Friday, December 28, 2012

The Woman Who Made Me Beautiful

It was definitely a relief that I had finally found a treatment that seemed to be working. No more bouncing around doctors and I  could finally have hope that one day I may look normal again. However, it certainly wasn't a quick fix. My hair was growing back extremely slowly. Worse than that, the bald spot on top of my head had grown so large it could no longer be covered with head scarves. At first I had found ways to comb my hair over to the side and pin it in a way that covered everything. As long as I used a lot of hair spray and the wind didn't blow, I could maybe pass it off. However, now that was no longer an option either. It was hats or nothing.

Months ago I had come to the realization that maybe I would need to shave my head and get a wig. At this point, I was thinking that was probably inevitable  I could not go through wearing hats every day for the next year... or however long it would take for my hair to grow back. You know, if I had to shave my head and get a wig, maybe I would have a head shaving party to take away the sting. As I began planning what that party might look like, the reality sank in even further. At 28 years-old, I was really talking about shaving my head?

The more impossible it became to cover up my bald spots, the more emotional I became. My husband tried his hardest to console me, but it was to no avail. At least once a day I would break out into tears. Sometimes it was in the bathroom at work after I glanced in the mirror and saw the baldness sticking through my hair. Many times it was in the car on the way home from work. Once, I even began crying at my desk when I saw an older picture of me on Facebook and thought I may never look like that again.

See, there is something people... well mainly MEN don't realize about us women. Our identities as women are very closely tied to two things: our breasts and our hair. These two things allow us to celebrate our womanhood as well as our personality and our self-identity. We dye our hair, cut it, wear it in different styles. We buy products to make it curly, to make it straight. When we have a good hair day, it starts us off in a great mood that carries us through the rest of the day. Our hair is the reason it takes us over an hour to get ready. When we lose this, it leaves us lost. It leaves us wondering where to go from here. How do I celebrate myself, celebrate my womanhood without my hair?

So I began an online search for wig stores. Where else to start? I might as well use Google. I had noone else to go to for advice or help. I was on my own. I knew I had to go somewhere that would help me determine the best type or style of wig to get. I couldn't do this anymore on my own. I really needed some help. I found a place in downtown Dallas that seemed to focus on wigs for cancer patients. That may be a good route to take. But almost as soon as I began my search, I realized I was in for a hefty task. Wigs were so expensive!! How could we ever afford this?

After hours of searching, I suddenly came across a salon in McKinney that claimed to have a specialty in helping cancer patients with wigs. Well, this place was just down the street. Maybe I could pop in for a consultation. That would at least give me an idea of what I would be dealing with.

I walked into Shear Image by Rene completely nervous. I didn't have a grand to drop on a wig and I didn't want this woman to think I was wasting her time. Rene walked up to me with a warm smile and a friendly greeting. She gestured me to the back of the salon where she had a separate room specifically for wig consultations. "Most of my clients like the privacy because they aren't comfortable with others seeing," she explained.
"I really appreciate that," I replied. I slowly took off my hat to reveal the baldness I was dealing with. I held my breath and waited for... I don't know what I was waiting for. Would she jump into a sales pitch and bring down a $1500 wig that would make me look like a completely different person? Would she ask me to shave the rest of my hair off?

"Well you still have a lot of hair left," she said. "That's great!"

"It is?" I asked. Maybe she wouldn't suggest I shave it off then.

"I know exactly what you need," she exclaimed. She began rummaging through drawers and finally pulled out  what looked like half of a wig. "Well, this isn't the one I would recommend, but it is close. Actually, the one I would recommend has holes in it so you can pull your hair through the top to help it blend really well. I used to have one of those, but I had a lady come in last week with a similar issue that you have. The one I had in the shop was her exact hair color and she just begged me to purchase it right then because she was leaving on a business trip. I just couldn't say no."

"Ok," I said. She was talking so fast and it was all a blur. You mean, there is someone else around here with a similar problem to mine? It wasn't just me? She came over to where I was sitting in front of the mirror and she placed it on my head.

"Now, we can style this however you want. We can dye it to match your hair color, we can cut it to help it blend, we will make it look so natural. You won't believe how great this will look." I looked at myself in the mirror and I really didn't recognize myself. It had been so long since I had seen a part on top of my head. It had been a long time since hair had framed my face.

"How much is it?" I asked, afraid of the response.

"The cost of the hair piece is $300. I know that is a big pricey, but it should last year more than a year. I will include the cut and style at no cost." Compared to the prices I had seen for full wigs, this was a steal! And, I wouldn't have to shave my head. I'd actually get to style my own hair!!

Two weeks later, I walked back into the salon, ready to finally feel like a woman again. Rene approached me with a look of apprehension. "Unfortunately, we had a patient come in and he is still back in the consultation room," she said. "Would you mind terribly if we at least just washed your hair out here in the salon?"

I instantly got a knot in my stomach. For a while, I had been thinking I needed to be more open about my disease. The stress and the tension I experienced every day, wondering if someone could see my bald spot, was not healthy. And, maybe if more people knew about this, talked about this disease, it would be a lot easier for others to find answers than it was for me.

"You know," I said, "Let's just do the whole thing out here. Wash, dye, style, let's just do it all out here."

"Really?" Rene asked. "Oh my gosh, that would be great. The girls at the salon have never seen me do this before and I would love for them to see how this is done. It would be really great for them if you really don't mind."

"Let's do it," I said with confidence. "And I want bangs too. I've wanted to have bangs my entire life and I never could because my hair was so fine. Well, I definitely don't have that problem now, do I. so, I'd like to have bangs."

As she began to work, my excitement began to grow. I got a few strange looks and experienced some whispers in the salon, but the employees were fantastic. They asked me questions, told me how fantastic this was going to look. I felt like I was in the middle of family even though I had never met anyone. One older woman was getting her hair washed and she whispered to the lady washing her hair, "Why is that girl up there bald? Is that a new hair style kids are doing these days?" I almost burst out laughing and I saw the stylist was holding back a chuckle as well.

"No, ma'am. She has something called allopecia. It causes her hair to fall out. We are getting her fitted with a wig today."

Another woman came up to me as I waited for my hair dye to settle. She grabbed my hands in hers and I felt her place a small laminated card into the palm of my hands. She looked me straight into the eyes and smiled. "You are so brave. Thank you for letting us share this moment with you. You are absolutely beautiful and I am going to pray for you everyday and ask God to make that hair grow back." Tears began to well up in my eyes. I looked down at the card in my hand and it was a prayer, something I could recite to God during my lowest points. I was so touched.

As Rene fitted the wig on my head to do the final touch ups, my chair was surrounded with people commenting about how beautiful I was. So many women, all asking me questions, telling me how brave I was, telling me they would pray for me. I felt so at home.

Just as she was finishing, a couple walked in that were definitely regulars. They began chatting near my chair and the woman began commenting on my hair color and how much she liked it. Rene looked at my and smiled, then turned to the woman. "Looks like her natural hair, doesn't it?"

The woman's jaw dropped to the floor and she looked confused. "What do you mean? That isn't her hair." My heart leaped with joy. People thought this was my real hair!!! I was back. I was a woman again!!

Thank you Rene. Not only did you give me back my confidence, but you did that in an environment that was so warm and welcoming, I can't imagine ever going anywhere else. You truly changed my life.

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