When I told Lucas, my 11-year-old, I had breast cancer he had a lot of questions. We talked for an hour curled up in my bed about cancer, my surgery, the medicine that would make me better and make my hair fall out, and how we would deal with it all. He was worried most about my eventual baldness.
"It's only hair," I said. "It will grow back. I'll still be me."
"But you'll look scary, and I'll miss your beautiful, long hair," he said.
"I'll wear pretty, colorful scarves."
He scrunched his lips and shook his head.
"I'll buy a wig. How does that sound?"
"Good," he said. "Only if it looks exactly like your hair and you wear it all the time."
"My hair may not bother you as much as you think," I said. "Promise me you'll waste no time being sad."
He smiled. "Ok. I won't ... even though I will."
The thought of him being disturbed by my hair loss tortured me. I vowed to never let Lucas see my bare head. Before one strand fell out, I began compulsively collecting head coverings. My first acquisitions: A Harley Davidson bandana and 'do-rag. Next, I bought three wigs and four scarves – two silk and two long, linen.
The following week I visited a wig salon, where I tried on sleeping caps, calypso scarves (think pirate), turbans and wide headbands to wear under hats. I left with a shopping bag full of goods. I would never be in want of something to cloak my scalp, and I would look so elegant and chic that Lucas would get over his disdain for pretty, colorful scarves.
Then I lost my hair.
The wigs were heavy and itchy and hot. The 'do-rag didn't conceal my entire head. The long scarves were impossible to tie. The silk scarves slipped. The turbans looked ridiculous. The calypso … I don't want to be a pirate! The sleeping cap: VERY uncomfortable.
But I tried. I wore the wigs when we went out and donned the Harley bandana around the house. I slept in the cap. After a couple of weeks, I announced I could no longer endure the cap; when in my bedroom, I would be going rogue and if anyone couldn't deal, don't enter.
In the sanctuary of my room, I was liberated. If Lucas needed me he'd stand outside the door and yell, "Are you bald?" I'd scramble to put something over my head and yell back, "I'm covered. You can come in." Or I'd say, "Don't come in."
On occasion, he would inch his way through the doorway with his hands over his eyes.
My baldness had taken on a life of its own.
Finally, I sat all three of my kids down for a chat. I told them I felt better unencumbered by head gear ("mommy is too sweaty and angry under wigs and scarves. Do you want me to end up in an asylum?"), and from now on I would be uncovered in the house. "You'll get used to it and it will be fine," I said, removing my bandana.
Lucas adapted quickly. Soon he didn't even care if his friends saw my naked head. He learned he can handle the tough stuff, and I discovered the pleasure of cool air on my head.
Children are braver and more resilient than we imagine. Sometimes you have to rip off the band aid and trust it won't hurt for long.