Finding My Cancer Style

7 Jun



One year ago, almost to the day, I asked my hairdresser to cut off 16 inches of my hair. It was a pre-emptive strike. A few days later I would be admitted to the oncology unit at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan to undergo chemotherapy to treat leukemia. Everyone knows that chemo takes your hair. I wanted to take control of what I could before the poison did its damage. But I left the hair salon in tears, my braids in a plastic bag.

When I was given a cancer diagnosis at the age of 22, sitting in a doctor’s office less than a mile from my childhood home, I remember watching my dad burying his face in his hands. My mom rubbed my back with her open palm. The room fell silent for 30 seconds, or maybe it was three minutes. Then I managed to blurt out two questions: Was I going to make it through this? My doctor told me that my leukemia was “high risk.” I would need to begin treatment immediately. The second thing I asked was whether I was going to lose my hair.

As I tried to prepare for my first round of chemo, I scoured the Internet, read the pamphlets my doctor had given me and paged through the cancer books that friends and relatives had dropped off at the house. I was still catching up on the basic details of my disease, its treatment and its prognosis. I had no idea how to prepare for the havoc it would wreak on my appearance — the part of the cancer experience that the world can see.

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11 Responses to “Finding My Cancer Style”

  1. weimaranerwench June 7, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

    Those magnificent, lush brows will be back with a vengeance –
    framing a pair of deeply thoughtful eyes!

  2. Katie Doran (@ShopKatie) June 7, 2012 at 11:23 pm #

    I just wanted to tell you that I am inspired by you. I actually used this post as a current event for my health class… 🙂 I plan to keep reading this. I subscribed via Google Reader. Thank you for being such an inspiration for me.

    • suleikajaouad June 9, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

      Thank you for sharing my piece with your class. It is readers like you who inspire me to write!

  3. Isabelle June 8, 2012 at 12:03 am #

    Félicitations pour ce nouvel article, touchant et profond tout comme les précédents. Peut être cela a-t’il à faire avec une recherche d’harmonie entre son soi profond et son apparence, et/avec ces périodes de la vie où, pour diverses raisons, on doit s’oublier soi-même pour faire front à d’autres priorités; mais il est vrai que cela contredit, à ton âge, l’identité tout juste construite, que l’on a besoin de confirmer plutôt que de transformer déjà. Courage Suleika, tu vas y arriver.

  4. Groovy After 50 June 8, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    Good for you and thank you for this. I, too, am bald after chemo. I had a “henna crown” (article on them, that I participated in, at – it feels good to be edgy. Going bald was so stressful in that, looking at my self in the mirror it no longer was possible to forget my dreaded diagnosis. But three months on, am still bald, and am ok with it. Losing my eyebrows and eyelashes now and am not so good with that… Sending healing wishes your way.

    • suleikajaouad June 9, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

      I read the MSNBC article. The henna crowns are absolutely beautiful! As for losing your eyebrows and eyelashes, I went to a “Look Good.. Feel better” seminar that teaches cancer patients makeup techniques to help deal with the side effects of chemo or radiation. It’s fun and informative. Check it out!

      • Groovy After 50 June 11, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

        thanks for this – I’d just learned about it last week and they are in my city. A friend joked that I should get some henna paisleys for eyebrows but i thought that was taking it a bit far 🙂 I’m thinking traditional, is the way to go lol.

  5. lisa June 8, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    You are a beautiful, articulate, inspirational young woman. I have been following everything you have been writing in the NYT. You are an amazing writer! Thank you for sharing your life with us and adding insight into dealing with this illness. I look forward to following your road back to health.

  6. kimmywink June 8, 2012 at 7:22 pm #

    It’s no fun loosing the locks. When it grows back it is often different. My hair is now about 4 inches long but this time full of curls. I LOVE having hair but looking in the mirror still reminds me of my cancer.

  7. Pat June 24, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

    You know it has been exactly a year ago I was diagnosed with Acute Leukemia.M6..5 intense chemos..relapse and next week I hope to get a bone marrow.All this stuff we go through is rough but no matter what I still take the good out of this episode of my life and yes of course we want to survive..and we will..A doctor suggested to me talk to some patients and the first thing I would tell the female patients is to shave their head.It is not only the cancer that shocks women its also losing your identity when you lose your hair..Lucky for me me I always shaved my head..losing my GO T in meals ..well was disgusting..8 months of treatments..bone marrow coming up..break downs and whatever but I STILL KEEP POSITIVE…YOU CAN DO THIS…A LITTLE BUMP IN THE ROAD OF YOUR LONG LIFE….


  1. Lovely Links: 6/8/12 - June 8, 2012

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