It’s been over four months since I finished chemo. It’s been a week and a half since I finished radiation. Life is quickly starting to feel a little bit closer to normal.

Diagnosis feels like an entire lifetime ago. So does getting word I had a pathological complete response to chemo. It feels SO LONG ago now. It’s such a strange sensation that I think comes a little bit from living one day at a time.

But there is one big reminder of what I’ve been through, and that it hasn’t actually been a life time ago: My hair.

When I was diagnosed, before I ever even had one round of chemo, I went out and bought a real human hair wig. It was expensive. But it was also worth every single penny. Because it gave me a sense of control and normalcy in a hard time. I could put my wig on, look in the mirror, and I’d get a glimpse of ME again.

A lot of people never knew what I was dealing with thanks to that wig, and it wasn’t until now that I truly realized how crucial that was for my mental state. Not only did people treat me normal, it helped me feel normal.

There’s a truth that we all need to realize. Everyone is dealing with something that we can’t see with our eyes. And people don’t have to look sick to be sick.

Someone losing all their hair is a tell-tale sign of a cancer diagnosis. What I didn’t realize until it happened to me is that its not only a tell-tale sign to the rest of the world, but its a constant reminder to the person fighting. You might feel great and ever so briefly your battle is out of your active thought processes. Then you look in the mirror and it comes crashing right back.

Never tell someone, “It’s just hair.”

It’s never “just hair.” Not to anyone. And I’d argue that you can even tell yourself, “Oh its just hair. It’ll grow back,” but deep down you know it’s so much more than that. There’s so much of a person’s identity wrapped up in their hair, that losing all of it can be absolutely devastating emotionally.

So I wore my wig faithfully for over six months. I’d not wear it to treatment or doctors appointments But pretty much any time I left my house otherwise, I wore my wig. Being real hair, I could curl it and style it. I would take it back to the shop I got it to be cleaned periodically. Bluntly, it was fantastic. My getting ready time was cut down dramatically, and I said many times that I might just embrace the wig-life forever.

But as summer has moved in, and I continue to get chemo-induced hot flashes (ah the gift that keeps giving), wearing the wig to work became more and more uncomfortable. As my hair started growing back, I had to add a wig cap to hold the wig in place. I would end up with a dull headache by the end of a work shift, and my wig that had given me so much joy was not starting to be… well… not so fun.

I decided that the day I got to ring the bell would be the day I’d shelve the wig. My hair had grown out enough that it just looked like I had decided to get a pixie cut under a ball cap. (Without the cap, though, there’s the weird style situation going on that I need to let grow out to then cut and style before it sees the light of day.) If I go to church or something more formal that a hat wouldn’t work, I’d just at that time go with the wig again. I spent a lot of money on it… I’m still going to wear it! LOL

So on May 22nd, I rang the bell and went to work that day for the first time without the wig. I’ve gotten so many, “You cut your hair!” comments. To which I respond, “In a manner of speaking.”  The reaction is always priceless. Depending on who it is, I let that lie there and change the subject. Some people I divulge my story. Others need no more answer, giving me just a knowing nod, smile and, “It looks good on you.”

The people who do get the full story always go, “I had no idea.” And that makes me feel good. A few have gently chastised me saying, “I wish I’d known! I’d have been praying for you!” and that, too, makes me smile. I tell them I still need their prayers if they’d be so kind to do so. Because the truth is that I’m still being treated with the focus of minimizing recurrence. And I need all those prayers now to shift to it staying gone for good.

I feel a little like a butterfly these days. After ringing the bell, I feel like I’ve come out of this dark chrysalis, and instead of spreading my wings, I’ve released my freshly growing hair to show the world that I’ve been through some hard stuff. But I’ve come out of it stronger and feeling more beautiful than ever before.

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