All posts by Irene Young

Hair It Goes

This is a piece I wrote in 2005 as I was undergoing chemotherapy.
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I started losing my hair on  Monday. As I stood in the shower running my hands over my damp head, I realized clumps of my short mane were staying within the web of my fingers. I looked at my hands with a soft amazement. After all, Dr. Klein had said my hair would fall out, and I had been preparing myself for the shock of looking like Popu, my very Greek late grandfather. My face was long, my ears were big, and my nose was classic Athenian. If I had lost my hair twenty-five years ago, I would have felt life was not worth living, and I would probably have retreated to a café somewhere in Queens where I could just sit all day twirling worry beads, eating baklava, speeding on Greek coffee, and pontificating about politics. However, for some miraculous reason I seemed okay with losing yet another thing I thought I could not do without. As I stepped out of the shower, I glanced toward the mirror that the steam had compassionately fogged over. I found a little portal through this mist of Aphrodite and thought, “Okay, the symphony has begun, and this is the first movement.” I could tune my violin and get ready for my solo, or I could miss my cue and forgo the beauty of the music. I may not have had control over whether or not I got cancer, but the one thing I did have control over was my response to its’ arrival. I was fifty-four years old and I honestly didn’t care what people thought of me or my hair or my lack of it. My concept of beauty was far removed from the Hollywood ideal, and my self worth was not dependent on the opinions of others. I was losing my hair, but was I gaining an expanding self? Like my bathroom mirror, it was all a little foggy, and I had to feel my way when I couldn’t see, but I had to believe that the realm of possibility held a range of experiences for me. Breast cancer was merely one.

On Tuesday & Wednesday I went through the same routine in the shower and played the same game of peek-a-boo with myself through the clouded mirror. By Thursday my head felt as sweet as it must have felt when I was a new born baby. Somehow I found all this curious. I looked more and more like my eighty year old grandfather, but I felt like an infant opening my eyes for the first time to the world around me. What did I want to do with this crazy life? Who did I want to be when I finished growing through all of this? What would I do with any wisdom that would be bestowed upon me? How could I give back to my community of friends and clients who were so loyally supportive? If I could go through chemotherapy, what then could I do going through life?

Friday was graduation day. For the time being, my haired had commenced falling out, and I had gradually made it to true acceptance. This was something I had to do as part of my life, and like so many thousands of women before me, I became one with my journey. The journey became an ally. I became a friend to myself. Cancer had created the space, the time, and the silence for me to feel a soft love for myself. Now the question became, “what could I create with all this inner and outer love?” It was a call to love from every – and to every direction, and the balance kept me awake and looking forward.

Irene Young
Sept. 25, 2005

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