Chemo Glow

They say that women who are undergoing chemotherapy sometimes develop glowing skin because of all the cells that are dying, sloughing off, and turning over.


The bad news is everything else that happens. Baldness was the worst thing for me. I’ve always prided myself on my thick mane of wavy hair. It was a huge part of my looks and my identity. Watching it fall out was the hardest thing I ever had to do.


I used to wake up in the morning with my scalp on fire from the hair pulling against the pillow at night. I’d jump in the shower and watch handfuls of it fall out and swirl around the drain. I just sat in the stream of water and cried. I think it hit me so hard because I felt marked by cancer. It’s like I couldn’t pretend to the world anymore that this wasn’t happening to me. Everyone who saw me now would know. Even if I wore a wig, I wouldn’t look like me. I’d look like someone else.


The process of going bald was very uncomfortable, but it only lasted a couple of weeks until finally my last few hairs went the way of the Dodo bird. Now I had a gleaming dome, no eyelashes or eyebrows and a complete Brazilian without the pain of a wax job! I felt like a newly landed alien.


Thank God for the American Cancer Society Look Good, Feel Better Makeover Workshop. They showed me how to use makeup to create eyebrows, and eye makeup to make it look like I had eyelashes. They even helped me pick out a flattering wig.  Now when I looked in the mirror I didn’t look quite like me, but I at least looked like a normal woman instead of a bald, blinking, baby bird.


I found this resource the same week my hair started falling out and it saved me from becoming a shut-in. Going bald and dealing with the physical and emotional effects of chemo was like a one-two punch to my psyche. I became paralyzed with grief and fear and wanted nothing more than to hide in my house and never see anyone again.


It was such a relief to walk out of that makeover looking human again. It literally saved my life, because, without them, I wouldn’t have been able to meet with my clients and keep on working. And I needed to work to pay my bills.


It was a huge weight off my chest to know I could go to my appointments, meet with people, and keep on working. I remember my first appointment after my make over because I still felt odd and self-conscious and had been avoiding and postponing it as long as I could. But the makeover and new wig had given me the confidence I needed to face my client, and to face the rest of the world, too.


I worried about what I should do or say if anyone made a comment about my face, or my hair looking different. I rehearsed in advance that I’d say, “I just wanted to update my look so I got a makeover, thanks!”


But I needn’t have worried because my first meeting was with a man who was completely oblivious to my appearance. He didn’t even seem to notice that my hair was a slightly different color, and short and straight, instead of shoulder length and wavy. He also didn’t give my eyebrows or lashes a second look. Phew! What a relief!


But, I’d have to say the best part of that day was pulling up to the building where the meeting was being held. I couldn’t find parking because of all the construction going on, so I asked one of the construction guys where it was safe to park and he helped me back into a place right out front. As I got out of the car we talked a bit. I thanked him for his help, and he smiled and told me I was beautiful. Then he asked me out.


I was stunned. This was my first time out in public since becoming bald and having to wear a wig. I couldn’t believe anyone could be fooled by my painted-on face and synthetic hair. I felt like an imposter. Subconsciously, I expected the makeover to help me escape notice, that I’d be able to “get away” with appearing normal, but that I’d somehow really be invisible now.


Surprise! This man saw me. He said I glowed.


It was really healing to have someone see me not as I used to be, but as just a woman who looked nice, who he wanted to get to know a little better.


This is when I know the universe is looking out for me. Because this man said exactly what I needed to hear that day. He said I looked good. That I didn’t need to hide. That I was okay just as I was, even though I looked different than I used to.


Whenever I get cynical, sad, or jaded about my situation, I think about moments like these. And I see the grace that exists in the world. And I realize that I am loved and that everything is okay.


To find a Free Makeover Workshop in your city, go to the Look Good Feel Better website and search for programs by your zip code.