Loss of Hair, Loss of Self

viki zarkin

I look in the mirror and I don’t see myself.

It’s not like it’s bad, but I don’t really look like me. Even though its been a year, I still don’t feel like myself.

Losing my hair was a huge deal. I’d never realized how much I identified with my hair. So much so that when I lost it, I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I was ashamed. I didn’t want to face my friends and family.

You can never really prepare for what chemo will do to you. It made me feel so sick. And my shoulder-length, straight, thick hair kept falling out and out and out. I needed to get a broom to sweep up the bathroom every morning.

The constant shedding got to be too difficult, so I went to my trusted, longtime hair stylist on a Sunday when the shop was closed to shave off the remaining strands of my hair. I had no idea just how emotional it would be for me, so, when she asked, I allowed my sweet daughter to join me. Big mistake.

When my hair was shaved, tears just rolled down my face. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t keep them from falling. My daughter was rubbing my leg and telling me how beautiful I looked. My 8-year-old daughter. It is a memory I don’t enjoy bringing to mind. Yes, I had a beautiful wig to wear (which is a long story in itself), and felt OK with it on. But from that day on … even still today … I don’t see the same woman in the mirror. I remember my husband’s face when he saw me when I returned home. It was that swift look of horror before he could put his game face on. My son gave me that same look.

From that day, my son and daughter never wanted me to leave the house without my wig on. As time passed, I didn’t care so much anymore and the wig was itchy, but my children felt better when I wore the wig. My Bella would say, “Mommy, are you going to wear your wig when you come to my school?” “Mommy, if my friend so and so comes over, will you wear your wig?”

So today, even though my hair is growing back — curly! — I still don’t see Viki in the mirror staring back. It’s not like I hate the person I see. It’s more like I’m resigned to the person I see. My mom asks me why don’t I cut my hair short and spiky like when it was first growing in? It looked so cute and contemporary then, and I know it looks more like a mullet now or something out of Vegas in the Elvis days, but I need to get it back to that shoulder length. Somehow, I’ll get control back then. If I want to cut it off at that point, at least it’ll be on my own terms. I’m in control, not cancer. But I wonder, when it’s shoulder-length again, will I look like me again? I fear not.  Certainly, there is the possibility that it will never get that long hair again because my disease will return and I’ll lose all my hair again … but mostly I fear that that person I’m looking for in the mirror is gone.

I realize it doesn’t have to be bad to be different, but when you are used to something for 40+ years, it takes more than a year to grow accustomed to someone else when you look in the mirror.


  1. First your lucky because your hair will come back my friend Sandys hair NEVER did. Second talk about HAIR my hair came back GRAY almost white!! I was only 39 I looked older than my mother who was 65 I cried and than one day someone said, “did you live?” well yes, I am here! so what is the problem? my hair!! well at least you are here for the good stuff. It cost me 30.00 a month for hair to be stained NOT dye. But I am here!! I know this is hard and if I could i would hold your hand and cry with you but from Indiana, the most I can do is light a candle and pray for my sister in cancer things will get better!
    funny NOTE: my cell phoned died i was crying, I had just lost all my phone numbers TOLD my friend this is the worst day of my life she said Jaimie you have had cancer. LIFE takes over. It put me back into check. It was bad BUT not that bad.

    1. I’m so sorry I’m getting bk to you so late, I was in the hospital. I’m doing better now and so pleases with your encouraging comments.

  2. Viki- I can’t help it, I have to tell you something!!! I know this doesn’t change what you see and feel when you look in the mirror, but I hope you know that to your friends- we still see that same Viki smile, we still laugh at your crazy comments (and by crazy, i do mean funny!) and we still hear the same love in your voice when you talk about your family. None of those things have changed. I hope maybe it helps you just a little bit to know that what your friends see is the same you. Plus, of course, all the bravery.

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