Breast cancer lesson number 73: Cancer strips away the things we think define us and, in so doing, shows us who we really are

It seems rather appropriate that, while everyone is chomping on the last of their Easter chocolate, my head should start to resemble that of a spring chicken.

Since the number two head shave, the darkish brown (even the odd black) spiky strands have disappeared, only to be replaced by what I can only describe as a bit of blonde baby fluff and a lot of baldness. It’s not shiny, I now have less hair than all the babies I have met in the last few weeks (I just wish they could talk so we could share tips) and Duncan still insists I move seamlessly from the sleep cap to the day headwear, so he doesn’t have to experience the ‘ill look’ too often. For him, it makes my invisible illness visible. For me, it’s a sign the drugs are working.

With the quickest haircare routine ever, I am still finding the whole hairloss side of treatment quite liberating. So, I have decided it is perfect timing to share my no make-up selfie with the world. I appreciate I am about a month or so behind, but having already donated a good few pounds to breast cancer charities recently, I didn’t really feel the need to yank on my hair to speed up the process. This, for me, is the true face of cancer. It can’t be masked with make-up. It’s a face that suggests that I’m fighting, but that won’t ever give away quite how much. It’s a face that looks well, but, in truth, it’s not a face I ever thought I’d see (especially not in my early 30s).

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I am lucky in that I have never been defined by my looks. I am also lucky in many ways that cancer has chosen to give me a glimpse of a life without hair to show me just how little any of this image stuff really matters. I never thought I’d say this, but I am more comfortable in my own skin now that I can see a lot more of it.

Throughout my childhood, I was teased for having the wrong straw-like hair, the wrong complexion, the wrong waist and hip measurements and a raised birthmark on my neck that made people point and stare. I felt out of place in my gym kit, out of place in my leotard or swimming costume and without a real place in life. I used to envy all the girls with their beautifully braided hair, flat stomachs, fashionable clothes and string of admirers. I used to dream of waking up as someone people would want to be. Now, I couldn’t dream of being anyone else.

Strange as it may seem, cancer has made me take one long hard look in the mirror and come away smiling. Cancer strips away the things we think define us and, in so doing, shows us who we really are. Cancer hasn’t made me stronger or happier, but it has let me see just how strong and happy I really am.

I no longer search for beauty in a perfectly-styled hairdo or glossy lips. I look for beauty behind the eyes. Anyone can paint on a vision of happiness or hide away under a layer of foundation. But beautiful people can laugh and smile without seeking the reassurance of others or the support that comes with a brightly-coloured lipstick.

So maybe, just maybe, you might like to ditch the make-up on more than one occasion this year. You don’t have to post it on Facebook and you don’t have to donate money every time you leave the mascara at home. But, you might just surprise yourself and discover that your real beauty doesn’t come from a tube of tinted moisturiser. It’s been there all along waiting for you to stop covering it up.

Thank you cancer, for making me feel beautiful. And, I hope that by reading this, you might learn to love the skin you’re in – hairless or otherwise!

Breast cancer lesson number 63: You can be hair free and carefree

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Ok, so hair free may be a slight exaggeration, but as far as I am concerned, a number two with a couple of bald patches is pretty much there. While I am not sure it is right that I should have less hair than my fiancée, I have to say, I like my head shape and, as haircuts go, it was pretty exhilarating. Who needs wig Suzie when GI Jackie is in town?!

Sitting in the hairdresser’s chair (not sure I should have chosen lunch hour at Canary Wharf but never mind), I didn’t feel at all sad. Funny as it may sound, I felt privileged to have the chance to experiment and liberated at the prospect. Four weeks ago, I couldn’t imagine having a pixie-shaped do, and I loved it. One month on, and all I could think about as the locks fell was how lucky I am to a) have a head shape that doesn’t resemble an egg and b) have so many wonderful friends and family all willing me on.

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How did I prepare for my exciting turn in the salon? As well as a nice glass of wine last night to toast my old locks, I plucked my eyebrows. Now it may sound strange to be voluntarily attacking the hair that doesn’t want to fall out (yet). But, my view was that if my head was going to look a little naked, I best make an effort everywhere else. Why the leg can’t fall out first is beyond me!

This morning, after examining my bald patch, applying some eye makeup and adding a headtie, I met up with Duncan and headed for the clippers. My hairdresser was amazing. He tucked me away at the back of the salon and cut my pixie down to size (first with scissors and then clippers) before washing and oiling my head. It felt like a proper appointment. I even got time for a cup of tea. And, the best bit? It was free! I do think the lady sat opposite actually thought I was making a conscious style decision as I laughed through the whole thing. Her facial expression first had a hint of pity and then a hint of confusion (or maybe just fear). It felt good – and a little naughty.

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Surprisingly happy with the new look (and the fact that I will be saving loads in shampoo and conditioner), I left Suzie in her bag and opted for a fun blue hat. On the train on the way to work, I found myself fascinated by the lack of hair demonstrated by other passengers (style choices I might add). I also had a burning desire to whip off my hat and join in. One thing I love about London is that nobody cares. They’d probably just think I was channeling my inner Jessie J.

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The hat didn’t last long (lovely as it is, it just feels wrong wearing it indoors). My office were quick to embrace the new look and share in the excitement of the day. After that, it was au naturel all the way. Yes, people had a good look. But, the truth is, I don’t look ill. I just look like I’m making a rather bold fashion statement.

How do I feel now? I couldn’t be happier. I took control. I no longer have to watch the strands fall. Cancer can’t take what isn’t there and just knowing that makes me feel empowered. Plus the feeling of a light breeze on my head is unlike anything I have ever experienced. It soothes me in a way I can’t articulate. I’d say try it, but that might be a bit extreme, so you’re probably safer taking my word for it.

Today I was strong. I looked cancer in the eye and I took charge. I also discovered that hair is over-rated. It isn’t a part of who I am. It’s just a little nice-to-have. I will miss it, but I know I’ll be a better person for having lost it.

Coco Chanel once said: ‘a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life’. It’s only now I truly understand the meaning of that phrase.

All I can say is, if it’s coming off, take it off. It may not be a haircut I’ll ever choose again, but it’s probably the best haircut I will ever have – and the one you will probably always remember.