Burned Aging

I remember wanting to look older when I was in college. I used to volunteer as a reading tutor at a public elementary school my senior year. One time when I was at the school, a teacher told me to get to class. She saw me as 6th grader and not a 21-year-old senior in college. The fact I had my hair in pigtails probably didn’t help. I just recall being so upset that I was mistaken for someone so young. Now, I would give anything for that to happen again.

How come no one tells us how drastically cancer ages the body externally? Many of us internally feel older due to permanent side effects and other illnesses that were triggered by our cancer treatments and surgeries. I honestly never thought once about how much my face and neck would age.

Yes, I have always been on the vain side. Growing up in community theatre and ballet meant always looking in the mirror and looking the part. I always used to look years younger than my actual age, even in my early 30’s. This rapid aging is tough to accept because no amount of creams or concealer can fully cover it up.

I first noticed the aging of my neck. It used to be so smooth. Now it looks like lines of multilayered necklaces going down it. Quite shocking to see in the mirror. Why did I age in that area?

I honestly believe it has something to do with the radiation burns that went up the left side of my neck. I could see the beginning of lines then. I’ll never understand why I burned so terribly in so many areas (neck, back, under arm) aside from my left breast. Radiation was just as painful and horrific as chemo. This picture below still makes me cringe. By the end of my 33 treatments, the layered lines had formed completely across and down my neck. Instantly looking 20 years older in that area.

It has taken a full three years for the dark panda circles under my eyes to fade enough to where I no longer need to wear a pound of concealer to attempt covering them up. As you can see below in the pictures from three years ago, nothing could fully cover them up back then. Aside from looking fatigued, I looked…haunted.

It’s only recently that I no longer need a pound of makeup to cover the visibly aging skin. I just need half a pound instead! Seriously though, I continue to struggle with externally looking so different and just so much older. Then add medically induced menopause to the mix, and all hell has broken loose.

I don’t know my skin post-cancer. It’s dry and scaly in some areas now. The skin underneath my eyes has taken the biggest beating due to constant rubbing, new allergies to certain dye and contact dermatitis. I’m constantly trying different creams trying to find the right one to truly hydrate my skin.

Don’t even get me started on my lips! They used to be smooth too. Ever since the chemo days, I continually struggle with peeling and cracked skin on each corner of my mouth. Fortunately, my dermatologist gave me some cream that I use on my lips and under my eyes to help with the dryness. I never know what will cause another skin flareup.

It just boggles my mind that all this aging happened without zero warning. The physical changes are just so jarring. To everyone else, I look super healthy. I treat my face like a canvas. It is amazing what makeup and good lighting can do. I miss my thick eyebrows. It’s still strange to fill them in with a brow pencil. Now I’m a master at it.

Once the makeup comes off, I look a little gray, burned and forever fatigued. My face and neck are constant reminders of the trauma which is why I can’t ever NOT think about my cancer experience. It stares me in the face and plagues me daily.

So, hair me out…

I’ve been accused in the past by other warriors/survivors for being attention-seeking when I talk about my hair. I had trusted three, who I thought were friends, so took the insulting words to heart. That’s why I permanently left one local breast cancer group and took a three-month break from a national one. I came back to that national one because it’s too fabulous of a group to allow certain people’s insulting views keep me away from the support I need.

Now, I’ve always been a tad extra. That’s my natural and dramatic personality. Even when I’m sad or depressed, it’s done with flair.

It’s why I took ballet and always wore my hair in buns, French braids and twists.

It’s why I basically lived at Macon Little Theatre and Theatre Macon in high school and minored in Theatre at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.

It’s why I had special outfits during my salsa and swing dancing days.

It’s why to this day, I want to be an actress.

Losing my hair was even more traumatic than I could’ve ever imagined. Not only did I lose the hair on my head, I lost all the following as well:

Eyebrows

Eyelashes

Nose hair

Arm hair

Leg hair

Lady parts

Underarm

That’s why I get so infuriated when people say, “it’s just hair.”

So, losing my hair and being beyond upset and devastated has been genuine. It’s why when my hair came back that chia pet curly I always reference was so difficult to process. That’s why it’s especially hurtful when those in cancerland question my feelings.

It’s never been about vanity. I know I rocked the bald look. I also rocked the chia pet curly look. That’s called style. The anger and just utter disbelief came from not physically recognizing my image in the mirror. I’ve dealt with and continue to deal with so many issues post-cancer like weight gain, more surgeries, more scars, and don’t recognize my body at all. None of it is even remotely the same. I just wanted the hair that I had known my entire life to grow back the way I remembered it – straight and super thick.

 So, I made a video to show all the different looks of ME past and present (also posted earlier on social media). It’s MY hair story.

My Hair Story

I didn’t post it to reel in compliments. I posted it for myself, to see the progression of my hair pre and post cancer and see the different looks as I’ve tried to adjust to my reflection. I see the pain in my eyes masked with a smile in the ones starting in 2015 thru present.

I know I “look healthy” and all should be right with the world, but that is not my reality.

My friends continue die by the hands of the cancer beast – two died this week.

My mother’s treatments for her rare blood cancer continue to wipe her out.  

My chronic pain continues to be a challenge to manage.

My career in the corporate world is stagnant.

So, don’t come at me with insults or how hair isn’t important to you. Every single person’s cancer journey is THEIRS and extremely personal. I just want to claim some part of me that hasn’t been devastated by breast cancer.

I want to see ME again.

I deserve to see ME again.

My Reflection

I somewhat freaked out some fellow coworkers when I showed up to the work happy hour on Friday. Why? Well, I had my hair pulled back. My chemo curls were blown straight last week. I had been wearing it down at work with my usual hair accessories. I had discovered on Friday that my hair is just long enough to pull back if I use a tiny clip and a million bobby pins to hold the sides in place.

So, when I walked into Taco Mac, no one recognized me at first. The looks of surprise were apparent.


No headband. 
No fascinator. 
No hair clips.


Just pure ME.

So why did the bulk of them freak out? One of my male coworkers said he hoped I wear a tiara or flower in my hair on Monday because then I’ll “look like royal one they all know.” I confess I was taken aback by the comment. I thought I looked smashing. I looked like the ME I remember. Then I thought about it and get his comment. I believe he was trying to say the hair bling fits my big personality.

I always wore my hair up or pulled back since I was a kid, teen, young adult and as an adult. Wearing my hair in a ballerina bun, French braid, French twist, pigtails, etc. is very much a part of ME. I used to be svelte and statuesque. I loved brushing my hair and deciding which classy or cute style I would create each day. Then when I added my glasses, I was often described as the “sexy librarian.”

I’ve been working very hard to claim back some parts of ME. I’ve been recognizing my reflection more and more when my hair is blown straight. I finally see the length.  The thing is, others I’ve met post-cancer don’t recognize me this way. They don’t know what I really look liked. Everyone at work knows I’m a cancer survivor because I don’t hide it anymore. So, they either forget these are chemo curls or think they are natural.

Someone commented on my Instagram when I posted a little about this. They said, “Interesting that you don’t see your curls as feminine. I see you as very feminine, but from my view, it’s not the hair but the face.”

To me, I…and I will repeat…I think I look like a chia pet on steroids. The chemo curls make my head look huge! The height of the hair really bothers me. I can’t wear hats when it’s like this. I don’t want “big” hair. I’ve never wanted curly hair. EVER. That’s why I started wearing the hair accessories because I can’t do anything with those chemo curls. The curls are so tight, that I can’t style it. So, I added the bling to feel feminine and give myself the variety I crave.

As a birthday gift, my mother is paying for me to get the chemo curls blown straight 2x per month. Any time I mention this, I always get those saying to get a keratin treatment or sending me pictures of the hair tools they use. Well, I don’t have the physical strength to blow these suckers out. They are TIGHT curls. It takes a lot of arm strength, technique and patience that I don’t have but my stylists do.  

How come no one sees I’m playing a character when I wear my bling? The character of a cancer survivor who doesn’t recognize herself or her body.

I’ve never once felt feminine with the chemo curls unless I have a hair accessory. Notice I never say ‘my’ when I refer to them. To me, they aren’t natural. Poison changed my hair chemistry, not me. It wasn’t MY choice. Why can’t others get that? I’ll say it again. It wasn’t MY choice to have curly hair.

I get sooo many people telling me how cute they are. If they were loose curls, maybe I would agree. I always feel the need to tell people what I used to look like and show the pictures as proof. I wasn’t always this overweight woman with a tight, curly ‘fro. I was fit, classy and stylish.

Am I happy my hair grew back? Of course, I am. Did I think it would grow back entirely different from what was my norm? No. So, I can’t stop being surprised and dismayed every single time I look in the mirror when the chemo curls are there. It’s not what I know.

I’ve always been a tad extra from birth. Adding a hair accessory doesn’t change that. It’s strange the more I’m starting to look like ME with my hair blown straight, no one else seems to recognize me.

My life on the cancer train lately is confusing, painful and disappointing. Yet, it’s also been liberating because I am beginning to see a reflection that is familiar.

I am seeing ME, even if no one else does.

What the hair?!

I’ve been on cloud nine since my mother gifted me an early birthday present (b-day is July 3rd) of getting my hair blown straight 2x per month for a year. I’ve hated and still don’t understand the chemo curls. Then it hit me as I stared at my reflection this morning after washing my hair and seeing the curls form again. I no longer understand my hair curly OR straight! WTF?!

I know the chemo curls look darling and such. To me, it’s a constant reminder of how unnatural they are and what they represent – the 4 AC and 12 Taxol that nearly killed me. I suffered extremely painful side effects during that hellish five months. Fellow warriors kept telling me the chemo curls were temporary because they had them and then went away. I’m three years post-cancer. Why are they still here? Are mine truly permanent?

I used to have super thick straight hair pre-cancer. It was almost to my shoulders. I could do so much with it – French braid, French twist, ballerina bun, pigtails, ponytails and the list goes on and on.

During that first week of my hair blown straight and seeing the length, I could not stop beaming! I had stopped flinching when I saw my reflection. I recognized this straight hair. I couldn’t believe those tight curls were this long straight.

It is this second week when I realized this straight hair is completely different, too. It’s so much thinner than before. I’m rusty at using my flat iron and products to keep it smooth. The sides are still short. How do I style it, so I don’t look old?

I purposely haven’t worn a fascinator in my hair for two weeks, which has been my trademark with the curly hair. I’ve just worn some snazzy headbands, barrettes and combs. I wanted to see how different I looked without them.

I wanted to feel like ME again.

I wanted to look like ME again.

I can’t even believe I’m saying this but…I STILL don’t recognize ME. I thought wearing my hair straight again would feel natural and complete. My hands can barely hold the flat iron because of the neuropathy. I couldn’t even remember how to braid a few strands. This straight hair is different too.

I will never understand those warriors who say hair doesn’t matter. They completely invalidate the emotional toll losing hair creates and when it grows back entirely different from what we once knew. It DOES matter.

As I washed my hair this morning, it was strange to feel the curls take hold as the water flowed through it. I went in with straight hair and came out with those chemo curls. When I looked in the mirror this time, I still saw a stranger.

Now I fully see that I will NEVER physically look how I did pre-cancer. I’m not the same externally. My weight is up again. My face is fuller. My thick eyebrows are gone and must be drawn. I deal with chronic dermatitis on my eyelids. The corners of my mouth are often dry and cracked. I still have dark circles under my eyes. My lashes aren’t as long as they once were.

That’s a harsh dose of reality I wasn’t prepared to swallow this morning.

Me pre-cancer
Curly vs Straight post-cancer

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie