When my mammogram turned up a highly suspicious mass this past May, one of my first (irrational) thoughts was, “But you don’t understand! I don’t have the cheekbones to pull off the Jaunty Headscarf stage!”

Cheekbones or not, here I go. As of yesterday, I share a hair style with Lance Armstrong. For him, a quarter-inch buzz cut may help win the individual time trial in the Tour de France. For me, it reduces the mess I’ll have to clean up as my hair continues to shed from my first round of chemo.

It’s not a look for public consumption; I wouldn’t even subject my husband to it. I’ve been field-testing a baseball cap, a bucket hat, a quilted scarf, and my wig. They’re all annoying to one degree or another. (I have no Jaunty Headscarves. I never wore them before I was diagnosed with cancer. Why should I wear them now?)

I’ve read that shaving your head during chemo is “empowering.” I can’t say I felt that. All it accomplished was transferring hair clean-up duties from me to the beautician. That’s something, I guess.

You can say “It’s just hair,” but the layout of the average drug store begs to differ.

Yard upon yard of hair care products, stretching up one aisle and down the other. Stuff to clean hair, dye hair, grow hair, cut hair, style hair, corral hair, decorate hair, remove hair.

Trying to minimize the emotional impact of losing your hair to chemo goes against several millennia of cultural messages stressing hair’s importance. And coming after a mastectomy, it’s the second assault of breast cancer’s one-two punch.

I don’t look too bad in a baseball cap. I still have a bit of a tan, and look pretty fit. (Of course, my luck: It’s a University of Michigan hat, and their coach may be in hot water for violating NCAA regulations.)

Still, the absence of any hair peeking out announces to the whole world I’m battling cancer. (“Today I’m admitting to the world: I’m a cancer patient,” is how fellow journalist Kelley Tuthill puts it in the video diary she filmed about her own breast cancer treatment.)

I look “off.” I probably scare small children. Several people have cheerfully cited Sinead O’Connor as a role model, but she was a lot younger when she shaved her head. “At my age,” I told my niece, “bald means chemo.”

I haven’t kept my illness a secret — far from it. However, I’ve been able to control what information was out there. That’s very different from having every single random person at the 7-Eleven know you have cancer. It’s not just a blow to one’s beauty; it’s a blow to one’s privacy.

I now think of my wig as something I don for battle. To avoid a weekend of moping, we got tickets to…what else?…the Broadway revival of “Hair.”

It was therapeutic in a way. It reminded me of hair’s power — the stuff’s so important they named a musical after it! It helped me admit my sadness.

So I’m not trying to convince myself, “It’s just hair.”

If Athena's battle headdress was available...

Instead, my new mantra — which I should have printed on a t-shirt — is: Baldness means the chemo’s working.

OK, so I wear a wig for this part of the battle: Eyes on the prize.

Kathleen O’Brien has been a journalist for three decades. Her long-running column for the Newark Star Ledger “looks at life from the kaleidoscopic perspective of wife, mother, taxpayer, commuter and worker bee.” But this year, O’Brien began a different sort of commute: a journey through breast cancer. WVFC is honored to share some of O’Brien’s Ledger blog about her experiences,  “We’ll Know More on Monday.”  We’re grateful for her for joining us here, and confess that sometimes, her blog keeps us laughing.

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