“The root of suffering is attachment.” Buddha.
It’s cold being bald. Come summer, it might be fun to feel the cool breeze, dunk in the ocean whether it’s hair washing day or not, or take a ride in a convertible without hair whipping my face. For now, I’m cold. I never knew. I’m suddenly amazed at my bald friends who never complain.
My friends and family have me covered, thankfully. Cute hats. Lovely scarves. A halo wig (with my old hair, pictured above). I have options. Experienced friends explained gently but thoroughly what would happen. They kept me company, virtually, as the hair was going, going, gone. They sent me pictures of their beautiful bald heads and told me how to see the upside (the chemo is working, killing the fastest-growing cells…like cancer). That’s good because it was also very, very sad to lose my hair. I was quite attached to it. Literally and emotionally.
Losing my hair has been a relatively fast but stepwise process.
- Step 0 – long, wild, rebellious hair I planned to wear into old age. Thanks to Shelby Hersh for years of wearing pleasure and indulging yet moderating my Chaldean desire for flashy blond highlights.
- Step 1 – “the pixie” – cutting enough to make the halo wig. Thanks again, dear Shelby, for making a hard thing easier and more stylish.
- Step 2 – “the badass buzz cut” – sheltering in place, John “MacGyver” LeMay consulted Shelby by phone, fired up the beard shaver (because that’s how he rolls now) and took care of this business himself. Not bad.
- Step 3 – “the cue ball” – If you’ve been through chemo, you know the hair comes out in bunches in the shower, even when it’s short. It’s crazy. I had a LOT of hair. Then, even when it’s short, it sheds onto your collar, making you itch as if you’ve just had a haircut without the cape…all day long. So, it becomes easier to proactively part ways with the hair that’s left, even though it’s difficult. I’ll be honest. There were tears. I’m only human. I got halfway through shaving my own head before I realized I couldn’t do the back. Nothing about it was pretty. Enter MacGyver again, who helped clean up the mess, aesthetically and emotionally.
I’ve been lucky to feel surprisingly good in chemotherapy…so far. But being bald makes my status as a “cancer patient” unmistakable, to me. This adventure was not in my plan. I’ll adjust to the person who stares at me from the mirror now, but it’s going to take a minute. The hair is a metaphor for all of the losses somehow:
- How I thought I would look
- How I thought I would spend time
- How I thought I could manage health…and avoid hospitals, hopefully forever
As a yoga teacher, I know that attachment is the problem. The solution is not to lament the losses but to learn to live beyond them. The work is to lose the attachment, as I lose the hair. My Health Journeys app tells me about the gifts of cancer (and when Belleruth Naparstek says such wise things in that melodic and soothing voice, you believe her!). Cancer teaches you to slow down and realize what’s important. In the big scheme of things, hair is not.
Humans get attached though, and I’m no different. I’m trying to lean into this opportunity to practice non-attachment, in a real, raw, and very personal way. It’s a special kind of yogi boot camp. I fail a lot. In between seeking enlightenment, I rail against the physical and emotional toxicity making so many of us sick. I feel sad the cold cap program was discontinued because of a pandemic. Then, I realize losing my hair is just part of the deal. It’s a chance to empathize with what too many people go through these days. The widespread fellowship I’ve received is both heartbreaking and beautiful.
And you know what? Practicing non-attachment is also freeing. Here are some things cancer is helping me shed that I won’t miss: pleasing anyone else, focusing too much on the future vs the present, the illusion of control, and more. Letting go of all of these things opens the way for noticing more beauty, feeling more peace, and experiencing profound love and joy. Letting go makes room for presence and empathy.
As we say in yoga, it’s a practice.
So, I do.
I’ll just keep my hat on for a while.
It’s warmer that way.
Thanks to Elizabeth Brown for edits to this post.
Halo wigs can be made via https://chemodiva.com/. Thanks to Steve Acho for telling me about them.
For more on #empathy, check out my book: Currency of Empathy – The Secret to Thriving in Business and Life