When I first told my friends and family I had breast cancer and would need chemotherapy, they all said: “I’m so sorry to hear the news,” and then: “Are you going to lose your hair?”
It reminded me how closely people associate hair and womanhood. For many years I’ve had a short utilitarian hairdo that I did not feel was closely tied to my identity.
As the chemo took effect, my hair started to fall out in big chunks. I asked my husband to cut it all off. First, he cut it with scissors and then brought out the big guns: the electric shaver.
To my surprise I didn’t cry. In the 60s I went bra-less and did the “hippie thing.” Now my bald head was just another way to be unconventional.
But the novelty began to wear off when winter set in. You lose a lot of heat when your head is hairless!
I would not be telling the whole story if I said I only wore a wig, hats and scarves for warmth. When I looked in the mirror, the harsh reality of my bald head made me want to hide it from my husband and friends.
During my treatment, I continued my spin classes and body sculpting at the gym. About two months into my treatment I was in spin class and really sweating. I had on a warm cap and for the first time contemplated removing it to cool off. What a drastic step to take!
For 15 minutes I considered all the ramifications: the people behind me would be shocked; the people next to me would have to look at a bald headed woman; cancer would be written all over my scalp!
I took a deep breath, pulled off the cap and kept on pedaling. My instructor saw me remove my cap and gave me a thumbs up.
As I was putting away my bike, she said: “Ricka, be proud of your bald head. You are showing other people in here that you CAN continue to exercise even during cancer treatment.” From that point on, I went bald headed to the gym and carried my shiny head high!
Going out to other public places was the next step. I experimented with minutes at first—in a restaurant, in the car, walking down the street. One day I was leaving the clinic and saw a bald headed woman. I realized that could be me. I didn’t need to hide my head any more.
I armed myself with some nice dangly earrings, a little bit of makeup, and sun block. Out I went. And the rest is history.
When I saw my surgeon for the first time in six months, she broke into a big smile when she saw my bald head. “You empower other women with your willingness to go bald,” she said. “Keep it up.”
I’d never thought of it that way. It just felt right to me and I wanted to feel proud of what I had gone through and accomplished.
Recently, I went to Teatro Zinzani, a zany dinner theater in San Francisco, with some friends. One of the lead actors in the show was a bald-headed man who selected other bald-headed men from the audience to do the bald-headed hello. The maneuver involved putting the tops of their heads together and turning twice while keeping their heads connected.
I did not volunteer, but my friends said I could have. Later in the show, the actor came over to our table to check out the beaded cloche I was wearing on my head. He asked to try it on and was so surprised to see my bald head underneath!
“I’ve waited all my life for a bald-headed woman,” he exclaimed. “Most women are just too hairy!”
He pulled me on stage, and we did the bald-headed hello, to the delight of the audience!
After the show, several women came up to me and said how much they enjoyed our little routine! It was the ultimate outreach program for me—all those women sitting at dinner tables seeing a bald-headed woman having fun being bald!
So, what have I learned from all of this? I realized that I could let go of my vanity and not hide my cancer. Although I was more attached to cultural standards than I would have imagined, I learned to be proud of my head.
After all, it is so nicely shaped!