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A question of beauty?

A while back, I had a medical appointment where my daughter went with me. It was right before her 10th birthday, so she was a typical 9-year-old girl... and happened to have long hair. At the appointment, the nurse practitioner commented to her, "Don't you think your mommy should grow out her hair, like yours? She would look so good."

The way she said it wasn't malice. It wasn't meant to be rude or mean. She said it in a very "nice" way.

However, it bothered me. And it bothered me more later... the more I thought about it. The funny thing is I never minded losing my hair during my treatment, so I wondered why it bothered me at all now.

Cancer makes you feel bonded with other cancer patients and survivors. There is an understanding - a kinship - that occurs within the cancer community. And I do understand, and respect, why many women are bothered by the cancer baldness - as losing one's hair is traumatic on an already traumatic cancer diagnosis.

Me with my kids, when I was bald.

The words bothered me. They bothered me because my current hair's mid-growth wasn't due to a random haircut. It wasn't a faze or style. I had been cancer bald... I had NO hair... anywhere. As a person in the medical field, she knows this, so I think it is why I was my initial reason for being bothered... her insensitivity.

Also, it bothered me because I am unhappy with the changes to my hair from treatment... even more than her insensitivity for having been cancer bald. My hair since treatment has been a problem, as it is not anything like my pre-cancer hair. I am still adjusting. Still learning how to deal with the new texture, new fineness, new everything.

For years my hair has been growing... slowly... finer... and it's barely at my shoulders. Just that week, I was at the point of frustration and ready to cut it short again. So, hearing I should grow it out only reinforced that it looked... well, it looked... bad.

After cancer, even if or when your hair comes back, it isn't always the same. Others see me and say, "you look so healthy". And usually they say this when I am in makeup and smiling, so of course I look healthy. I tricked you!

The thing is, when people (even family) see me I have taken the time to fancy myself up. And those are the times they comment that I look good and healthy. When I am natural... when the affects of treatment show... they usually do not comment. They do not even realize the different response to my physical appearance, but I do. I know that the makeup, hairstyles, & clothes help mask the affects.

The funny thing is when I look in the mirror, I immediately see the differences. I know what I looked like before, and now I see myself with thinning hair and eyelashes. And even worse my eyebrows didn't come back right. To me, without makeup, I don't look healthy. One of my biggest annoyances from hair regrowth was my facial hair. My eyebrows/lashes are still almost non-existent. They opted not to grow back... or minimally grow back.

Before & After.
Note: In before, no brow pencil used & minimal eye makeup.

I would like to think I am above worrying about my appearance... honestly, I only think about it occasionally... but, I do think about it.

Then I realized another reason why her words bothered me. It was because we often define female beauty by hair (and boobs). Even by other females. For women, having long hair is considered attractive, while short hair is not. Having nice breasts is also considered attractive, while scarred different sized breast (or no breasts) is not. This false standard of beauty makes it hard to deal with breast cancer... because you lose so many of the things that society tells you make you sexy or attractive or feminine.

I don't think prior to cancer I would have thought much about the comment. However, after losing all my hair... head, eyebrow, eyelashes, pubic, leg, armpit... basically all hair... and having completely mismatched breasts... I have a new awareness of what makes me feel insecure or unattractive.

So, because of cancer, I have new self-image issues to deal with.

As a response to these issue, people have told me I should be glad I have hair since I didn't have any with cancer. Maybe I should be content that I have some, but I'm not. I'm disappointed. I miss my old hair. I miss my eyelashes and brows. They were things I once took for granted.

Hair regrowth is not always a positive experience. I went through months of mange... seriously... my head was covered in patches that remained hair free. Even now, a few years after, I have thinning, odd textured hair. Others may not notice the changes, but I do. I deal with it daily... every morning when I fix my hair. I have adapted by cutting my hair differently... and doing what I can to mask the other issues.

From cancer bald to mange to currently managing

When I look into a mirror, I see someone unlike me. I still lack eyelashes and eyebrows... or I have just enough for others not to notice and just few enough to still look sick. Of course, make-up helps hide the issue. I can hide it, when I want to. My once long thick lashes, are few and far between and my eyebrows are thin and faded. I can purchase items to make these issues less of a noticeable issue. My hair is fine and thin. I can try haircuts with layers and keep it shorter to mask the issues.

It seems shallow and small. I know. But it is real.

So, the nurse practitioners words lingered in my mind. I thought about all the issues I was facing. Things I am coming to grips with about my new self. Things I am coping with and learning how to manage. I am looking in mirrors and focusing on what I like and accepting what I don't.

Finally, I realized something else that bothered me... I thought about my daughter, and the message it sent her. I do not want her to think that I have to have certain things to be considered attractive. I do not want her to be so vested in her own hair or any part of her physically to define herself as attractive. I want her to be happy with herself. To feel beautiful and confident.

She has endured and seen a lot for someone so young. And I have tried to show her that hair loss or breast loss or weight gain, is not tied to attractiveness or self-worth. I realized, I was bothered because the words impacted her too. I disliked the message it sent her.

In the end... my daughter'r response to those words was exactly as I hoped. After she looked at me quizzically, she just shrugged and said, "She looks pretty to me."

My beautiful daughter... both inside & out!


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