On arrival I asked Malvina to colour my hair with vegetable dye. “OK,” she replied, “it contains no peroxide so it will last one or two washes.” I did a fast cost-ratio calculation, weighing up the pros and cons of vegetable dye. On the con side is the prospect of having to fork out for hairdressing every two weeks. On the pro side is the fact that vegetable dyes do not contain harmful chemicals, I think, though didn’t I read somewhere that they contain metals? And are the chemicals in hair dye harmful? At that precise moment I could not recall any specific information. I made a mental note to do proper research about the hazards of hair colours. “I’ve changed my mind,” I said. “We can do a semi-permanent with one per-cent peroxide,” Malvina suggested, “it won’t last as long but I think it will be safer to make it weak.”
Now, as I study the blotchy, bilious result, I do feel sympathy for her. Following chemotherapy baldness my hair is about an inch long all over but it is uneven in distribution, colour and texture. It is thick at the back and thin at the front, silver on the tips and dark underneath, quite wiry on top but soft as velvet on the sides. I guess it is a hair colourist’s nightmare.
Lottie, the admirably practical sister on the chemo unit, told me that when my hair grows to about three inches long I should have it all cut off again. “The first growth will be rubbish,” she informed me making decisive snapping scissor gestures with her fingers.
But for now, it’s all I’ve got and I intend to work it. “Why don’t you try it with more peroxide?” I instruct Malvina.
After another forty-five minutes of dyeing and washing and a lot of checking on the part of the colourist, I emerge from the salon with a chic, sleek head of dark, shiny chestnut brown.
I buzz home. Just as I’ve put the kettle on Issy is a-knockin at my door. She’s come for the latest instalment in a series of photos that she is taking as I progress through my chemo odyssey. “Oh my god!” exclaims Issy. “What?!” say I. “You hair. It’s beautiful.” “Really?” I reply, fishing, “you don’t think I look like Mr Spock?”
From her bag, Issy produces skull-print scarves in a range of vogueish colours. "I'm following your lead," she says, "everyone is getting skull scarves for Christmas." I accept the implied compliment like a hypocrite. I haven't bought one single skull scarf for anybody for Christmas.
Issy takes the photographs in the same manner every time – against a blank background, first with a bare face and then with make-up. Today I try to reproduce the dramatic eye make-up that the lovely make-up artist at the Made For Life day showed me how to do. I start with a peachy pink base then layer on a smoky brown, dark chocolate liner and then, hallelujah... mascara! My eyelashes are back. They’re short. They’re stumpy. But they are real and they are mine.
Issy tells me that I will be able to see all the photos at her MA degree show in March. In the beginning, when my hair was falling out, my confidence was at its nadir and I imagined myself being judged by friends and strangers, I was very hesitant about being photographed at all. Now I feel an interested and pleasant anticipation at the prospect of revisiting my whole journey through the medium of Issy’s photographs.
After Issy leaves I realise that I was so involved with admiring my painted lashes that I forgot to apply the pink lipstick. I pray that Issy will not fail her MA on account of this.
The next arrival on my doorstep is Justin. You may recall that Justin has had his magpie eye on my red skull scarf for some months. This morning I washed it and hung it on the radiator to dry. “This is for you Justin, happy Christmas,” I say, handing him the crumpled scarf. That skull scarf had become emblematic of everything that this blog is about. It was the totem of Chemo Chicness. I had considered buying an identical scarf at the Indian shop and palming Justin off with the duplicate. But now I see the error of that thinking. Justin positively beams at me. “Lily, are you sure? Wow. I’m made up!” he exclaims. The skull scarf has done its service with me. It feels right to pass it on.