This is my entry for Tara @ Sticky Fingers' Gallery Week 12. It's been a tough one for me but I am so glad I did it. I am sure there will be some fantastic entries this week. Please go and have a look at the other entries, as the Gallery is always full to bursting with wonderful photography.
May 2006. This first photo is a bit of a cheat, as I did not take this picture myself. But this was me, with my finger looking like it's stuck up my nose and my hair shiny, long and lustrous. I'm allowed to say that, as by November 2007, I'd been diagnosed with Grade 3 breast cancer and facing chemotherapy. The consultant who broke the dreadful news actually said, "Oh, your beautiful hair". I didn't think that the loss of my hair would be so hard to bear, but it really was.
16 January 2008. I started my chemo in January. I'd had my surgery in November and had to wait for a wound infection to clear up before I could start the chemo. It was a long, hard wait. My fab Hairdresser Friend gave me this hairstyle, which I really loved, but sadly, I knew that it would not last too long. It was designed to ease the transition from long-haired woman to baldy cancer patient.
31 January 2008. One Thursday morning, during my second chemo cycle my hair started coming out in clumps in my hands. It was everywhere and it was making me cry. An SOS call to Hairdresser Friend was made and she came over. She got the electric razor out and this was my Number 2 cut. It was quite a relief to have the hair tamed and I quite liked the pixie-ish look of it. Again, I knew it wouldn't last.
4 February 2008. Sure enough, over the weekend, my hair continued to fall out (from everywhere - that was an interesting bathtime!) and I knew I had to bite the bullet and just shave it all off if I was to keep my sanity - and my soft furnishings hair-free. I went round to my Friend from Way Back's house and Hairdresser Friend came over and did the deed. This is me just after, when I'd got home. I bloody hate this picture - God only knows why I am smiling. I look dreadful.
12 March 2008. I had a couple of wigs. One was long like my old hair, but as I was so pale and thin, I looked too gothic (even for me, the Queen all that is Black). This other wig was kinder on my pallor. I only ever wore my wigs out of the house - they were itchy and annoying and I really could not be arsed to faff about inside. Plus I was scared of setting fire to it whilst cooking. Imagine the scenes...
3 April 2008. These next two pictures are when the chemo was really doing its work and my eyebrows and eyelashes were struggling to survive the onslaught. I look at these pictures and I can't honestly believe that this is me. During this time, I was very poorly and had to just get through the bad days. However, I note that I have applied a little lipstick. Vain throughout the suffering!
7 June 2008. The first four cycles of chemo were the ones that took my hair. I then switched to chemo tablets and although I was still poorly, my hair started to come back. This next picture is where I can see me peeping out through my eyes once more. I remember taking this picture and feeling hope and happiness and a little bit of hmmmm, still got it going on, girlfriend...
28 August 2008. This one was taken on the same day as the photo of O that I picked for Gallery Week 5. A happy, happy day and a happy, newly curly woman enjoying the sunshine and being out and about. This felt like the start of coming out of treatment and although I still had a long way to go emotionally and mentally, things were getting better.
15 May 2010. And this is me now. Out the other side, a little less carefree and a little more weary, but definitely on the up and sporting a really fulsome head of bouncy curls. It was a really drastic way to get a new hairstyle, but I'm really enjoying my curly hair and feeling more and more like me again and less like the breast cancer girl.
Writing this post has taken courage. I am actually shaking as I type, as the self portraits I've chosen have only ever been seen by a couple of people before today. It feels right though. I took them during the hardest, most soul-stripping time of my life. Looking at them now, I can see what cancer did to me and what it took away.
More importantly though, I can see what I've now got back. Cancer did take me to my lowest ebb, but I didn't stay there. I'll always be changed by what happened to me, but it doesn't define me. I'm moving on and hopefully, I'll keep going and getting further and further away. Thanks, Tara, for giving me the opportunity to get this post out there.