I love my hair.

I enjoy getting it blow-dried before a wedding or an outing, and I feel fabulous and confident when it’s done. That probably makes me sound a bit vain! When my consultant oncologist said that my hair would be gone on the first cycle of chemotherapy, I wasn’t surprised. But I did dread the whole ordeal of it.

I told myself that I didn’t care about my hair, that I’d sacrifice anything for my life back. This is true. Nevertheless, the realities of cancer treatment are hard. There are lots of side effects from the various chemotherapy drugs but, thankfully, one may not get them all. I filled my family in on the possibilities.

Taking control

Julie, my daughter, knew how important the whole hair loss issue might be to me. A few days later she said: “Mum, I’ve been thinking. You need to maintain as much control as you can over what happens to you over the next few months. I think you should talk to Michael and cut your hair short before it starts to fall out.”

As her words sank in I could feel the panic rising. At that time, chemotherapy was still in the future. Julie has a sound head on her shoulders and her training in psychology helps her to understand the impact of trauma on people. I thought about her suggestion and I could see that it made sense. Lumps of my beautiful, long, blonde (expensively maintained) hair falling out would be devastating. So, I phoned Michael McGuire from Darcy’s in Ballincollig. I had already told him on my previous visit that the cancer was back and I would be facing treatment. Michael has been my hair stylist forever. He should also be given an honorary degree in psychology.

He often says to me: “Well, don’t you look a sight!” This would be before getting my hair done. No wonder I’d feel gorgeous when the job was done after Michael’s reverse psychology. “Michael,” I said, “will you cut my hair – all of it – up short?”

“I will of course,” he responded. “Come in at 6pm on Wednesday when the salon is closed.” That compassion and understanding was so lovely. Once the appointment was made, I felt in control.

Beanie solution

Working up to Wednesday, I did a lot of thinking. Of all the possible side-effects listed for the chemotherapy drugs, hair loss is the most traumatic because it brands you a cancer patient – a vulnerable person – and immediately makes people feel awkward. Yet, it is a side effect that won’t cause any physical pain. It is also a temporary situation. It is tough for the family, friends, work colleagues and neighbours looking on. The reality of it speaks volumes.

So as this self-counselling was going on, it dawned on me that I spend at least 50% of my time in my Irish Farmers Journal beanie with not a rib of hair in sight. Another favourite beanie is my pink Dairymaster one. These are on when I’m gardening, farming, hanging out washing, going to the shop and so on. My family are well used to seeing me with my caps on and, most importantly, I’m happy in them.

Michael’s magic

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel when Michael cut my hair, but I was certainly going to cry. Then, I got a text from my friend, Siobhán. “I am going with you to get your hair cut. See you at 6pm outside D’arcys. No argument!”

Then I cried.

Michael took us to the upstairs salon. Siobhán joked with Michael. I reached up and pulled the bobble off my ponytail. My hair tumbled around my shoulders. It’s a liberating feeling; something I do after a day’s work, getting ready to go out, or walking on a beach and I want to feel the wind in my hair.

I took a deep breath! Michael started his magic and I relaxed. They told me how beautiful I was with my hair short. We laughed while Siobhán took pictures and sent them to more friends and we laughed some more. Julie and my two friends really helped me to get my head around losing my hair. Then Siobhán and I went for a gin and tonic!

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