By Lisa Goldstein – Two weeks after my eighth and final chemo session, my hair started to grow back. Just like the doctor promised.
Four months after that, peach fuzz carpeted my head. I stopped wearing my wig whom I named Delilah, after the biblical heroine who overcame the invincible Samson. For the past year I channeled my inner Delilah and overcame my breast cancer. She had earned her retirement.
My new hair came back curly which was just fine with me. My pre-chemo coiffure was so dry and damaged from blowing it stick straight every day that I welcomed a new wavy start.
My new hair also came back gray, which was not just fine with me. In one year my body had aged well beyond its 47 years, but I could keep those scars hidden from view. My gray, however, would be a post-cancer follicle fashion statement for all to see.
Truth be told, for years I had been dying my hair dark-espresso-with-a-drop-of-milk brown to cover the gray. It was expensive, especially as the gray seemed to come back faster and faster, requiring more frequent colorings. But I liked the way I looked and didn’t mind the cost, because a highly effective, blockbuster television commercial told me I was worth it.
I chose Delilah because her mane shimmered a dark-roast-coffee-with-a-drop-of-cream brown. I had hair like Kate Middleton; long, beautiful healthy locks that never frizzed up, not even in the oppressive New York City humidity. My face may have looked cancer-blanched, sans eyelashes and eyebrows, but my cranium looked fabulous.
I wanted that look again as my hair grew back, but the thought of resuming the marathon of dying it every six weeks, with gloppy at-home touchups in between, was unappealing. So maybe, I thought, I would keep the gray.
I decided to take an informal poll. If a friend brought up my gray, I registered a tacit, affirmative vote to dye. “You’ll feel more like your pre-cancer self,” they said. “You’ll be happier when you look in the mirror.” Hmmm, I thought. I survived cancer, so I was pretty happy every time I looked in the mirror, regardless of what color tresses were staring back at me.
If I brought up the topic of my gray, I usually got a dissenting vote. “You look stunning, sophisticated,” they said. “Once you start coloring you can’t stop. It’s a pain to let it grow out if you change your mind.” Hmmm, I thought. Biopsies, surgeries and needles were a pain. Compared to that, changing my mind and my hair color would be quite tolerable.
I even got a write-in vote that I should go big and go platinum blond, like they do in Texas. That was from my husband.
Unfortunately, the results weren’t very helpful. Like my newfound part, the tally went right down the middle.
I survived cancer, so I was pretty happy every time I looked in the mirror, regardless of what color tresses were staring back at me.
Then there was the subway incident.
One day as I was riding the subway to work a woman stood up to give me her seat. That hadn’t happened since I was pregnant, 11 years ago. At 5’3” and 110 pounds I could tell you that I did not look pregnant. After eight months of swallowing a daily anti-estrogen pill, I could guarantee you that I was not pregnant. She gave me her seat because she thought I was a senior citizen. My gray had betrayed me. I immediately called the salon and scheduled my coloring.
Then there was the pedicab incident.
One day as I was walking through Central Park, a pedicab driver (the latest traffic nuisance in this congested city) yelled out in my direction, “Great hair!” I looked around to see who he was talking to… surely a supermodel was sashaying behind me. It was Fashion Week and the six foot tall glamazons were everywhere. He pointed to me! Nuisance no more. I approached with alacrity. He loved my gray hair and the fact that I kept it natural. After hearing my sob story about cancer, he emphatically told me not to dye it; it was my bouffant badge of honor. The three women in the back of his pedicab agreed. They were from Texas, and they had big, platinum blond hair. I called the salon and cancelled my coloring.
So I have decided, for now, to stay gray. Because I am learning to love my body again, post cancer. Because it’s easy and makes me interesting. And because I’m worth it.