We were driving three hours to Denver the other day when I remarked to my friend, Heather, how good her new, shorter haircut looked.
"Thanks," she said. "It's a perfect summer cut, right? I like your hair, too. It's getting so long."
I smiled. I'd gotten it trimmed this winter, which was the first time my hair had seen the blades of scissors in over 16 months. I've never been big on haircuts I'm a little lazy, a little cheap, and since getting a haircut in the sixth grade based on a photo of a model in an issue of "Seventeen" and someone called me "young man" directly after leaving the salon, I'm always hesitant to do anything other than just let it be.
In 2014, my hair was getting really long and was in desperate need of some kind of a chop. But then I was diagnosed with breast cancer and until knowing if I'd I need chemotherapy, I refused to cut it. I figured it I were going to lose it anyway, I might as well cut it all off and donate it. As it turns out, I didn't need chemo, but I still kept my hair long for a while. Months later, when I needed to start emotionally putting the prison-sentence of the year that was behind me, I had my hair cut short a few hours before my third of fourth surgeries.
For many people, their hair is intrinsically tied to their identity (unless you're my dad, for whom baldness has been part of who he is since the age of 19 or so). The color, cut, texture and style are part are as essential as your clothes and accessories when deciding how you want to present yourself to the world (that is, until which time you choose to let them really get to know you). For people undergoing chemotherapy, however, top-of-head choices can be limited to wearing a bandana or scarf around your head, a hat, wig or just rocking a shiny scalp.
While (cancer) may dictate some numbers on the chart in a hospital room, it doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of changing them beyond that.
I grew up watching "Beverly Hills, 90210" and was about the same age as twins Brenda and Dylan Walsh when they moved from Minnesota to Southern California. I loved Dylan more than Brenda, and was devastated when she moved to London to pursue a career in theater, leaving Kelly to sink her claws into Dylan even further. Of course, as most devotees of the show will tell you, apparently it wasn't so much that Brenda's character needed a change of scenery as the actress who played her, Shannen Doherty, was said to be so difficult to work with that she was booted from the show. The same was said about Doherty in her next big role, too, and her personal life played out in the tabloids under the stress of some relationship turmoil. Her career never reached the heights of some of her former co-stars, but for those who watched from the beginning, we heart her all the same anyway.
When it was unfortunately revealed last year that
Brenda Walsh Shannen Doherty has breast cancer, my heart wept like the night Dylan dumped Brenda for Kelly. Someone outed Doherty to the press, which is as gross as outing someone as gay; it's a personal decision that should inarguably be made by that person if and when they decide to. Doherty is not someone I know or have ever met, but in the way that you can feel connected to someone you knew of during an especially formative time in your life, I felt we were kindred spirits.
Doherty, who has largely flown under the radar for years, took to Instagram a few days ago in a series of photos showing her shaving her head as her breast cancer battle continues. As a woman who's had to involuntarily suffer a private trauma publicly and an actress in an industry in which the guiding principle doesn't go much deeper than one's reflection in the mirror, it was a remarkably brave move.
In the first of a series of six photos, Doherty is seen grievously with her mom before the hair cutting begins.
The photos advance with shorter hair, smiles, silliness before finishing with some bittersweet resolve.
No one has to cut their hair in advance of losing it as a result of chemo, but many before Doherty have also chosen to do it as a message to cancer that while it may dictate some numbers on the chart in a hospital room, it doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of changing them beyond that.
Heather drove with me to Denver because I needed to have a biopsy done on a strange red spot that's been on one of my breasts for the past three months or so. Since my breasts are nothing more than silicon implants and the chance of getting cancer there again is small, I wasn't particularly worried. Still, my oncologist let me know in May if it didn't go away soon, it would need to be removed. As I await the pathology report, I'm not super anxious.
As I sat in my plastic surgeon's office while he carefully cut out a two-inch long chunk of skin and then stitched it up without bursting my implant, I also knew if this little bite-size mark turns out to not be nothing, plenty of those who came before me have already shown me that I'll probably be OK.
Being a saint or a bitch doesn't have any bearing on whether you'll get cancer. It's a disease that doesn't discriminate. However, since I've always identified more with bitches and like to think I'm a pretty good one, deep down I think being a bad girl with cancer might mean there's a better chance you'll attack the disease with just a wee bit more venom. In Doherty's case, I certainly hope that's true.
Regardless of her hair (or lack thereof), though, by courageously putting a famous face on a terrible disease, she's cemented her place not as a bad girl, but a bad ass. Even if Doherty's most famous character was nothing to write home about, the real person behind it certainly has become one.