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How I Lost My Hair and Found Myself: a guest blog by Sharon Blynn

Tuesday, 15 July 2014 15:11:00 Europe/London

Alopecia beauty and female hair loss

Sharon Blynn, founder of Bald Is Beautiful

I had long hair for nearly my entire life. I was a hippie-chick, my flowing locks symbols of flower-power, peace, and love. I couldn’t imagine cutting my hair, ever! Suddenly diagnosed with ovarian cancer in summer 2000, I now faced losing my hair ― ALL of it. How do I say goodbye to something I considered so central to my identity? I decided to make the process fun, turning my fear into a positive, empowering choice to reinvent myself.

Phase One: short hair cut, donate locks to Wigs for Kids.

My lovely hairdresser  I planned on getting my chic new ’do done by Michelle, a lovely French woman who has been cutting my hair since I was 5 years old. It was always the same my whole life. Nothing fancy. Just trim the split ends. No more than an inch or so comes off . . . ever! Most of the time I didn’t even let her give it a blow-dry. It was just wash, rinse, trim, done. She would periodically try to convince me to try a shorter ’do or even some curls or color — it eventually became our running joke when I’d show up every few months for a cut. “So we’re going to take it up to your shoulders today, right?” And we’d laugh as she lovingly sat me in her chair for “the usual”, sharing sweet conversation, her gravely French accent like a warm blanket of familiarity and home. Who else but Michelle, then, would I trust to chop it all off? So, I made an appointment for a few days post-round 1 chemo, with no mention of chemo or cancer. I thought it’d be a fun surprise after two decades of adventures in split ends to finally let her give me the pixie ’do she’s always wanted to!

I need a hair cut and I need it now! When the day came, though, I was in too much pain to go anywhere. Michelle was leaving for Paris in a few days and my schedule was, well, all booked up with pain management activities! So my twin sis, Elisa (monozygotes rule!), drove to the salon and apparently it went something like: "Sharon-has-cancer-and-started-chemotherapy-and-needs-her-hair-cut-now!" And with that, I got a haircut house call. Michelle brought her kit and tender smile and gifted styling skills to my parents’ house and set up in the sliding glass door-lined living room, awash in Miami sunlight looking out onto Biscayne Bay.

Two sisters supporting each other through hair loss

Sharon with her twin sister, Elisa.

Smiling with nervous anticipation, I tied my hair into ponytails. Two quick snips from Michelle, and my long hair was gone. We burst into teary-eyed smiles, and hugged tightly. She then proceeded with the stylish pixie cut and our usual sweet salon-style chit-chat. My dread was overshadowed, banished, by this loving gift, making what could’ve been a somber occasion into one of my life’s most special moments. This was the beginning of my coming into myself in a way I’d never anticipated. There was much more to come (out, that is) 9 days later. All good hairs must eventually come to a split end, and so the surreal part of this process began. I woke up with mounds of hair on my pillow. When I ran my fingers through my hair, large clumps appeared in my palms. I stared at them, covered in my own hair, feeling helpless. It was everywhere ― on my bed, the floor, in the sink, the kitchen. Anywhere I went was a trail of my expelled hair. The worst was washing it ― bad idea. Hair all over me, all over the bathtub, and now it was wet ’n’ sticky and didn’t just wipe away. I was tarred and feathered! Finally, a mere head nod extricating a mutinous cascade of hair brought on Phase Two of my transformation: the electric razor.

How do you shave? I called a friend who helped me shop for the right set of clippers. Then he, my sister, and my brother watched the how-to video and set up outside on the back patio. Again, the soothing sounds of the wind and rippling bay water served as the backdrop for the next shift.

women showing hair styles from long to short before chemo

Let the head-shaving party begin! 

Here's where I started and where I ended up - with lots of laughter in between.[/caption] I sat down, draped a sheet around my shoulders, and took a deeeeeep breath: Wirrrrrrrrr!! Everyone took turns shaving my head, the clipper setting getting lower and lower. All the while, we talked, laughed, and took photos of the evolution of my new look. After several passes, we finally arrived at zero. No turning back, I was a bald chick!

Chemo chic beauty, cancer patient beauty

Beauty without hair? Yes and a beauty not defined by the media's expectations.

I looked into the mirror and saw myself as if for the first time. I held my own gaze, eyeball to reflected eyeball. And, to my surprise, I really loved what I saw! I decided to go au natural — no hats, scarves, definitely no wigs — and I began to see myself in a whole new way.

I lost my hair and found the campaign trail

As I embraced my own chemo-induced baldness with a sense of adventure, I was truly shocked by the overwhelmingly positive response I received, especially because I had been so consumed with anxiety and fear about losing my hair in the first place. It sparked in me a fierce desire to dispel the stigma that is associated with hair loss due to chemotherapy, or any other hair loss conditions for that matter. I wanted to do something to expand social concepts of what constitutes beauty and femininity, and promote the idea that women are not the sum of their parts ― with or without hair, one or both breasts, or reproductive organs, we are spiritually whole and perfect.

So I started Bald Is Beautiful, but that’s a whole other hairy tale . . . I share this story because there’s not enough awareness among people in my age group about cancer. We fall into a middle ground of statistics and research, most cases being on either the paediatric or geriatric end of the spectrum. Because we often feel invincible and indestructible during this period of our lives, it can make our experience with cancer somewhat isolating. The issues are different, the emotional and social impact is different, and sometimes even the choices of treatment are different. I was fortunate to have an incredible team of doctors and healers, and invaluable support from family and friends. But not everyone does, and it’s vital to educate ourselves and each other as early in our lives as possible about healthy and self-loving life habits and learn to treat our mind, body, and spirit as one interconnected system which must be nurtured and loved.

Cancer redefined my life for the better

Cancer completely redefined my life, and I’m healthier and more self-aware than I’ve ever been. The experience of losing my hair, and ultimately both of my ovaries, gave new meaning to the phrase “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” I lost my hair and found my true beauty. I lost my ovaries and found the core of my femininity. So much about the cancer journey is dealing with “loss”, but in the cosmic balance of all things, there is and was so much more gained from my experience along the way. Ultimately, I gained a profound revelation about my own power, my sense of self and identity, and a deeper understanding of my Wholeness and Womanity . . . plus an unexpected and inspired life vision and purpose in my Bald Is Beautiful movement! With a reinvigorated love of life, I feel more beautiful, more sexy, more ME than ever. And all of it radiates to the world from within me. With love . . . “Always smile from the inside out!”

Sharon Blynn, Actorvist/Writer, Founder of Bald Is Beautiful http://baldisbeautiful.org/site.html ©2002/2014

Sharon Blynn, Bald Is Beautiful

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