By Roseanne Venables Johnson
As part of an ongoing series, Yahoo is profiling personal experiences in open letters.
I used to have long, wavy reddish-brown hair. Over 18 years, I’ve grown it out and chopped it off to make over 10 donations, most recently to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths program, which makes wigs for women affected by hair loss from cancer.
In all the years that I have donated my hair, I never once thought I would be on the receiving end and in need of a wig.
At the age of 53, in April this year, I was diagnosed with atypical ovarian cancer.
Cancer has been no stranger to my life. In fact, it’s been a part of it for years. I lost my mother in 2013 to pancreatic cancer and a cousin in 2010 to breast cancer. I have also lost many aunts and uncles to various forms of cancer over a 20-year span.
Yet as I sat in the emergency department of the hospital where I worked and received my diagnosis, it hit me hard. Everything simply went blank.
Because I worked there, they opted to let my director of emergency give me my diagnosis. Having a friend deliver the bad news helped, but it didn’t stop the tears. I always knew it was a possibility, but I never expected it to happen to me.
Despite receiving this life-changing news, I actually went back to work the next day. I was later sent home and told not to come in tomorrow because I got too emotional. People kept coming up to me and asking, “What’s wrong?” and saying, “You don’t look right.”
But I guess the worst part of this was your life is no longer 100 percent yours. Everybody else is controlling appointments and surgeries and telling you what to do. I couldn’t just go ahead and do things I wanted to do anymore.
After many appointments at the Cancer Care Center, two major abdominal surgeries, and one chemotherapy treatment every three weeks, I am doing quite well. It gets fairly painful a week after each chemo treatment, but a change in my medication seems to have assisted that.
Regardless of how I felt, I got up, washed up, put my makeup on, got dressed, and faced the day. I keep active by baking and doing light housework to keep active and reduce muscle cramping. I refused to let cancer drag me down — but chemotherapy sure wasn’t making it easy.
After my first treatment, my hair began to fall out in patches. Losing my hair to chemotherapy was expected, but the sudden decrease in my confidence wasn’t.
Instead of letting cancer take it piece by piece, I decided to have my husband, John, cut and shave my head.
Looking at my bald head in the mirror after, I teared up a little. But then I laughed. Both my husband and I did because, honestly, I looked kind of silly.
“I have a cute little head!” I exclaimed.
“Yeah, it’s pretty neat,” he replied.
And that was it. I was never really a vain person. I used crocheted caps, scarves, and wraps lovingly made by my family and friends to cover my head, but only because without my hair it felt cold all the time.
Then, I got my first wig.
I almost couldn’t believe it. It looked so much like my old hair! The color was a little lighter, but the style was almost identical to what I had in the past. People would even tell me, “Oh, it looks just like you!” It gave me a little confidence boost, and when I put it on I felt like my old self again.
When I found out it was Pantene that made this wig, I teared up again. In all the times I donated to the Beautiful Length program to help create wigs, I never thought I’d be a recipient of one.
This must be how everybody else felt, I thought. What an honor it was to wear it!
The fight is not over, but I now step out in the world with a renewed confidence to take on cancer.
If you’re interested in getting involved with the Pantene Beautiful Lengths program, you can learn more about donating your hair or making a monetary gift on their website.