As I write this, I am on the train back to Birmingham from London for my sixth round of chemotherapy and, to put things as simply as possible, trying to distract myself from the overwhelming cloak of anxiety that comes with starting every round of chemotherapy.
My sixth cycle is the last of its kind, with the chemotherapy drugs changing for future cycles after this week. My sixth cycle also marks my last in the UK for quite some while as I head to Florida for Proton Beam Therapy (don’t worry, there’ll be zero ‘suns out, guns out’ vests creeping their way into my suitcase).
I wasn’t going to write this piece, mainly due to the fact I thought people would sneer up their noses in a flurry of questioning the integrity of what I let affect me as a cancer patient. My eyebrows and eyelashes have departed my face within a couple of weeks; something I honestly didn’t think would happen. My hair loss happened rapidly after my first cycle of chemotherapy back in July and I thought that would be it, that what remained after that horrific cancer-cliche moment would remain for good. Alas not. The changes in hair, skin colour, weight loss and gain seems to happen over the course of time. It feels like you’re becoming lesser of a person, diluting, decaying almost. It’s like being knocked down and thinking “oh it couldn’t get any worse”, and then it does.
I am the personification of clickbait ‘oh my god you’ll never guess what these celebrities look like without eyebrows” articles or what a veeting accident looks like and I’m sure, in time, that I’ll embrace this new look too. I mean, I would draw on my eyebrows but I fear that I’ll resemble either Divine or a pair of commas.
Like I’ve written before, the presentation of cancer exists in two forms, one shut away behind closed doors, the other, your ‘public’ cancer face. My physical pains can be shut away on wards and I can control who sees what (to some degree). Hair loss is an obvious signifier. Being a cancer patient and looking like one are two parallels that exist in equal difficulties.
I got used to life with no hair, embraced spending far too much on yet another hat or cap, but losing your eyebrows and eyelashes completely strips you away from looking ‘normal’. Western society teaches us to display ourselves in certain ways, the way we dress, do our hair and makeup, communicate with others and behave. When you can’t control certain aspects of that, you feel as if you stick out or don’t fit in. Oh, and the amount of dust that now gets in my eyes can do one. Never did I realise how much lashes and brows act as a shield for your eyes. I now constantly look like I’ve just watched Marley & Me.
Of course, there are more important aspect to life with cancer. Having a suppressed immune system, tumour lodged between my ribs and perpetually of pains and inconveniences is far more sinister, but invisible.
They say to make a wish when an eyelash falls out. All these collected wishes are going on the hope that life returns to normal and they have the chance to grow back.
Words // Dean Eastmond
Photo // Seamus ryan