1. The Change
2. Nurse Ratched
3. Hair

Chapter 3


By JULIE SMITH | Published: March 14, 2010

It was a Saturday morning; the newspaper was scattered throughout the house – the news section was on the bed, the editorial carpeted the office, and the crossword was doomed to solitary in the bathroom. The business, travel, professional and legal segments were neatly stacked near the back door, unread and ready to dump in the recycle bin.

Cancer therapies would given me a six-month holiday to do something with my writing. Before this medical scuffle, I had joined It is an awesome site, and I endured a huge learning curve to be able to use it. After quitting and going back a number of times, I’m glad I pursued it. I was writing about my experiences and one subject was always looming in the loss.

Human hair goes through a lot of ‘wear and tear’ to appease social acceptance. It can be a symbol of individualism, groups, culture and nationalities. Hair gets styled, cut, dyed, foiled, straightened, waxed, sprayed and artificially lengthened. It usually grows about one third of an inch each month. I have my hair…well, for the moment, and it’s a statement about me. According to conflicting sources, my hair was due for ‘drop off’ anywhere from 10 days to four weeks.

After revising my second chapter on chemotherapy, I had decided to cut my hair short – real short. I wanted to get used to the idea of having no hair and a ‘shorty’ would be the step before the ‘baldy’.

I drove down to the hairdressers practicing my spiel. Ten weeks of overgrown foiled hair, had left a one-inch halo of pearly grey growth emanating from my scalp. I couldn’t wait another four weeks with it looking like that. I entered the stereo-typed sanctum of black imitation leather and chrome.

“Hello, how can I help you?” said a man in his mid-fifties. I took a quick look around and noticed a woman sitting in a chair, draped in a black Dracula cape, looking at herself in the mirror, while her clone dabbed brown dye with a paintbrush to her sectioned hair.

“Yes,” I said as I noticed he was free for a quick cut. “I’ve had my first chemo, and my hair will fall out in about four weeks. I want something short and spunky.” Big smile.

“Sure. Come over here and sit down.” Ms Dracula and her clone were dead silent. I rattled on about being new to Bribie Island, the heat and midges, and soon the silence barrier was broken with everyone inputting their bits of gossip. Then I steered the conversation to the topic of cancer.

“Do you think I ought to dye my hair pink and make a statement?” Snip, snip, snip.. I had no intention of doing so, but it put a bit of spark in the subject.

“Nooooo,” said Dracula, shaking her head. Snip.

“Yea, that’s what my mother said. Hey, Terry, you’re really snipping away here.” Giggles and laughter followed.

“Don’t worry, you’re going to love it,” he said.

“It’s really short, isn’t it?”

“Yep.” More giggles.

I looked in the mirror and to my horror saw the spitting image of my father, before he died when I was 28.

“Do you think I look like a man?”

“Nooooo, you look great!” Dracula countered. "By the way, my name is Jane," she smiled.

Terry looked at the clone and said, "And that's my wife Sherry." I nodded and smiled.

"You mentioned work before. What do you do, Jane?"

"I work for Queensland Mental Health," she said with a smile. "And your attitude is great. Don't change it." I felt like I'd just got the tick from the Heart Foundation.

“You’re a positive person and well, you do look spunky,” Terry supported her. We drifted into another funny conversation about how small the island was and I listened to bits of gossip which floored me.

After he finished, I left my 'hair family', and the they waved from inside as I drove off. I went to the beach with my dog, Kora, and it was a very beautiful day. The Pummicestone Passage reflected The Glass House Mountains to the west; fishermen were casting on a white beach at mid-tide.

Five days later, I’m on WDC, writing an email to Nahzo. I was wearing a black t-shirt and looked over my shoulder and noticed it was lightly covered with short, white hair. I looked at the other shoulder – the same. I looked down the front, it was like a light snow. I’ll never be able to describe the horror I felt. I stood up and whisked them off like they were little spiders. Then I grabbed some hair on my head and it came out like a dog’s fur, in a manic shed. I finished my email and poor Nahzo must have thought I was crazy. I told him my hair was falling out . I took a shower, but didn’t do the usual, hard scrub. I looked down at the drain… nothing. I had to keep moving.

I knocked on my neighbour's door and Julia answered with a Scottish welcome.

“Ah, Anna. Come in,” she said as she looked up at my 5-foot, 8-inch frame. I looked down at her 4-foot, 10-inch person.

“Look!” I said as I grabbed my hair and pulled out about 50 hairs. She looked perplexed and then grinned.

“It was bound to happen, you know. Come in and we’ll have a coffee.” I looked around for a place to get rid of the hair in my hand. “Put it in the bin,” she said.

I walked back down her driveway and threw it in the air. “Here you go, birds,” then went in for much-needed support.

The day went very slowly. Every afternoon at about 5:30, I took Kora out in front, and played fetch in the dead end. The children on the block always came over and threw the ball, thoroughly enjoying themselves for ten minutes. Today was no different except for once, the parents were milling about talking. I was captured by a young mother who wanted to tell me the medical and psychological problems she had with her daughter - I knew that already. The little cherub had a horrible habit of screaming, and I mean really loudly, when she didn’t get attention. A man came over and pet Kora and she jumped up on him, hitting him square in the crouch. Well, that’s just Kora.

I was concerned how the children would interpret my baldness. It’s a new concept, like the birds and the bees, but this was sickness and baldness. It couldn’t make much sense to them, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to explain it to them if they asked…way too touchy. So after a few dog stories were traded, I jumped in.

“I just wanted you to know, I am going through chemo.” Dead silence. “That I’ll be bald fairly soon, and you might want to be ready for any questions the kids have.”

“They’ll still love you,” a sunburned bald man replied. How could I get it across that it wasn’t about me.

“No, what I mean is it might come as a shock,” I tried to explain.

“Give them five minutes and they won’t even care,” he said kindly. Then offers to walk the dog, go shopping and anything I needed, filled the air. I assured them everything was fine, normal, in fact, pretty damn good.

I said my goodbyes and went inside. I sat down and felt warm. The neighbours had been positive and supportive and I didn’t have to answer any tough 'kiddy' questions which the parents should provide. I looked at my shoulders but couldn’t see any hair – I was wearing a white shirt. But in a few days I'd have to go back to Terry and ask him to shave my head.

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