On baldness

I’ve boldly titled this post “On baldness” as though I am an expert, when in fact I’ve only had personal experience of it since Monday. What started as a trickle of hair soon became a waterfall. I was going around absentmindedly pulling out great hunks and then having nowhere to put them. I’d weave them into a circle and put them in my bag, or scan the horizon for the nearest public rubbish bin. Or, if it was just a little bit, I’d let it float to the ground, mentally noting that hair is biodegradable. When I got up to Wyong on Monday, with hair floating around my head but only some of it attached, Deb (sister) advised it was time to take preemptive action. She got out her buzzing clippers, and within a couple of minutes it was all on the laundry floor. My scalp was now a patchy landscape of bristles and interesting features normally hidden. On the side of my scalp above the ear, a fairly large V-shaped scar. We worked out this must have been from the time I was four years old and sailed through the windscreen of the family Volkswagen after Mum slammed on the brakes to avoid a taxi. I do remember it – not going through the windscreen, but sitting on the footpath afterwards, and a woman looking at me saying, “There’s blood all over her!” And moles. I have moles on my scalp. Deb had to buzz around them. She briskly swept up the hair and emptied it into the bin before I could explain that I might need it for … for …. something. All that hair. Going to waste. What about crochet? No, it’s in the swing-top bin. We’ve moved on. Then I was handed the reddish-brown Chrissie Amphlett wig, the one Deb was given during her own chemo for breast cancer. It wasn’t too bad. I didn’t look like me, but I looked like someone, and that person didn’t look bald, so it was all good.

Then we were off on the school run to pick up the two little nephews. I was standing near the gate, parents and children trooping up the path, when Max caught sight of me and announced, in ringing tones: “This is my aunt! She hasn’t got any hair! She’s wearing a wig!” A mother shot me an appraising glance and said, “It looks quite natural.” The other nephew didn’t notice.

When Steve finally saw me he was disappointed that I didn’t actually look like Chrissie Amphlett.

Since then, I’ve been wearing scarves or caps around the house, and the wig out. I was wondering whether to be a wig person or a turban person in public. So far the answer is wig. I think everyone is looking at me, thinking, “wig”. When they’re probably not. Or maybe they are. And then, in the privacy of my own bathroom, I make studies of myself in the mirror. Hairless. Apparently I was a bald baby for a long time, like about 18 months. I’ve come full circle.

I’ve still only had one chemo session. My second session was supposed to be last Monday, but my platelets, neutrophils and haemoglobin had not bounced back enough from the last blast. So I’ve been put off until next Tuesday. I’m enjoying the extended leave-pass from the effects of chemo, but I’d rather be moving on. I want things to go to plan. But I’m learning that things rarely go to plan with cancer treatment, so I’ve got to get used to rolling with it. (What the hell’s a neutrophil? It’s a “white blood cell”; made in the bone marrow; keeps your immunity up.) The good news is that my CA125 levels (“tumour markers”) plunged from 2800 on the 7th of February to 1500 on March 6th. This means the tumours took a bashing after the first chemo. Excellent.

Meanwhile, as promised, I have begun to fashion small intestines. I’m using a French knitting contraption from Spotlight. I enjoy sitting and mindlessly lengthening my intestines (as long as I don’t go over 7.1 metres, the average length of a female small intestine). I’ve discovered a whole world of anatomical craft out there on the Internet. Some of it is truly stunning. Take a look at this, for example.

And I’ve got all excited about this year’s Waste to Art exhibition (see entry in last year’s exhibition, here). I have a stack of exercise books full of moaning and self-absorption that I want to get rid of. I’ve been burning them, page by satisfying page, but I’ve also started pulping them in the blender and making recycled paper. The combination of red and blue biro in them is giving rise to a lovely light lavender shade. I’ll stitch the pages together and write on them, or draw pictures on them, and that’ll be my entry. (Note: I’m keeping the odd bits of brilliance to be found in those diaries, but most of it really is mental junk-mail.)

And I’m glad the Sydney Biennale cut ties with Transfield. Yup, it’s a big bugger for a lot of artists and art-lovers, but if we’re a society that chooses to have a billion-dollar detention centre on Manus Island, we have to expect a bit of fall out. It might be uncomfortable, possibly misdirected, expensive and unfair … but then, that’s Manus Island all over.

7 thoughts on “On baldness

  1. Margaret Jakovac

    Hey, congrats on tumour marker results. Yippee! The fight has begun. Enjoyed your prose about last year’s Waste to Art entry … I can see how wordsmiths such as you can segue nicely to explanation of visual creations. Hugs again Rgds M

  2. Barry Healy

    Hi Trace,
    You have an enviable ability to succinctly summarise quite complex issues. You skewered the debate about Medicare last week and this week you’ve summed up the Biennale hubbub perfectly.

    Pulping your notebooks gives an interesting image of producing your Collected Works.

  3. John Merkel

    hi tracy, more wonderful musings. really, your blog is such a good read, and beautifully honest and witty.

    you know i loved your last entry in Waste to Art – it’s on my wall. the name still tickles me, too: Towards a Classification System for Mt Panorama Ring Pulls. The concept for the new one is typically humourous and self-effacing – and therapeutic to boot, i’ll bet. got a title yet?

    could we have some photos of wigs and scarves, etc? please?… only if you feel like it.

    More hugs, JM

  4. Dawn Nusa

    Hey Trace

    Loving these Thursday night reads! Pulping your mind poo in the blender sounds particularly satisfying. Not sure about wig vs turban: maybe you can go odds and evens or maybe turban goes well with winter?

    Lots of love
    Dawn xxx

  5. Megan

    Well done on the tumour score! Can’t wait to see your art when its done! It sounds amazing!

    Trialled wig AND turban?? No such thing as too much head wear, then again, no such thing as too little, why not rock the town in your nudie head!?

    Thanks so much for the post!


  6. Ian Lett

    Hi Tracey
    Thanks for opening my eyes, not only to the realities of chemo, but also to anatomical handcrafts. I felt a bit squeamish watching the Sick movie by Candace Couse. I’m sure your French knitted small intestine will be beautiful and wont leave my guts knotted. Please, just don’t animate it.
    My thoughts are with you

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