by Lucy Bennett
On December 23rd, 2002, my mom got a phone call from my dermatologist. The biopsy, one we basically begged her to take a few weeks earlier, came back positive. Melanoma. My bout with cancer was brief, compared to some. It lasted only months before remission was declared and my future felt more secure again. It’s funny how people minimize their experiences, and I’m no different. Still, this post isn’t meant to be about my “little” bit of cancer. It’s meant to be about my hair.
I didn’t lose all of it in those few months, but enough fell out that I grew self-conscious about the spots. A black Nike ear warmer that I owned covered the most obvious places, so I wore it every day, from the time I came back to school to well into April, when fuzz replaced the bald bits. Over the course of a few months I systematically cropped my hair shorter, from mid-back length to shoulder length to chin length, hiding the formerly healthy, now frayed and frazzled ends that I’d never dyed and barely blow dried. Shorter hair made it easier to ignore, easier to go about my day without thinking about the next treatment or check in. My remission coincided with the end of school, and I wore baseball hats and swim caps for most of the summer. My hair grew back out darker, but mostly the same as it had before.
Before cancer, I did nothing with my hair. After cancer, I still do nothing to it. Mostly, hair is something that I deal with. Its length is not my symbol of power, or of how womanly I am. If it gets past my shoulders I instantly gain the intense desire to chop it all off again. I grew it long for my wedding specifically so my stepmother could put it in a French twist, ensuring that my hair would leave me the fuck alone for the entire day—even short hair gets ideas about where it should be versus where you want it to be. Once we got back from our honeymoon, I chopped it short again.
Cutting my hair off is not a challenge. I’ve never cared about the length of my hair—the first time I’d buzzed most of it off had been five years earlier in middle school and I didn’t give a second thought to the many, many inches of hair that fell to the floor that day. Instead, I felt free of the constant hair in my face or tight ponytails—my only quick option for dealing with said hair in my face. What did upset me, during my treatment, were the funky spots of hair, the patches, the feeling that everyone could spot the different lengths. Even now there is a hair on the crown of my head, which my husband jokes is my crazy witch hair: a wiry, jet-black strand that grows straight up. Had someone, anyone, come forward so many years ago and said, “Just shave it and get a wig,” I’d have done it without blinking. I didn’t even realize it could be an option. Wigs seemed relegated to those who had no choice in their baldness. Clearly, I would have to deal with the in-between states just like any other patient, though I never saw anyone else in that transitory phase. Luckily, I didn’t have to travel that road very long.
I’ve always thought about donating my hair, especially in the winter when I forget to cut it for months at a time. Most of the time I became impatient, unable to wait for my hair to get long enough. Until this year. When I came onto A Practical Wedding as an intern in late February, one of my first projects was helping to put together designs for the campaign with Pantene Beautiful Lengths. Something Maddie said in her original post struck me, and really solidified my decision to commit to this cause.
“The thought process is something like: As if the chemo and the radiation and the horrible, horrible steroids aren’t enough, now I get to look like a cancer patient instead of just feeling like one.”
This is the exact feeling that I had so many years ago, but I believed it was just how things went, not a changeable option. And that’s all that I wanted back then: options. I was in a place where my entire future had been whittled down to whether a biopsy came back positive or negative. Visit a college? Well, let’s wait for those blood test results first. All I wanted was some better options. So in August I donated nearly a foot of hair, in hopes that I can help someone reclaim their options when it comes to how they look. Because yeah, I don’t give a crap about how my hair looks, but I am always grateful that I still have a choice in the matter.
Photos by APW Sponsor Amanda Summerlin
This post was not sponsored by Pantene Beautiful Lengths, but we were so moved by the staff commitment to this project that we decided their stories belonged in the campaign too. Thank you for sharing your story, Lucy!