So I had very different plans for this post. However, the past couple of weeks have proven that “being positive” is sometimes a lot easier said than done.
What describes you? Is it the colour of your eyes, maybe how toned and perfect your body is? Or maybe it’s the colour of your hair as it falls over your shoulders.
For me, before the big ‘C’ got in the way, I would describe myself as having green eyes, fair skin and dark hair. As simple as that.
However, when I sat in my GP’s office and she pronounced that I have breast cancer and I’m going to have to start chemotherapy immediately; being so physically ill that it would change my life dramatically wasn’t the first thing that came into my mind. It was losing my hair. Something that at 20 years old, was and is such a large part of my identity, confidence and femininity; and I was about to lose it all.
“Don’t worry, it will grow back,” she replied as I wailed out that I was going to lose all of my hair. I was so focused on my appearance and that everyone was going to look at me and know I was “sick”, at this point I hadn’t met anyone my age going through or had been through what I was about to endure, I guess I had no idea what was coming for me.
The incredible team of doctors I have around me, my oncologist in particular suggested that I cut my hair short to make the transition that little bit easier on myself. So, I did just that. The same day my hair was long, it was short; above my shoulders and ready to take on chemotherapy in the following days.
Two chemotherapy sessions in, and I was hospitalised due to being allergic to my chemo drug. (Now I’m sorry, but What. The. F**k.) A week spent in hospital with nothing to do made me notice a few more strands of hair falling out into my hands in the shower but not enough for me to really worry about. Although, between weeks three and four of my weekly chemo infusions, it started. My thick dark hair was falling out in clumps. I remember lying in my best friend’s bed, and after I left noticing it was full of my thick dark hair. I was devastated. It was happening, and I had absolutely no control over it.
I wasn’t going to let cancer take my hair away from me, if I could stop it. My appearance is something I take pride in, therefore I decided to say a huge “f**k you” to my cancer. So on the same day that I almost let it completely break me, I sat down and asked my beautiful dad to shave it all off. Right down to the skin. With family and friends around me, we were all bawling our eyes out (even now thinking about it I am crying), I felt like I was losing a part of my identity.
I was devastated. I don’t really think there is any other word to describe it. Here I am, at 20 years old not only with breast cancer, but now with no hair. I was starting to question everything and wanting to know why life wouldn’t just give me a break. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning.
After shaving my head, straight after I had a shower and just thought, "Pull yourself together Bianca, you’ve got this". So I did just that. I pulled myself together, put on a full face of makeup looked in the mirror and gave myself a reminder that I am still beautiful with or without hair. I decided that it wasn’t my hair that defined my personality or femininity, it was the deeper things I had within me, (some I didn’t even know I had). Over the following weeks, I kept reminding myself that hair is just hair and I am so much stronger than something that’ll take me a couple of months to grow back once all of this is over.
Over the course of the next eight or so weeks left of this first round of chemotherapy I noticed my thick, bushy eyebrows beginning to thin out. However, everyone kept telling me how well they’d held on, including my eyelashes. So for me, losing my hair wasn’t that huge of a deal because I still looked normal with my brows and lashes. Maybe people would just think that I was wearing a head scarf because it was a part of my personal style.
However, when they fell out – the week after I had finished chemo – I was absolutely shattered. More so than I thought I ever could be. I actually feel like I look like an alien. The ugliest version of myself possible. It’s beginning to make me think that losing my hair on my head was a walk in the park, because I could hide with head scarves, caps and even wigs. However, my eyebrows, I’m not allowed to have tattooed on due to possible cause of infection, and false lashes only stick to real lashes. So I was f**ked.
Some days I look in the mirror and can’t bear what looks back at me. Others, I put on some makeup, draw on my eyebrows and get on with my day. But it is hard. So damn hard.
Now I did want this post initially to be about how our hair and appearance shouldn’t be what defines us, but I’ve learnt that in the society that we live in, that it is extremely difficult. I believe we should start not judging ourselves on our appearance, but what’s on the inside. Because, like me, overnight your life could change and if all you are is your good looks and banging body, then you’ll be absolutely stuffed.
Jane McGrath's best friend Tracy Bevan explains how the McGrath Foundation began and the work it does.
I’ve decided that although these times are extremely testing on me, it’s all part of getting better. Hopefully in a few months I’ll read back on this and see it as another stepping stone to becoming better.
I now see myself not just as the girl with the green eyes, fair skin and dark hair. I am the young woman who is strong, brave and empathetic.
Bianca Innes is a 21-year-old breast cancer fighter from the Gold Coast. This story has been republished from her blog Going Topless with full permission. You can find more from Bianca on Instagram here, and more of her writing on her blog.