The Old Grey Mare

Before reading this post, please accept my apologies for the dodgy photographs, and give a small vote of thanks that I don’t have Instagram.

I found my first grey hair at the age of 28, but by then I’d already been colouring my hair for a few years, albeit pretty casually. As soon as I found that grey hair I was at the salon as quick as you can say ‘get rid of any trace of old lady-ness off my head, stat!’, and from then on, I had my hair professionally coloured every six weeks. Fifty shades of brownish-auburn.

Before

Before Grey

When chemo made my hair all fall out (except for my cockroach-esque eyebrows that hung in there despite the intense chemical warfare), I knew that when it grew back it’d be grey. I really didn’t give a fuck about the colour, because HAIR!

during chemo 4

Bald, smiling, bit of lippy on but looking and feeling like absolute shit thanks to massive doses of chemotherapy and steroids.

When it first grew back it was almost white, and at the nape of my neck it curled in a way that could only be described as pubic. Then it gradually went straight, and a much darker shade of grey. It suited me; I got constant compliments from friends and strangers, and I look back at photos and think how much my face glowed under its short cap of silver.

During Grey

During Grey

I kept it grey for a year. Not because I wanted to, but because I was told by the oncologist that I would likely have a severe skin reaction to hair dye, and to leave it au naturel for 12 months to allow all of the chemo drugs to be completely removed from my system. From the day of my diagnosis with breast cancer, I did what I was told. I had my right breast cut off, did chemotherapy, then radiation, then hormone therapy. No swimming during chemo, no cold seafood, no soft cheeses, no manicures or pedicures, no massages, no unprotected sex (LOL). No deodorant during radiation, no scented moisturiser, no exercise which causes the core temperature to rise, no raising my hands above my head. And even then, even after the treatment was done, no remedies to treat my horrendous menopause symptoms, no hair dyeing, still no unprotected sex (still LOL). So the moment I was allowed to exercise my free will, even in the smallest way, I did. Exactly one year to the day from the end of my chemo treatment, I was at the hairdressing salon having my hair coloured brown. Totally sticking it to the cancer man!

julie now

After Grey

That was more than a year ago now. I initially loved the brown hair, mainly because it made me look exactly the same as I looked before cancer. And to my poor brain, which had been addled by so much fear and anxiety, looking the same as I did before was very important. I was desperate to prove to myself, and everyone else, that cancer hadn’t changed me, that I had weathered the storm unscathed (apart from the collateral damage of my right breast). But I gradually started realising, when I started writing my story down, just how fucking pointless and exhausting it was being in denial.

Today, I feel like I’m getting pretty close to coming to terms with the fact that I am no longer the same person I was before October 2012, but that it’s OK. And so, to celebrate, to mark this milestone of my life, I’ve decided to let my hair go grey. Right now, it is a distinctly unglamorous mix of grey roots and brown ends.

Going Grey

Going Grey

Like the saying goes, the old grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be. But that, my friends, is fine with me.

storm poem

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