Growing up, all I wanted to be was a hairdresser. I would play with my doll's hair and would spend hours in front of the mirror trying to turn my dead straight hair curly. I loved everything about hair and dreamt of being a creative person standing behind a chair in a salon making people feel good about themselves.
I was a late bloomer in the hairdressing world and didn’t start my apprenticeship until I was 17. The day I found out I had the job, it felt like my life fell into place. I had dreamt of that moment for so long and finally, it had come to fruition. I was going to be a hairdresser.
I was proud of my hair. It was naturally red, which I hated. My mum would yell at me like a banshee, “Don’t you colour your hair, it’s beautiful and you will never get that colour out of a bottle!” She was right, I have never been able to get that colour back. Not that I regret it, as I have had a lot of fun being every colour on the colour wheel. However, now as I’m getting older (and the greys are appearing) I would like to go back to my natural colour. My hair was thick and luscious, dead straight but it was healthy. No matter how many times I coloured it, I always maintained it well and made sure it was in the best shape it could be in.
Never in a million years did it enter my mind that one day I would be sitting on my sister's floor allowing my young daughters and Dad shave it off. Never in a million years did I think I would be diagnosed with cancer at the age of twenty-seven either and have the need to shave my hair. My hair was my identity and what was I going to be without it? The need to have chemotherapy also meant that my beautiful locks were going to go.
After my first treatment, I kept my hair. It didn’t even look like falling out. I allowed my mind to believe that maybe I was going to be one of the lucky ones. Maybe I was going to be one of those people who didn’t lose their hair. How wrong I was! The morning after the second treatment I awoke to strands of hair all over my pillow, my head felt like it was on fire, and the reality sledgehammer hit me hard. I had told my girls that mummy had to have some special medicine to make her better and that it will make her hair fall out. I also promised when it started to fall out, that they could cut my hair. They were super excited as they had spent many hours in the salon watching me cut hair and knew it wasn’t something they were allowed to do. Being able to allow them to do this, not only was exciting for them in a world that suddenly became a scary one, but they could also see and understand why mummy had no hair.
As I sat on my sister’s kitchen floor and I heard my dad turn on the clippers I shivered. My pride and joy, my hair was about to be a thing of the past. I wasn’t going to cry although I wanted to. I needed to show everyone there that I was strong, that I chose to shave my hair off and that I was in control. The relief from my hair was enormous. My head didn’t feel like it was on fire anymore, it felt free and strangely fresh. I stood up and Bob told me I was beautiful and hugged me. Then I hugged my dad, and I hugged him like it was my last. I had a little tear before I turned around and said “righto! Let’s go shopping.” I was going out in public and I was going to face all the stares and looks head-on. I was in control and I was going to make my girls see that their mum was brave!
My hair, I thought was what defined me, but I was so wrong. Being bald was so liberating. At times it was a pain in the arse, like when I went for a spray tan. I had to bend over to spray the top of my head just so it all blended! Like when I went to a wedding and thought I needed to cover my bald head and trying to find the right headscarf to match my outfit was painful. What if I did a face mask? Where do you stop? Most of the time, I rocked it! My head was a nice shape, I spent more time on my makeup making sure the brows were straight as I had more time as I didn’t have to do my hair. Being bald was a small price to pay for beating the cancer.
I never thought I would be working as a hairdresser with a bald scone, but there I was on my good days, cutting others hair, making jokes and loving life. Even though there was not a single hair on my head, I was still Kate. The same old Kate minus the locks. I knew it was going to grow back and it was even exciting not knowing what it was going to look like when it did come back. I was going to have fun styling it and creating a new me.
For all you chemo patients out there who have lost your hair, hang in there. It’s daunting at first, but when you take control back and face the terror of losing your hair, there will be tears and butterflies in your belly, but you will be ok. Just keep reminding yourself, it isn’t permanent, it will grow back. Your hair doesn’t define who you are!