SHINE Photo+Design | it’s only hair
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it’s only hair

This month, Shutter Sisters, in their One Word style, has invited everybody to share their “stories”. Since this topic has been heavy on my mind, I decided to share.

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“There’s a large mass showing in your ovary”

and so it began.

Funny how the diagnosis, the complete hysterectomy, the lengthy recovery from surgery, the foreign concept of chemotherapy … funny how all of that didn’t really throw me off my game. Sure, there were tears – many tears – and moments of being so scared I could hardly think straight, but for the most part, I took it all in stride and moved forward.

I mean, really … what else can you do?

It’s strength, they tell me. I’m not so sure of that, as much as I’m sure it’s just my way of coping. I can’t dwell. Dwelling sucks me down into a pit I just can’t stand to be in, and so I avoid it at all costs. Sometimes to my detriment, but more often, to my advantage. I’m more of an ‘action’ person. Do something. Make it better. Dwelling is a very lonely place. I don’t like it there.

So I took it all and wrapped it into a neat little package and tucked it away in the ‘just do it’ place in my head. The place where all of those little unsavory bits of life are taken and dealt with. The place where things get done. It’s a fortress, that place. Towering brick walls and strong iron gates, locked up tight to keep anything nasty from escaping before it’s time. Before I’ve taken the nasty apart, rebuilt it, and made it tolerable.

So, funny again, how a few words could send that fortress toppling.

“You’re going to lose your hair”.

I felt the tears come immediately. Such a silly thing, I know. In the grand scheme of it all, you would think that losing my hair would be the least of my worries. But like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, there it was. Done.

Friends immediately rallied.

“We love you, no matter what”
“It’s not your hair that makes you, you”
“We don’t love you for your hair”
“You’ll still be beautiful”
and a whole lot of …
“THAT’S what you’re worried about?”

Yes, that’s what I was worried about.

It’s not a vanity thing. I mean, sure, there’s vanity mixed in there too. I’m only human. AND female. But it is oh so much more than that.

I feel fine. I feel better than fine, I feel great. Every day, I feel more and more like my old self.

Healthy.
Strong.
Normal.

Things are good.

I’m good.

And then I look at myself in the mirror, and I’m reminded that no, things are not good.

I  don’t recognize the sickly woman staring back at me. The mirror slaps me with the truth. A constant reminder that this shit is real. 

Losing my hair … it makes it all so in-your-face real, so undeniable. The evidence is right there, slapping at me.

You are sick.

Yah? Well, I don’t feel sick.

I don’t want to be slapped in the face with it at every turn. I don’t want or need the constant reminder that all is not right in my world. I feel like me, dammit, and I want to look like me.

And so, I will turn this around too.

Because a sickly me is not who I am. It’s not how I feel.

I feel strong.

And the strong, confident woman that I am is the woman that I want people to see.

It’s not “only hair”.

It’s my dignity. My strength. My courage.

It’s the me on the outside that I feel on the inside.

It’s my F-YOU to cancer.

Because I’m going to get in the ring with you. And I’m going to look damn good kicking your ass.

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This post is a part of my focus52 project, hosted right here at twoscoopz! You can visit or join the focus52 flickr group here. My own focus52 project can be found on flickr here or by clicking ‘my f52’ in the category list to the right.

30 Comments
  • Bobbi Jo
    Posted at 15:32h, 29 September Reply

    Lovely. The post, the pictures and you! Now go out there and show cancer who’s boss.

  • lynn
    Posted at 15:47h, 29 September Reply

    Wow, what a powerful post. I love everything you said in it, and you said it so well. You look lovely. Absolutely beautiful! And I admire you for so much! Take your time, deal with it your own way. You’re doing well! {{{hugs}}}

  • Mich
    Posted at 15:57h, 29 September Reply

    You are beautiful, my strong, sexy friend. That color is so very you! Go, girl.

  • Alison
    Posted at 16:17h, 29 September Reply

    So proud to know you! You truly are a strong, powerful, and gorgeous woman. Always have been, always will be.

  • Gail
    Posted at 16:32h, 29 September Reply

    Jan, you slayed me with this post. You articulated yourself so well, and I love how you are staying so strong, refusing to let cancer get the better of you. Yes, you look mighty fine in that ring, girl! Our booty kicking girl! You look absolutely stunning. Sending you my very best prayers and wishes.

  • Natasha
    Posted at 16:33h, 29 September Reply

    I love you lots Jan, thanks for the ugly cry too. You are strength and courage but you’ve been the most dignified woman I know. Right down to the “shit, Nat, are you there? I’m gonna sing until you answer…” phone calls! Xoxo

  • CP
    Posted at 16:37h, 29 September Reply

    Just for the record…I NEVER, EVER SAID “that’s what you’re worried about”. I told you from jump street that losing your hair is the worst part. The worst. Because it strips you of your humanity, your femininity and all the things that make you “look” like you.

    Is it true? No, of course not. It’s not what defines you…but cancer is so ugly on the inside, does it have to make us so ugly on the outside too? Does it have to shit all over everything we work so hard on? Our pretty hair, our nice complexions, our strong, healthy bodies.

    It DOES suck losing your hair. It does. And I cried right along with you…because I was there, I understand and I know how fucking awful that felt. And then, I shook your shoulders the way you have shaken mine a gazillion times and said, “now go buy a fabulous wig, bitch, and go have fun with it, dammit!”

    You are stunning. You are beautiful. Heart, soul, face, mind, hair…whatever. You’re beautiful.

    And you are strong. And I am not letting you go any where. Not without a good long hard fight. I’m in the ring with you. Right next to you, in pink boxing gloves, a glittery tank top and I will shave my head just for better aerodynamics if that’s what you want. You’re my sister. You’re my life. You’re my love…

    and you are NO victim.

    I am proud of you, proud of this post, proud of you for putting it out there…it’s therapeutic for those who are going through it and even for those who have been there, done that. It’s a way to remember that we are still here, winning, surviving…and we’re not going any where.

    And dammit, beiguet’s and latte’s in New Orleans. You promised me. You best deliver, bitch. xoxooxxoxo

    I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. And in case you were unsure? I love you.

  • Katrina Kennedy
    Posted at 16:37h, 29 September Reply

    Love you sweetie. You are the definition of strong!

  • PJ Schnyder
    Posted at 16:39h, 29 September Reply

    You’re beautiful! Keep fighting! xoxo

  • jenn
    Posted at 17:18h, 29 September Reply

    I heart you.

    Big time.

  • Christian @ Eskimo Kiss
    Posted at 18:13h, 29 September Reply

    I don’t have the words to express how this touched me and how beautiful your words are. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Esra
    Posted at 18:35h, 29 September Reply

    Jan, you’re so strong, brave and beautiful.
    Sending you best wishes; my thoughts are with you. xoxo Esra

  • Sue
    Posted at 19:00h, 29 September Reply

    Well, there’s Jan! I wondered where that feisty, gorgeous girlfriend of mine had gotten off to!
    So glad you’re here and feeling like J!

    And, Janice, thank you – from the bottom of my heart – thank you for sharing this. Thank you for assuring me that you’re not curled up in the corner, quivering with fear, or sliding into that pit of depression that is the enemy of so many going through what you’re enduring.

    I love your hair – whether you bought it, or grew it, and I’m glad you are tackleing this thing without mercy. I know that losing your hair is devastating – and you’re right; it is definitely a ‘woman thing’. But it’s not the only thing that makes you special, lady. It’s that fire inside of you. It’s that sassy ” get outta my way cuz I have butt to kick” attitude – it’s your way of finding so many seemingly insignificant things in this world and pulling the beauty out of it, and into focus… Those are the things that I know about you, and those are the things I would miss if chemotherapy made you lose even ONE of those things…

    I will tell you that my dad lost his hair to chemotherapy – before it all came out it was short, rather wirey, salt and pepper gray (mostly gray), and he was bald in the back. Well, when he had the first round of chemo they put a rubber cap on his head and then packed ice around that, and added another rubber cap. They said “It will help keep the drugs from getting to the roots of your hair and may help to keep from losing it.” Of course it didn’t work, and he didn’t mind losing his hair… Men don’t, I guess. But he used to get so excited about being able to wash his face, and wash the whiskers off. He really liked that! Eventually the chemo stopped and his hair grew back in – but it was unlike hair he had ever had. It came back soft as a cloud, snow white, and full of fluffy curls… It was beautiful… And I know that when yours comes back, it’s going to be spectacular! What else could it be? It’s part of Jan, and like those fabulous eyes, I know your hair will be gorgeous!
    So hang in there, and have fun with those wigs! I’d be doing everything I could to find out if blondes have more fun, if brunettes are better lovers, if redheads really have that hot temper, etc..

    I love you, J, and I’m always here for you!

    There are so many in your corner, girl, cheering you on – ready to celebrate the victory with you and I know that you’re going to win!

  • Tavia
    Posted at 19:15h, 29 September Reply

    Jan…
    I saw that thumbnail on flickr and was thinking oh she has the best hair! I didn’t realize. I think that was one of my first comments I ever said to you, I love your hair. Reading this post….its not your hair that’s so pretty, its you! I will have you in my prayers, now go and kick some cancer butt!

  • Alison
    Posted at 19:29h, 29 September Reply

    You rock.

  • Amber
    Posted at 21:19h, 29 September Reply

    you are AMAZING! Do you know how much you inspire me!?

  • maureen @ cottage 960
    Posted at 00:48h, 30 September Reply

    Wow. You are amazing, woman. And I’m so sorry you have to deal with such a shitty invasion of your body and spirit. I can identify with part of what you wrote. I was raised to pretty much, ‘suck it up and deal with it’, with whatever life has thrown at me. And in 50 years, there’s been some crappy things to deal with.
    But. This is different. This is so personal, so friggin scary. So off the charts awful. But look at you. Chin up, strong. An yes, so dang beautiful inside and out.
    I wouldn’t dare tell you it’s only hair, but woman I will tell you you are so much more than your hair. I’ve never met you in person, don’t know a thing about your hair, other than what little bit of it I’ve seen in photos.
    But what I do know about is what an amazing woman you are. I marvel at how clearly that comes through. How from the beginning of ‘meeting’ you I knew how warm, and friendly, and supportive and amazingly talented you are.
    Take good care of yourself, know that you are loved by so very many people.

  • Tug
    Posted at 00:57h, 30 September Reply

    You? INSPIRATION. You are beautiful, inside and out, no matter what happens. You shine. I love you, always.

  • Diane
    Posted at 02:05h, 30 September Reply

    Sending you a ton of love, big hugs & a virtual shoulder to cry on, from California.

  • lucy
    Posted at 07:35h, 30 September Reply

    am thinking of you — and all you’ve done for the photographers out there this year. thanks so much for that. i understand about hair being a piece of who you are — i’ve hidden behind mine most of my life. but your inner conversation with yourself is wise and important — stay strong! you are more than hair, more than strong — you are gorgeous inside and out. xoxo

  • Tricia
    Posted at 08:51h, 30 September Reply

    yep, rockstar amazing… you. oxoxox

  • jeanne stone
    Posted at 09:43h, 30 September Reply

    Thanks for sharing your very real story! So ;powerful to be able to share this. Just remember that this is only the TEMPORARY REAL YOU, and that you are now in a learning spot and a place to reflect on the importance of life. Will be a much stronger you who comes out on the other side of this tunnel. Hugs and prayers to you on this journey! Jeanne

  • Patricia
    Posted at 11:05h, 30 September Reply

    Thanks for sharing your story—and your courage.
    I too was diagnosed with ovarian cancer—11 years ago. I had all the same feelings that you are having. But I did get used to the “no hair” look and because I got sick and tired to the wig and the scarf—-there were times when I just went out into the world “bald.” I did everything else to look feminine and healthy—-makeup, earrings and the biggest smile I could muster up. Of course I still got the stares—-but I got use to that too.
    So here I am eleven years later—–and I feel that I acquired a new outlook on life–because of my illness. I appreciate everything so much more, feel more compassionate to others and celebrate every sunrise.
    The best to you, Jan. You are in my prayers.
    patricia

  • shelley young
    Posted at 14:44h, 30 September Reply

    Jan, this is the most powerful, well written, heartfelt, moving, inspirational, AMAZING blog post I’ve ever read. You continue to surprise me with new facets of you I never knew were there and with each one you become an even more beautiful jewel. I love you and am so grateful I get to call you my friend. <3

  • Sarah Cormier
    Posted at 16:57h, 30 September Reply

    Well, I dont think you look sick here. You look awesome. And that lipstick is amazing on you!

  • Donna
    Posted at 18:26h, 30 September Reply

    I think it’s adorable and the style suits you.

    Jan, there is always a tipping point. You are strong and strong and strong…until you’re just not. For a while.

    I’m like you in the stuff it down kind of way. If I don’t think about it, it’s less real and less true.

    Which is why I haven’t talked about this with you. And it’s why I won’t talk about it with you until it becomes a, “Remember a few years ago when all that horrible shit happened?” 2011 has been a sucktastic year all around.

    I hope that cute little portable ‘do helps you to feel a bit better. You look gorgeous.

  • April
    Posted at 11:28h, 02 October Reply

    Wow, I have been off the blogosphere for the last couple of months and I can’t believe this is happening with you. I am terribly sorry but I love reading about your strength, and kicking cancers butt! You are beautiful, thanks for sharing. xoxo

  • Gwen
    Posted at 23:58h, 02 October Reply

    You’re my hero for writing this. I really think it’s great that you put it out there. The hair, well, that’s a very real and out front sign that something is going on. So I get why that would be bothering you. You are such a strong person, and a fighter. So I’m glad you got in that ring to kick some cancer butt!

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