Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Losing Hair With Grace and Dignity

If you don’t have a good relationship with your hairdresser, develop one - fast. Otherwise one day your hair might fall out and you’ll find yourself crying in Sainsbury’s car park and you’ll be on your own, baby. Thank God that didn’t happen to me.

My wonderful hairdresser Kell Skott has helped me to get through the horrifying process of losing my hair with grace and dignity.

So, as I’m brushing away the tears and stowing the groceries in the boot of my car the phone rings. It’s Kell. “Can you come in right away?” he asks.

I fire up the Beamer and zip straight round to Golborne Road at top speed – by hair ambulance you might say. Kell gets me a cup of mint tea and one of their world-famous home made chocolate brownies to soothe my nerves.

“Just shave it all off” I instruct him. But Kell has other ideas. Using only scissors and a comb he begins to sculpt this monstrous mess. He clips it all to about an inch long. It’s more baldy on the left hand side than it is on the right. He manipulates the hair so that it is all lying flat and forward and sideways. Sort of a high-art comb-over. He feathers the front into a little fringe. Watching him work is like watching a magician intently conjuring a silk purse from a sow’s ear. When he’s finished it looks sort of like Audrey Tautou 2001 meets Mary Quant 1966. Only shorter than either of them. It’s just so cute.

I want to take a moment here to praise Kell Skott. Today has been without doubt the low point of my life as far as how unattractive I feel. Despite that, Kell made me look great. He opened up his salon early to come to my aid. He didn’t charge me a penny for doing it. In my past life I’ve had the displeasure of the acquaintance of prima-donna hairdressers who wouldn’t deign to pass one a hairpin, let alone deal with one when half one’s hair has fallen out. I mean it can’t be good for business can it? Having a bald woman walk out of your salon.

I have an appointment with Dr Ducker, my wonderful GP. This is a very opportune moment to see her. The last time I met with Suzy Cleator she discerned that I was overly anxious. “It’s not uncommon,” she said, “having chemotherapy is a major crisis in your life.” She suggested I try some anti-anxiety medication.

I felt hesitant about that. I wondered about side effects. I was concerned about how to come off them when this is all over. And wasn’t I taking enough drugs and pills already? I didn’t know if I could cope with another one. “Well, see how you get on,” she said and we left it at that.

Following the big hair fall out I began to revise my position. I explain myself to Dr Ducker: “Well you see I’m having the chemo and I don’t know what I’m going to do about money and I feel sick I can’t sleep and Dr Cleator suggested anti-depressants but I don’t know if I should take them but most of my hair fell out on Sunday and it was such a shock what do you think I should do?”

“Yes,” she says. “Why don’t you try some anti-anxiety medication? I’ll give you the lowest dose.”

My shoulders relax. “And you’re going to need a wig” she adds. My shoulders shoot up towards my ears again. “But how do I get one?” I plead. “I don’t know but I will find out,” she says in a soothing tone. Now that’s the kind of practical help I need.
The Breast Cancer Haven is an oasis of calm friendliness in the daily sandstorm that is breast cancer. It feels safe. They offer a free course of complementary therapies to anyone suffering from breast cancer. I chose shiatsu. It’s a Japanese form of massage that works on the same points as acupuncture but without the scary needles.

Jamie and I arrive early and help ourselves to cups of complementary Organic Honey Mountainbush tea, just the thing to complement the complementary therapy. I compliment myself on my ability to completely fit into the complementary scene. I only wish there was some other word to describe it.

Enough of that. Sarah arrives to show me to her treatment room. I try to imagine Sarah getting het up in a supermarket queue or making a rude finger gesture to a fellow road user as she cuts them up in her BMW. I just can’t do it. She is so calm and beatific. And I’m sure she must ride a bicycle. If that’s what shiatsu does for you, then bring it on I say.

I settle myself face down on the specially designed, ergonomic shiatsu cushions. Sarah begins to press her fingers into my back and then she says softly, “Ok, get up in your own time.” “But we’ve only just started” I think, groggily. Turns out I’ve been asleep for nearly the whole session.

Downstairs, Jamie has also been snoozing on the comfy sofa. The Breast Cancer Haven is one of those places where they make one feel at home.

By the reception desk is a basket full of big jars of Rose With No Clothes Shimmering Body Cream. ‘Kindly donated by Naked, please take one’ says the sign. Fabulous.
In times of trouble I have found it a useful strategy to write a gratitude list. Just five things but they must be a different five things each morning. It’s amazing what a turnaround in one’s perspective this simple strategy can affect in just seven days. Only it doesn’t seem to be working at the moment. “I’m grateful for the sky,” and “I’m grateful that I don’t have cancer in the other breast,” “I’m grateful that we live in a land where there is social security, even if they make it so bizarrely complicated that one might think that they’re hoping that one might die before they send one any money.” Oh do bugger off.

But I’ve come up with a more pragmatic approach that may help: ‘Things I Got for Free Today’.

From: Canalily
To: Ben
Subject: The best things in life are free
Things I've had for free today:
A free haircut
Free consultation with my GP
Free prescriptions
A free jar of body lotion
Free shiatsu treatment
A free lift to the breast cancer Haven
2 free iPhone apps
still to come...
free dinner at Jamie’s place
What an abundant world!
Lily xx
It’s Jamie’s birthday. It’s my first time going out with almost no hair. The trick to working the Chemo Chic look is to wear the hugest most glittering earrings and the reddest lipstick one can get a hold of.

I don’t mind showing my friends my new coiffe but I’m hesitant to let the neighbours see me like this. What’s that all about? You may well ask. I’m not sure I know. Am I ashamed? Or do I not want my neighbours to pity me? Am I afraid of appearing weak? I can’t put my finger on it but I think you might feel the same way in this situation. I grab one of the new crocheted cloches before I walk out the door.

Jamie comes to pick me up. He's just been so generous and thoughtful with all the lifts to and fro. Back round at Mayhem Mansions in Marylebone the usual bedlam is in progress. The two Chihuahuas – Iris’s Chilli and Jamie’s Hugo – attempt to refuse me entry with frenzied yapping. Valentina wiggles about in tight Lycra, batting her eyelids and calling everybody ‘Dahlink’. Muttiah, recently sprung from the nut house, swans in and out of the kitchen dressed in a Sari. Sheldon arrives looking very Gonzo in his sport’s shirt and flat cap.

I remove my hat and sit back to gauge the effect. “Oh, it looks really cute” they say and “lovely” and so on. About ten minutes later I join Iris on the balcony. “I think I’m pleased with it,” I say “only I’m worried that it’s quite bald on the crown.” “It doesn’t matter,” she replies, “you’re so tall nobody can see it.” That’s it. I jam the hat back on.

Dinner is the most delightful free-for-all. For the first course, Valentina has bough about £100 worth of supermarket sushi. It ranks high amongst the worst sushi I have ever eaten. The next course is a delicious French salad that Iris has made. Next up is a selection of Middle Eastern starters: Baba Ganoush, Hummous and Tabbouleh, made by Valentina, also delicious. There follows a spicy Malaysian fish and potato curry with Paratha bread that Muttiah has whipped up. The crowning glory of the meal is undoubtedly Ted’s black forest cake with blackberries and fresh cream. I have never had a cake so meltingly soft and chocolaty on the inside yet nicely crisp on the outside, so wonderfully balanced in flavour between the sweet, the sharp and the creamy. It is a triumph, a symphony and a magnum opus of a cake.
Today has been quite eventful enough. Good night.


curry said...

I'm grateful for my intelligent loving daughter.
I'm grateful for my sharp and lively grand-daughter. I'm grateful for my sisters.
I'm grateful for clean air. I'm grateful forSkype!