Cutting half my curls off - the emotions that come with hair after losing it twice to chemotherapy.

On Friday I did something that I've wanted to do for years, but couldn't bring myself to. I cut half of my hair off.

It's incredibly difficult to manage - thick, curly, and has a mind of its own. I love my hair, but its wildness makes it unbelievably challenging and I've wanted to cut it in the hopes that it would then be easier to handle, but just couldn't bring myself to do it for a long time.

I lost most of my hair twice, due to chemotherapy at 15 and again at 18, and I think subconsciously I've associated my hair with my health.

Over the last few months I've been thinking about it more and more, considering how active I now am, it's been a nightmare to wash and brush, and has been unhealthy because I'm not the kind of girl who could be arsed to put in any effort whatsoever.

I finally decided to just do it. I actually thought I might cry when it happened, but it turned out to be surprisingly easy (after months of deliberation and mental preparation).

This likely seems like not a big deal to many, and cutting one's hair is not, but due to the emotional attachment I had with my hair, it was a big step to take.

Taking the step made me reflect on my life over the years, which I generally don't do much of. The times that I do, however, I always find myself feeling I should do it more, for my own healing, as I realize how much hurt I've buried and that it will be there for as long as I continue to ignore it.


While I've come to appreciate my pain and struggles and what it has made me become, I acknowledge that I need to address it on occasion or the heartache will never go away. I still struggle to speak about my cancer, blood disorder, and the many health setbacks they caused, that I still deal with to this day.

I don't like that my voice breaks when I do speak about it, and I hope that in me acknowledging it, and giving it attention, that I can overcome that. I certainly don't want pity for the hardships I've endured, which is another reason I have rarely spoken about those trying times.

I share this now, both because it is therapeutic for me, as well as that I hope that through my truth, it might help someone else.

The pictures are dated from 2005 to now.

1. 2005, 15 yrs, have lost a lot of hair from the chemotherapy and have picked up a considerable amount of weight, but I'm delighted to have my new baby, Soco.


2. 2008, the card on the right is the picture they took of me for my movie card, while I was on steroids, with the moon face it caused, and next to it, in 2009, a polaroid picture of me and one of best friends, that I used to be embarrassed about, seeing how big I had gotten.


3. 2009, Cansa relay for life, a few months after I conquered ITP (blood disorder). Overwhelmed with emotions, not sure how to handle them. Devastated by the additional weight gain after the blood disorder. Weighing my heaviest, 87kgs.




4. 2009, My hair is growing back after the chemotherapy received for ITP.


5. 2009, drinking heavily, full of pain but trying to hide it from myself.


6. 2009, I met my beautiful Candy, she introduced me to the gym, and changed my life by doing so.


7. 2012, In Australia, loving life but still suppressing my trauma, and drinking a lot.


8. 2014, Ignoring my pain. My hair has grown back with a vengeance. My sister Carmen is always there for me.


9. In early March 2020 at the Cansa relay for life. As always, I cried while walking the survivor's lap. Smiling because I am healthier than ever before.



10. Me today, with my new haircut.



 

Below, I share my experiences, in my own language, which can be colourful at times, but I feel it would be dishonest to not say it in my way.

In 2005, I was in Gr 10 at York High and had spent the majority of the year with chest pains, going to various Doctors and homeopaths - trying to figure out what was wrong with me. After many theories and misdiagnoses, in October I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, cancer of the lymph nodes.

I picked up a lot of weight. I emotionally ate and became depressed not only because I was undergoing chemo, feeling shit, and missing out on 15 yr old adventures, but because I could see the damage my illness was causing my family - which devastated me. I was also depressed because I hated being overweight. I never spoke about my feelings and pretended I was fine because I couldn't bear to hurt my family even more by saying I wasn't. ----------------------------------------------------------------- 2006, After chemotherapy and radiation, I recovered, and finished high school smiling, but with a lot of pain inside that I didn't understand, considering I was meant to be fine now that I was in remission. ------------------------------------------------------------------ 2008, I drank heavily and started noticing bruises all over my body. In all honesty, I was regularly getting so drunk at that stage, that I thought it was from me bumping into things on nights out. It got worse and I went to see my Oncologist, who ran various tests. I was diagnosed with Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura in 2008, a few months after finishing Matric in 2007.

We initially thought that I could continue on with life while undergoing treatment and that I could start the tourism learnership I had been selected to do in Cape Town.

I didn't even last 2 weeks before my Haemetologist, Professor Peter Jacobs ordered that I stay in the hospital permanently until they could get my platelets under control, as I had the most unique case of thrombocytopenia that South Africa had ever seen. It was life-threatening, and if not stabilized, the risk of me bleeding to death was a serious concern.


I was put on a massive dose of steroids, which caused even more weight gain and I was suddenly at both my heaviest and weakest. The platelet transfusions and steroids didn't help, nor did the splenectomy.

In hospital, at my weakest after having my spleen removed, when I couldn't walk, I dreamed of climbing mountains and being active. Apart from very halfheartedly playing hockey in school, I had never really been active up to that point. The feeling of extreme weakness and fragility that was my reality in the hospital made me disappointed that I had wasted my ability to move my body before, and I found myself desperately wanting to be in nature, moving.

Then, once again, chemotherapy was administered, and eventually, in October of 2008, it succeeded in raising my platelet cells. My hair fell out again.

I slowly started to recover, but it took a while before I got active. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 2009, I didn't feel good about myself. I felt like a failure and a burden and while I pretended to be confident, I ridiculed myself in the mirror and called myself the nastiest things. I once again drowned my sorrows in double brandy's and coke, and of course, that didn't help with my desire for weight loss.

I thought if I looked at myself and called myself a "disgusting fat cow", that surely it would kick me into gear and I'd do something about my weight. That didn't work, it just made me sad and feel even more disappointed that I lacked the discipline and willpower to change.

I started working as a personal assistant at Liberty to make just enough money to get wasted on the weekends. There I met Candice, my beautiful friend who lovingly encouraged me to join the gym. She knew how unhappy I was with my weight and suggested I start working out with her. She changed my life. I started weight training and eating less.

It worked. I lost weight and felt better about myself, in terms of the way I looked. ------------------------------------------------------------------- 2012, I went to Australia and worked in cafes, I joined the gym but didn't work out much, but rather fully embraced the Melbourne nightlife. I was 22, and as is my nature, I was living life hard. I got involved in what was my first serious relationship and despite him trying to make it work, I still had all these demons that I hadn't addressed and as a result, was a really shitty partner.

Back to South Africa and my confusion in life continues, I work odd jobs and continue to binge drink. ------------------------------------------------------------- 2013, I break down and tell my sister I need help. I see a psychiatrist once and decide it's pointless. I tell myself to toughen the fuck up, and ignorantly decide that the best way to do so is to simply ignore the problem. ------------------------------------------------------- 13/14, I try again at a relationship and while he gives me complete devotion/ love/ acceptance, I can't reciprocate for long.

2014, I decide I'm fucked up and that I hurt everyone who loves me, and should rather not get close to people. It however doesn't take me long to find someone who is just as messed up as me. We love each other dearly, but we are two damaged people who avoid acknowledging our pain. I spend 2014, 15, and the beginning of 16 trying to make it work, but the relationship is volatile. I'm going hard in everything I'm doing; working hard, partying hard and when I do workout, I go hard, but I'm not consistent. The relationship ends in 2016, and I have every intention of being single for a while, but am quickly swept off my feet.

I spend the latter part of 2016/17/ 18/19 giving this relationship all of me. This is the first person who has ever called me on my shit and I learn a lot about myself. I find a bit of balance in life and adopt a Rottweiler who becomes my world. I start free-diving and doing activities that I love, alone. I'm realizing what is important to me and finding some peace within myself. While I am deeply loved, I feel alone and decide it would be better to end it, than to continue like that. ------------------------------------------------------ In late 2019, I move back to George and decide, among other things, that I want to get fit. I throw myself in the deep end and sign up for a sprint triathlon. I love it. I get stronger, see changes in my body, and am reminded that I can do anything if I decide to do it. ------------------------------------------------------- 2020, I was due to start a firefighter course but COVID-19 has indefinitely postponed it. I have continued with my training and feel physically stronger than I've ever been. I don't so much care about aesthetics anymore, what matters is my health, physically and mentally. Many things have been put on hold, but I am grateful for my good health, my family, and my friends.

While going through these old pictures, and reflecting on the last 15 years of my life, I see the same faces beside me. I have people in my life who have supported me and have been there for me, even when I tried to push them away. My parents have showered me with love and have been patient with me, despite my very many shortcomings. My siblings adore me, and my friends have never left my side. They have been there through it all, both being reckless with me, and attempting to help me from myself, unwavering in their support and affection. ----------------------------------------------------------- Carmen, Claire, Tyson, Alyssia, Alecia, Willene, Dene', Liezel, Luzanne, Aninka, and Kieron - I am so thankful for you, and love you dearly. Despite my lack of keeping in regular contact, you live in my heart. I don't mean to exclude the many other friends whom I love and that have and do enrich my life. I mention the names I have as they have literally been there through everything I have mentioned. Oh, the stories they could tell. ---------------------------------------------------------- I have matured, as one does naturally with age, but I want to make specific mention of the main thing that has helped me phenomenally: physical exercise. I feel the benefits mentally have been even greater than the obvious physical changes.

I would like to encourage everyone to acknowledge their trauma, and to move your body, even if only just a little bit more.

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