I like my hair. It is long, with soft curls, and dyed an appealing shade of reddish brown. I am in the last year of my 40’s and my hair is longer than it has ever been in my life. Even including the time in the 70’s, when I wore my long hair tied back with one of those over-sized yarn pony tail holders. Back then, I used to run around barefoot and spent a good deal of time climbing trees. For many years, my feet were very calloused and my hair consisted of a neighborhood of knots and tangles. I just used to brush the top layer of hair to provide a presentable appearance. Every once in a while, I would have to sit in a chair while my mom painstakingly separated the tangles and the knots. Ow! Ow! Ow!

By the time I was 12 or 13, I was convinced that I had “bad hair”. In the 8th grade, I got a stylish feather cut. I used a curling iron religiously. I kept that cut for a number of years. It looked pretty good. By college, I shortened my hair even more and by the time I was 20, I had a pixie cut, which I loved. I kept my hair short for many years, no longer than a bob. By the end of college, I stopped using a curling iron.

I was still convinced that if I were to wear my hair long, it would be ugly, the way I remembered it being as a young adolescent. Then I got pregnant. I was 31 years old and my hair was growing very fast. I decided that it was time to see what hair longer than a pixie cut would look like.

After a few years, I discovered that my long hair was pretty. Also, I discovered that it was much curlier than it had been when I was younger. I didn’t have bad hair, after all. When my hair went gray, I decided to color treat it. Curly hair tends to be dry. Color dries it out more, especially the do-it-yourself stuff. I realized that if I were to keep my hair long, it would need professional help. I get my hair colored, cut, and deep conditioned every seven weeks.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer 2 1/2 years ago, I started growing my hair even longer because I could and I wasn’t sure how much longer I would have long hair. I figured that if I had chemo and lost it all, I would never grow it back to long again. It would take years and years and at that point, not be “age appropriate”.

When chemotherapy was not recommended for me, I kept it growing. I have not stopped letting my hair grow except for a light trim, since my diagnosis. When straight, my hair now falls to the middle of my back. For the record, I believe that it has officially entered the realm of “not age appropriate”. I find that for the record, I don’t give a rat’s ass. I like my hair. It may not be with me in the future but now it’s here. It’s mine and I like it.

There are a lot of breast cancer writings about hair, what it means to a woman, and what it means when it is lost. A bald head is a dramatic difference in a person’s appearance. But hair carries so much significance, even if still remaining on one’s head.

How important is it to have good hair?

When my daughter asks my husband, “Dad, how does my hair look,” he sometimes replies, “It looks good but it would look better if you brushed it.” At this point, my daughter and I give each other knowing glances. She has curly hair, too. Brushing or combing curly hair while it’s dry breaks up the curl and to most eyes, does not look attractive. The only time I brush my hair when it is dry is to remove the tangles prior to straightening it with a flat iron. The last time I did this was a couple of months ago. My hair looked crazy and I thought it might make for a funny Facebook selfie, a kind of public service announcement explaining why curly hair is not dry brushed.

Curly tops: Don't try this at home.

Curly tops: Don’t try this at home.

How important is hair to people?

You would not believe the amount of advice this photo elicited about how to better care for my hair. It was pretty funny. But then I realized that the people commenting had seen MANY photos of me and my hair. It had never looked like this. Perhaps I am exaggerating, but it made me wonder if the sight of a woman with “bad hair” was so surprising that people forgot how I normally look and jumped straight into an urgent mode to save me from my split ends. Suggestions of coconut oil, olive oil, etc.

Hair is really important to a lot of women. I don’t want to lose mine, I know that for sure. Maybe it SHOULDN’T be that important. But it is. And one of the lessons I am learning in my life is that lots of things “should be” a certain way but they are not. We can only work with the way things are.

So please, please, please when one of your loved ones or even yourself loses hair as a result of chemo and is feeling sad about it, think twice before saying, “This shouldn’t bother you.”

If it bothers you, it bothers you. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. What should be is not relevant to this particular situation.