Breast cancer treatment has forced me to face my fears, attacking my vanity head on.
It has been about nine months since I finished radiation therapy. My hair now covers my ears, so on Sunday I got a short bob. I then spent hours looking at cosmetics, perfume and skin care.
I love my haircut ... I also found a cool eyeliner, eyebrow pencil and other toys. I cant wait to try them, I told a friend. Today I buy these things because they make me feel good, not because I want to please someone else.
In literature, a hairstyle change is usually a symbol of internal transformation. In the 2005 movie V for Vendetta, based on Alan Moores novel, Natalie Portman plays Evey Hammond, a working class woman living in a totalitarian regime. She was transformed into a fearless revolutionary and shaved her head to play the part.
You got to me? You did this to me? You cut my hair? You tortured me? You tortured me! Why? Evey asked V, the lead character in the movie. He said he wanted to help her: You said you wanted to live without fear. I wish thered been an easier way, but there wasnt.
The scene parallels my journey. My transformation began with my hair, which can be a sign of fertility and health. Within a few weeks after my diagnosis, I had neither.
First, I got a boy cut. When my hair started to fall during chemotherapy, I shaved my head. It was a defiant act, and it made me feel less of a victim. It meant that I was in control and not the cancer.
A week after my mastectomy, I was dressed in a slovenly manner. My skin looked wizened. And I had turned into a sheepish woman, who was most comfortable home alone.
For years, I had an inexorable focus on staying thin, having the right clothes and trying new trends to make sure my hair was satiny and healthy. I paid hundreds of dollars for keratin-based treatments, gym memberships, facials and cosmetic products. Some of these treatments contained carcinogens and put me at risk of infection, but that did not alarm me.
I was also concerned with making sure I had a tan. I only wore sunscreen on my face to avoid wrinkles, and I never thought about melanoma. I had convinced myself that my beauty depended on these habits.
My friend, Michael Maryanoff, 26, who has been undergoing treatment for Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, noticed the change.
I was looking at your profile pictures on Facebook and you look like a completely different person now, he said.
Of course, I do. I have lost my long hair and my pretty boobs, I said. I reminisced about a time when an ex-boyfriends cerulean blue eyes followed me in a room and I felt attractive.
No, its not something you lost. Its something you gained. Its something about your personality, he said. In the other pictures, you look really vain. And I dont think there is a trace of that now.
He then jokingly said cancer treatment shortens the path towards enlightenment: It makes you value what is really important in life.
Breast cancer treatment taught me that I am not my hair, Im not my breasts, and my ability to bear children doesnt change my value as a woman. There is beauty that cancer treatment cannot touch.