So it turns out that the wig buying experience wasn’t as fun as I’d envisioned. I suppose I’d been ignorant to the fact that it was actually going to be a tough day, after all my only experience of wig buying before had been in a fancy dress shop for parties. The discussions I’d had with friends in the lead up had all been jovial and upbeat, I mean the options were endless, I could buy copious amounts of wigs, all different colours and styles, what wasn’t there to be excited about right?! Wrong.
I decided against taking a friend with me, an option suggested by dad…they might be able to help with more current and fashionable styles…this didn’t go down well with mum, she is more than up to date with fashion and current styling thank you very much! I did consider it but the closer it got to the time, I became nervous, mum and dad were my best critics on everything in life so why not on my new hair, they were the only people I needed.
I made an appointment with a shop called Trendco in London. It was recommended by a family friend who also suffers with alopecia. Dad drove us up there which I cannot explain how relieved I was about, in hindsight the thought of dealing with tubes and trains that day would have been too much. Before we left I had the onset of a panic attack which made me cross as I’d kept them so well controlled over the past few years but, a few sprays of Rescue Remedy, a polo, deep breaths and “I’m fine” on repeat, off we went. Actually, I should admit now…I channelled my inner Britney circa 2007, a quote which a brilliant friend put on a mug for me later that week!
I didn’t really take in my surroundings when we first got there as I dashed down to use their loo first (mum did after me and returned giggling with a story as per usual, she’d taken a wrong turn and ended up in the stock room full of heads and wigs!) but when I came back up I was astounded at the sheer amount of choice. The walls were floor to ceiling of shelves full of polystyrene heads with every imaginable style and colour wig….a place we all commented on not wanting to be in the dark! We had looked at the website before coming and earmarked a few we liked and I would recommend doing this otherwise it’s all quite overwhelming.
When I booked my appointment I opted for a private fitting room which again, I’m so glad I did. Jane, my fitter was simply wonderful. So accommodating, calm and helpful. It was quite a small room with bright lights but we all squashed in and there I sat in front of the mirror. I took off my cap and Jane was then able to see my hair colour; if you are losing you hair they suggest taking a sample in so they can colour match for you which is a great idea. She brought in a wig just to try to get us started. On went the wig liner and then it hit me, this is a hint at what I will look like tomorrow when my hair is gone. “I’m fine.” Mum and dad were obviously slightly on edge and nervous too, but carried on smiling and saying all the right things. I didn’t like the first wig so suggested a different style and off Jane went in search. “I’m fine.” The second one was really nice, dad filmed how to put it on and adjust it by finding the two pieces at the front and giving it a wiggle, then place four fingers on your forehead to make sure it’s all in the right place.
I can’t really describe how that moment felt. I knew I preferred this wig to the first one, it was my colouring, from the back it was exactly the same shape as my own hair but, it wasn’t my hair and I felt so detached from it. I liked it but I also resented it. I had a moment where I thought about all the moments over the last few years when I’d been with my closest friends choosing and trying on wedding and bridesmaids dresses and yet here I was trying on wigs. It just didn’t feel fair. This time when Jane left to get a different wig, my lip went and I wasn’t fine. Mum and I had a little cry, dad gave my shoulder a squeeze and then it was ok. I really do think that we have to be strong and positive but you know what, it’s ok not to be fine and it’s ok to let other people know you’re not fine because if they know and love you, they’ll understand.
I realised that all the wigs looked abit odd because by this stage I had also lost my eyelashes so my eyes didn’t look defined. I haven’t been able to wear makeup for almost two months because I have constant pins and needles on my face where my nerve endings are being affected by the auto immune disease, so I just look wiped out and pale which is something new after living in Dubai for two years! The bright lighting didn’t help either so when Jane suggested looking in a mirror in the shop it was a relief to see that actually it didn’t look bad. Infact, it looked so real! The monofilament used on the wigs means it looks like your scalp underneath, it’s just incredible. We did look at other wigs – mum accidentally knocking a wig stand and apologising to it as if it were real woman in the process – but the second one just felt more me. So, that’s the wig I went for. We were talked through how to care for the wig, mine is synthetic not real hair so I have a conditioning spray to use after each outing and I can wash it with special shampoo and conditioner every few months. I was also told to be careful around outdoor heating, not to open an oven door with it on or be near open flames! I chose a collapsable wig stand so it would be easier to pack when travelling to Dubai but again, in hindsight, I’ve since bought a polystyrine head as I think it helps the wig keep its shape more…can’t wait to go through customs next!
I cannot praise the staff at Trendco highly enough. They were so sensitive, encouraging and helpful from the lady on the phone to everyone in the shop on the day. The website is also great, I’ve since bought new head scarves and an extra head! It’s useful to know that if you’re buying a wig for medical purposes – alopecia or cancer – you can fill in a form and get the VAT off your purchases which helps as the wigs are quite expensive.
We went for a drink and lunch after but I couldn’t eat, I actually felt physically sick. Reality was starting to sink in about the decision I’d made. I still didn’t have to go ahead with it as I could tuck my hair into the lining but I would still know what was underneath and I’d still need to see it when I took the wig off plus, Dubai gets hot…wig plus hair wouldn’t be a pretty sight. Talking of pretty sights, I should probably give you some ‘before’ pictures of what my hair looked like the morning of ‘the shave!’ I spent time straightening it which I hadn’t done for weeks as I was too scared to but also because I knew I wouldn’t get that opportunity for a while.
I’m glad I woke up the next day with yet more hair on my pillow as it spurred me on to go through with my decision. Dad was going to do it. I had originally asked Jacky: the conversation went like this:
“Jacky, do you think I can cut my hair shorter and then style it as it grows?”
“Do you want my honest opinion Hannah? If it were me, I’d shave it off and start again.”
“Ok, fine. Lets’ do it. Can you do it now?”
“Now?! Oh, urm…maybe not today…!”
Like mum said, when someone knows and loves you, shaving off their hair is not an easy feat, especially for Jacky who has done my hair since I was five! And actually, I don’t blame her, I don’t think he’d say but I think he was nervous about doing it and rightly put me off until I had a wig to fall back on. Normally dad would do anything for me without hesitation but he had asked a few times if I was sure, if he wanted me to get his local barber to do it after closing time…but I wanted my dad to do it. I trust him implicitly and I wanted someone who loved me and knew how hard this was going to be to do it.
I’d got Jack to measure my remaining hair, 17cm is the minimum length to donate to a charity called ‘Little Princess Trust’ who take donations of human hair to make real hair wigs for children who are suffering from alopecia or cancer. Mine was way over so that’s where we began…with dad and Jack using elastic bands to tie my hair at the top and bottom and measuring each with a ruler…we did have a laugh at that!
And then it began, kitchen scissors to chop off the mini ponytails. Again, I hadn’t really thought about the process itself and I certainly hadn’t anticipated being so upset by the sound of the hair being cut. There was no point being accurate or neat, it needed to just come off but I will never forget that sound. Mum was on the iPad, Jack watching TV, all keeping busy, dealing with it in our own ways but as always, together. Once they were all chopped off, like in the shop, I wasn’t fine. I really, really cried. More cuddles, deep breaths and then on we went, I honestly did feel fine after that. We could see a few more patches that I hadn’t yet found but that was ok, they’d soon be invisible too.
Then dad set to work, he was indescribably brilliant. We had all sorts out, beard trimmers, shavers…my head was so smooth by the end Jacky would have been proud AND as luck would have it, I actually didn’t have a bad shaped head! Mum did her bit by applying the E45 cream so I didn’t get a shaving rash and that was that, relief. I felt like a wight had been lifted and the next morning I woke up, yes with a cold head (I quickly ordered a very fetching night cap from Trendco!) but with no hair on the pillow, no hair in the plug hole…it just felt amazing, I did cry but with relief. That’s such a fab word isn’t it…relief.
Now, again, don’t get me wrong, being bald isn’t all fun and games. I found it very difficult in the first few weeks to accept and still have those days now. Dad has to shave my head once a week as the re-growth on the rest of my head is very quick. We don’t ever touch the re-growth on the affected area and one day I know it will catch up. Yes, as people have said, I will save money on shampoo, mascara etc etc blah blah blah but all I will say is just bear in mind, I’m a woman. I like buying shampoo and conditioner, I like trying new beauty products, I enjoy washing my hair and going to the hairdresser’s and I can’t do that at the moment and I feel like part of my femininity has been snatched away from me. I think it’s important to remember that yes, “it’s only hair,” yes, “it will grow back,”and yes, I can now “put a wig or scarf on and get out there” but sometimes, like in many situations we find ourselves in, take a second to just imagine how you’d feel in that situation. It’s not always as easy as you’d think, don’t let someone’s smile and the words, “I’m fine,” deceive you, take a bit of time to dig deeper and see if they really could do with cuddle, a chat, a cry and a laugh…in any order!
Over the past few weeks I’ve felt more confident to wear my wig more. I’m getting used to how it feels, it can be uncomfortable, hot and itchy and the wind worries me much more than it ever did but I’m rolling with it. I’ve never gone out just bald but that’s not to say I never will, it’s just blinking cold at the moment! Oh, and I should probably mention now…we don’t use the term ‘wig’ in our house, mum found it hard to say and as a joke Dad suggested giving it a name and then out of nowhere said, “something random…like Brian?!” I was opposed, surely it should have a female name, but as things tend to go in these situations, Brian stuck.
I did some more research and found a more local Brian shop in Lakeside Shopping Centre called Suzi’s. Mum and I went for a look and again, had such a positive experience. Jo was fantastic, I had another private room where I tried on loads on Brians, this time I could accept the situation more, have a laugh at how ridiculous I looked in a red crop and more importantly face the mirror. I chose a shorter, darker Brian so I have two totally different styles and colours. Mum named it Adams…get it?!… Brian Adams?! So it seems my collection is growing along with my confidence.
I’d like to finish this blog by posing a question…if you have really long hair, could you cope with cutting off 17cm? You know it’ll grow back and you know you’ll be doing it for a good cause. If you know a hairdresser, could you ask them to think about next time they cut a clients hair, why not tie it into 17cm ponytails or plaits and pop them in the post. It takes 6 people’s hair donations to make just one wig for a child, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could get the donations rolling in? If you do decide to do it, let me know so I can post it in my blog.