind myself that fighting a terminal illness is really just about as punk rock as it gets.
That night, me and my other 20-something-year-old friends “pre-gamed” the bars (sorry doctors) by shaving my and my best friend’s head. We put on leather jackets, drew sharpie tattoos on our scalps and drank cocktails at high tables like rock stars.
When you see a person bald from medicine and disease, see them for their strength. We’re fighting and probably pretty proud to have showed up. We made it to that cafe/bar/show/park, and that’s a victory in itself — even if we just came from getting our blood drawn or chemotherapy or lymphedema physical therapy or whatever appointments us cancer warriors have to deal with on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. It doesn’t mean I was overall happy about being bald, but it sure made me feel like I was wearing a little extra badge of bravery. – Maddy Dahm