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I Don't Want to Look Cute

“You look adorable,” said my friend Judie, when I tried on a wig that reminded me of Mia Farrow’s haircut in Rosemary’s Baby. The woman who’d just put the wig liner and wig on my head nodded in agreement. Clearly, neither she, nor Judie, was lucid. Mia looked adorable in that haircut because she weighed 98 pounds and looked like a sexy pixie with her cute freckles and startling bone structure. Me? 145 pounds. A smattering of age spots. Woodland creature cheeks.

It was June 2006, and I knew I was going to lose my hair in mid-August after getting the first of six Adriamyacin/Cytoxan chemo-tinis, straight up. To get used to having less hair, I did what a lot of pre-chemo women do: I cut my hair in increments. When I went to the Wig Palace with Judie, I had recently cut my long hair into a smart little shoulder-length bob. It was kind of fun and swingy, but I lived in mortal fear of humidity or rain, either of which transformed my angular bob into a fuzzy pyramid.

“I don’t want to look cute,” I said to Judie and the wig lady.

I was surprised by the words. I am able to speak my mind, but I have the kind of personality that tends more toward the timid than the torrid. That changed fast after May 2006, when I found out I had breast cancer. I knew for a fact that I was going to have to take extraordinarily good care of myself if I was going to get through it.

Taking good care of myself meant making an appointment with my OB/Gyn when I felt that hard, small, immovable lump in May 2006 (even though I’d just been in her office the previous week for a UTI). Changing plastic surgeons midstream. Telling my oncologist that I didn’t think I could do Chemo #6 because it was taxing my heart. Letting my second plastic surgeon know that I was unhappy with my reconstruction (even though I think he’s a compassionate human being and a great surgeon). Recently calling Dr. B at the Dorothy Schneider Cancer Center for an ultrasound because my oncologist had found a lump.

(My oncologist thought the lump was scar tissue, but I’ve learned to err on the side of caution. Turns out it was scar tissue. And I’m grateful for Dr. B, who took my call on a Thursday and scheduled me for an ultrasound at 8:00 a.m. on Friday.)

I tell this story because, while it’s important to speak up for yourself in life, it’s absolutely critical to speak up for yourself in the medical system. No one else is going to do it as well, and with as much personal information, as you.

“Judie, let’s go get lunch,” I suggested to my friend when we were standing out on the sidewalk of the Wig Palace. The wig lady had suggested we look at the Mia wig in natural light.

A week later I found Hansen/Fontana in San Francisco. They make wigs out of human hair and style them to your specifications. It’s where I got the wig with the permanently side-swept, “That Girl” bangs. But it was a radical improvement over the Mia wig. I had to go to work, in a new job, in an office, and it was paramount that I look and feel as good as I could. And if that meant saying that I didn’t want to look cute, I was just fine with that.


Sherry said…
Jill this is an excellent post and you write it so well.

The wig you chose looks chic, sophisticated and is a reflection of who you are.

It's wonderful to have input from others and listen to other people's opinions/knowledge but you are so right..we have to speak to up for oursevles and be our own do anything else is to treat ourselves as "less" and we are not.

With the wigs...I thought I wanted something different than my "usual", perhaps go with long hair. The fitter who is a volunteer at the hospital (I bought my wig at the wig shop in the cancer hospital so they are trained to deal with this), advised me to stay as close to my own style as possible. He reminded me that I would be going through so much that was new, difficult and challenging and questioning "who" am and "where did I go" that to see a new me in the mirror (new me being bald would be enough!) might make it all that much worse. I took his advice, bought a wig that was similar to a style I would have worn before and he was right..I felt good, people who knew me but didin't know I had cancer didn't realize it was a wig and that took a lot of pressure off me.

And like you I took a trusted, good friend with me. Someone I knew that would be 100% honest with me telling me what I needed to hear not what she thought I should or would want to hear. That's very valuable.

I'm glad you wrote about's a vital and important part of the process and the journey.
Sherry said…
On another note, please visit my other blog, Sage and Thyme...I've tagged you in a tell 6 things tag... ~ it's under I've been Tagged and Other Notes.

Can't wait to see your answers!! ;)
Jill Aldrich said…
Sherry, thank you. When I was in the hospital last July, I had to be an outspoken advocate for myself. I had a compassionate daytime nurse who helped me successfully manage my pain; and I had a nighttime nurse who did not. What made me sad and angry wasn't that I had to fight for myself at a time when i was most vulnerable, but that other women in a similar situation might not feel comfortable doing that and, as a result, might suffer unneccessarily.

Makes me appreciate the "Chemo Angel" work you do even more. I just heard on the radio, "No one deserves to get cancer; everyone deserves the right to fight it." I think everyone also deserves the right to as much support as they can get. That includes having good, honest friends who will go to chemo with you and tell you that you look like Judge Judy in that wig :)

Hope you have a great weekend! Look forward to reading more of your archives.
Jenster said…
Great post! It's amazing how being faced with our own mortality makes us speak out!

And if you don't want to look cute do you want to look hot?? :o)
Jill Aldrich said…
Jen, truth be told, I'll take anything :) While I still have some fear, anger and other non-fun feelings to process, I really am just grateful to be here. No matter what I look like. My boyfriend told me 110 times this past year, "Jill, we're happy your hair looks shitty. It means you're still here." I hope things are good with you and that Katie enjoyed her 13th!
Meg Wolff said…
I wholeheartedly agree with you that it is important to speak up for yourself in life...even more important with the medical profession! Great post.
Jenster said…
Jill - I still deal with non-fun feelings at times, too. Probably will post about them next week.

But, like you, the big thing is life is really good! And every time I complain about anything that is BC related my husband says the same thing as your boyfriend.

I used to say I didn't want to be cute. Cute is for puppies and little kids. I wanted to be sexy! Never did get sexy and now I'd take cute. :o)
KT said…
Hi Jill, once again, loved your post. Not just because you talked about hair (my favorite topic!) but mostly because you are so right about the speaking up for yourself. It's so important to take control. Thanks for stating this so beautifully, Katie
Jill Aldrich said…
Sherry: Looking forward to responding to your "tag"!

Jen: Is that you looking out the window in the photo on your post? You are totally cute :)

KT: I'm so happy someone else likes to go on (and on) about their hair! How are you feeling? I've been thinking about you...
Jill Aldrich said…
Meg, thank you for your kind words. I am going to a bar mitzvah in a minute, but I'd like to spend some time checking out your site this afternoon. I'm anxious to take a look at your books...

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