I love the show Greater Tuna. One of the characters is named Petey Fisk and he works for the Greater Tuna (Texas) Humane Society. One of his great lines is ¨Let’s talk about ducks!¨
So today, borrowing his phrase, let’s talk about wigs! Now, as we know, cancer patients frequently lose their hair due to chemotherapy. It is fairly traumatic, especially for women and some women going through cancer treatment wear wigs all their waking hours. Eleven years ago, when I had chemo for the first time and lost my hair, I bought a wig that mimicked my natural hair as much as possible so no one would see me without my hair. As soon as my hair grew back the wig and associated accoutrements went to the local thrift shop. I wanted nothing to do with it ever again, it was such a painful reminder of my suffering.
The problem with metastatic cancer that is incurable is that you are on treatment for the rest of your life. The wiliness of cancer means that treatments stop working after awhile and you have to change medications to find something else that can beat it back into submission. I think I am on my 16th different treatment protocol – I have been on so many that to get the exact number I have to go back through my notes. So, you lose hair over and over as treatments require. Two summers ago I had to change treatment to another medicine that made my hair fall out again. This time I was not so very serious and wanted to have fun; I bought a number of wigs in different colors and styles thinking that I could be a bit silly with it.
Nevertheless, the experience of wearing a wig is very much like having a dead cat on your head (as one of my friends opined). A lot of the time I ended up preferring to go without wigs or scarves or ballcaps in the interest of comfort. Seeing me bald has always made my husband queasy, but it doesn’t phase me anymore. If people are uncomfortable around baldheaded women it is their problem to work through. But it is interesting how my ideas of my own attractiveness, or lack thereof, are wrapped up in the appearance of the hair on my head or its lack.
I have some wigs that I think I look attractive wearing and other wigs that I think not so much. And there are the massive embarrassments that comes when wigs slip. When I am wearing a wig I am often unaware that things are totally catawampus atop my head and not even close to looking natural. Then the other day we had friends over for a dinner party and I wanted to feel attractive so I put on my best wig. That was fine until I had to take something out of the oven and melted the top of the wig with the oven’s heat. My guests were trying to act like things were normal when they were most decidedly not. It was so funny that I couldn’t stop giggling even though it made me a bit shy – fortunately I have other wigs and so made a quick change. Too bad about that wig though as I did like it.
The new wig I bought to replace it arrived today. What struck me as I tried it on is that my face is the same face whether I am without a wig, with a raggedy wig, or with a great one. And yet my perception of my own attractiveness changes dramatically depending on what the hair looks like. Why is that? Why is it that a wig has such power? Am I not really looking at me when I look in the mirror? Is it the same dynamic as relying on someone else’s opinion rather than trusting yourself? Is it that my focus is on something that is not me rather than being confident in what is me?
There are no ready answers for me today but I think it is important to ask the question. I can feel that there is something profound lurking in this that may be teased out at some future point. Meanwhile, I will stay away from hot ovens when sporting my wigs. That’s one lesson learned!