Sunday, June 13, 2010


Hair has always been a touchy subject for me.  At least since teenage years.  When I was a toddler and into grade school my mother dictated what hairstyle I wore.  As a result, it was always quite short, which when you have 5 kids to care for, made a lot of sense.  However, in 6th grade, the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan and things started changing both in the outside world, and for me.  I began to care about what I looked like, and what I cared about looking like was not what my mother cared about.  Despite my mother's very vocal opposition, I let my hair grow out and by sophomore year in high school, I looked like almost every other girl in my class.  Which, for me, was great!  I fit in:

I learned how to 'roll' my hair at night before I went to bed, to achieve the curls.  This involved parting and separating my hair into inch wide pieces and rolling them on pink or purple plastic rollers with small teeth, and inserting a white plastic pin into the middle of each roller to keep it in place.  The top of my head, the rollers were rolled backwards, and the ones around the side were rolled with an inside motion.  When all the rollers were fixed, a net was placed over them, and then I went to bed.  Yes, that's right, I slept on thousands of tiny plastic teeth.  It took a while to get used to it but when has the pursuit of beauty ever been easy?

Needless to say my mother, who was rather no nonsense about hair, found this hard to tolerate.  But she didn't have any leverage until the middle of my sophomore year, when hard contact lenses first became commercially available.  I was wild to get contacts, again, because I was in full throated pursuit of beauty.  With my glasses on, I looked really dorky as my 7th grade picture demonstrates:

So mother made a deal with me.  In exchange for cutting my hair, I would get contact lenses.  I got a more stylish haircut than the one at the top, but a number of the guys in high school started calling me "Twiggy,"  which was the name of a certain British model with very short hair.  I didn't want to be Twiggy, I wanted to be Jean Shrimpton.  Fat chance.  I remember the spring of my sophomore or junior year, we had a computer dance.  You filled out a questionnaire listing your physical attributes and interests and what you were interested in a guy, and then somone coded them and ran the questionnaires through a computer.  You got the results and spent the evening of the dance, trying to find who the computer had paired you up with.  For me it was easy.  I had two matches.  Both dorks.  My girlfriends, the ones with long hair had 8 or more matches.  It was because when they listed their preferences on the questionnaire, all the boys listed long hair as one of their desires. 

Somehow I made it all the way through the rest of high school with short hair, but as soon as I got to college, I stopped getting it cut.  By the time I graduated from college, I had, what my daughter calls mermaid hair.   It was just like most every other woman at the time, but what a relief not to stick out from the crowd again.  I I could twist it up behind my head, and put a stiff leather stick barrette over my hair to hold it in place.  The only problem I found with long hair, in this pre-blow dryer age, was that it took forever to dry after washing!  I could not venture outside into the frigid Minnesota winters with wet hair, because my hair would freeze into icicles.

I've been through many hair phases since college, of long hair, short hair, bleached hair, henna.  But the wonderful thing about it all, is that I was in control.  It was my hair and I could do what I wanted with it.  And it was thick hair that took abuse easily.  I took it for granted and did as I pleased. 

All of this is a preface to say that I am losing my hair this week to a new chemotherapy regime.  My third line treatment, after consultation with Dr. M at Seattle Cancer Care will not be taxotere, as GH recommended, but paclitaxel, another taxol derivative, but with fewer side effects than the taxotere.  However, keeping my hair is not one of them.  So I've spent the weekend trying to come to grips with letting go another part of myself in this continuing chess game of cancer.

Luckily I had three good friends from college, Lillian, Kim, and Ginny, who were with me this weekend and we spent most of the time talking, and eating, and talking and walking (at the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life around Greenlake), and talking and laughing, and talking and crying.  These are women who have led bold, interesting, caring lives.  We caught up on  36 years since college and reminisced about our years at Macalester.  Their presence and love was a gift of grace which helped me through this very difficult time.  And it is through their friendship and the friendship of so many of you, that I can give up my hair and continue this journey. 


Laura B. said...


You've always had beautiful hair. The kind I always wanted. When I was young, I could not, and now that I'm mature, I still cannot figure out why women get perms. I've learned to live with my curly frizz, but would still prefer silky long locks.

After this medication your hair will grow back and it will be beautiful again. In the meantime, you can go with the Brett Michaels look? Lots of bandannas!


Anonymous said...

Regina, I miss your comments on open forum. You are a formidable advocate for your causes and I admire that so much, even when I don't agree with your conclusions, and even more when I am intimidated by them!

I had imagined you as dark haired. The pictures of you here are beautiful! If I had that hair I would be soo unhappy at the thought of losing it! It will grow back. My brother in law is going through something similar, and has hair down to his behind, and a nice beard to go with it, and his is growing in again.

I pray that all goes well with the treatment you are receiving, and I look forward to seeing you again on Open Forum. It's not quite the same without you.

Love, Bonnie

PS I wrote here because I don't have your email address in front of me and know I could go to Yahoo and get it but I forgot my password and probably forgot the password question! That's how my brain works these days.

Madeleine Conway said...

Dear Regina

Thinking of you.


Anonymous said...

Well done. This may be one of my favorite of your blog posts.

- Leslie