You Know…That Awkward Stage

When Adrienne first met with her oncologist to discuss the treatment plan she did a pretty good job of keeping the deadpan face and repeating “okay…okay…uh huh…okay” as he rattled on about the aggressive options he wanted to use to give her the best chance at remission.  The thing that tossed her over the edge, though, was this…

“Unfortunately there isn’t a breast cancer treatment option where you don’t lose your hair.”

We’ve all seen it often enough on TV or during breast cancer awareness campaigns to know it happens.  But hope springs eternal in the human breast (no pun intended) and so there was a kernel of maybe hanging around in her consciousness before the appointment that was crushed under the weight of what was to come. 

After some online research and personal reflection Adrienne decided to take some control over her hair loss and shaved her head in advance.  The day before she did it we dressed up to the nines and went out for a lovely afternoon of appetizers and wine and I took a lovely picture of her in front of a mall backdrop that was part of an upcoming Spring fashion show.  I still have that shot on my phone.  I have taken and deleted hundreds of pictures since then but that one has such fond memories that I think it will be there forever.

Just as a reminder, malls are those places we used to walk around to spend some time and some of our hard-earned money or GST rebate cheque on things both needed and frivolous. And fashion shows are  a type of occasion when people would gather to share some fun times over a common interest and maybe learn a thing or two from socializing in person.

But I digress…

Because hair does, usually, grow back, once treatment ended we both watched excitedly as first the five o’clock shadow then spiky little wonders appeared on her head.  One of the concerns is that the damage to the hair follicles will create a permanent change in colour or texture and it was glorious to see Adrienne’s hair come back as it was before, just maybe a little bit curlier than it had been.  When it finally got to the point that something needed to be done with it…you know, that awkward stage…Adrienne made an appointment and with great trepidation watched as the scissors cut the precious strands into what the stylist thought would be a great shape to grow into.  And Adrienne went home and wept, because she wasn’t prepared for what she would feel when too much of what had come back was gone and since scissors and hair are a final combination there was nothing she could do about it. 

Just like the first time.

It’s a powerful distinction.  During cancer treatment Adrienne’s hair was taken, not given.  Yes, she opted to not wake up to a pillow full of lustrous brown tresses that she would have to grieve.  But that was a way to choose how to manage the loss, not whether or not the loss would happen.

Now that her hair is long enough for them to be attached some people in her life have asked her if she’s thinking about extensions.  Others compliment her on the style she’s adopted as part of having short hair, the big dangly earrings with matching necklaces.  She is doing a very good job at working with what she’s got.  The things people say are, as always, well intentioned and there’s no judgement here about them being said.  Before I was part of this experience, I would have shared the common belief that those types of comments would be a supportive way of sharing with her that it was very exciting to have hair again.  Which is true, it is.  But while Adrienne can see progress, every time someone speaks about it and every time she looks in the mirror she’s reminded.

Taken, not given.

The second time Adrienne’s hair grew to the point that she needed something to be done she went to a different stylist.  As my daughter tensed up in the chair anticipating the worst, this lovely, sensitive woman talked her through each and every step, snipping the minimum she could without taking out a part of her fingers along the way.  It took a long time, and a lot of patience, but in the end Adrienne walked out of there feeling completely heard and understood.  Oh, and she got a great haircut, too.

I don’t know if they are out there already, but since more and more young women are being diagnosed with breast cancer I would like to see the hair styling community work with survivors to establish professional development seminars about post-treatment do’s and don’t’s and make sure it is something they can advertise as part of their training.  Every woman in Adrienne’s shoes deserves to have that second experience the first time. 

Every single one of them. 

To read more from Debbie, click here.


Mother…Grandmother…Librarian…Military Spouse…Caregiver…Family Life Educator…take your pick! Debbie Legault was born in British Columbia, Canada to a former RCAF airman father and a Scottish War Bride mother and has lived in other Canadian provinces, Germany and California.  She has been married for 36 years to a Canadian Air Force Veteran and credits him with filling her life with adventure.  When Debbie Legault’s children look at family photos they often comment on how many different hairstyles she has had and that pretty much is her story, that her life has taken as many turns and led her down as many paths as her hair has changed!  Her latest role is as the author of Mom…It’s Cancer, the story of supporting her 27-year-old daughter as they experienced breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. 

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