My mom’s hair has always been a source of pride for her.
She has always had beautiful, long black hair, and I have many memories of her carefully straightening it before going out.
In September 2016, my mom was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. That meant chemotherapy. And it meant losing her hair.
She knew it would fall out in clumps, so she decided to cut her hair while it was still healthy, to be made into a wig for when she went bald.
The day before her haircut, she and I walked through our neighborhood. It’s just us in our house – she emigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon when she was 18. She and my dad divorced when I was a child, and I’m 17 now.
“I almost don’t feel like it’s actually going to happen,” she said on our walk. “I think once I’m sitting there and it’s actually happening, then I’m going to have a feeling very clearly. But abstractly, if I think about it now, I would tell you that it sucks. I’m not looking forward to it at all.”
The next day, I left school early to pick up my mom and drive her to the appointment. I asked her about her thoughts on the process so far.
“What happens with cancer is you lose control over your life so quickly,” she said. “It takes over everything, and so even getting a haircut before you lose your hair, is in a way a measure of getting some control.”
When we arrived at the shop, we were greeted warmly by a small elderly man named Anton. His workspace was filled with colorful wigs of all shapes and sizes.
My mom sat down, and Anton began to cut her hair.
As he snipped, she told him, “I might get like a pink wig or something, just for fun.”
Anton: “Most people when they go through chemo don’t want to have that kind of fun.”
Mom: “Maybe I’ll get, like, a redhead. I think I’d look good as a redhead. I don’t think I could pull off blonde.”
Me: “I’d be curious though.”
Anton: “Red would be a hot color for you.”
Mom: “There you go.”
Within 20 minutes, my mom’s hair was almost entirely gone. She looked in the mirror.
“It’s not bad,” she said.
“This is a good look on you actually,” I said. “You look kind of tomboyish.”
“I look very tomboyish,” she said. “I like the tomboyish thing.”
As we left the shop and headed back to the car, my mom was smiling.
“Strangely, I’m not traumatized by this at all,” she told me. “I feel empowered by it. My head doesn’t look weird, the shape of it. I was expecting some weird thing to stick out but it’s not. And it feels just strangely liberating.”
A month after the haircut, my mom was bald.
At three months, she lost her eyebrows, and after four months she lost her eyelashes. It’s now been seven months since the haircut.
My mom has worked as a graphic designer for over twenty years, but she hasn’t been able to work much while she’s been sick. I’ve been helping her as best I can to get her whatever she needs —a glass of water in the middle of the night, or whatever new food the chemo makes her crave.
It’s been hard to balance taking care of her and maintaining good grades, but I’ve been doing as much as I can.
On a recent Friday night, she was doing what has become routine to her over these last few months: sitting in front of a mirror and making sure her wig is on correctly.
The wig made out of her hair didn’t look as natural as she had hoped, so now she mainly wears a black store-bought wig made of plastic. I watched her put it on.
“It’s great for rain,” she said. “Nothing can destroy the shape, and honestly when it rains, it feels like I’m wearing this big hat, so there are some advantages.”
My mom said she still feels self-conscious wearing a wig. “I always wear hats to cover the part that makes it looks really artificial, but I have to say, in a few months I have really gotten used to it. Like everything, you adjust and you make it work."
“I wish I could go bald and not care, but I do care. I didn’t want people to stare at me and say, ‘Oh, here comes a sick person.’”
These days when my mom goes out, she wears a wig, colors in her eyebrows and uses fake lashes. I watched her get ready to leave for dinner with a friend, which she worked hard on.
“It’s amazing, our ability to be able to adjust, isn’t it?” she said. “We always find a way to keep going. I think that’s the biggest lesson of it all. Nothing is the end of the world, certainly not losing your hair.”
“You ready?” I asked her.
“Yup. How do I look?” she said.
“Good,” I said.
I’m proud of my mom for fighting like only she can, and hair or not, she’s beautiful to me.