Pre-emptive strike

An article I wrote for Matrix Magazine.

Whenever I hear bad news I tense up. I tell myself to think logically and to breathe slowly. A voice on the phone says, " I have been diagnosed with cancer.'

The young women on the phone is Lindy. We have shared stories about favourite books, lost love, foreign cities and risotto recipes for the better part of ten years. She is well travelled and well spoken. We talk about everything from Naomi Wolf's Beauty Myth to Naomi Watts in King Kong. She used to be a model in the early 90s dropping such trivial matters to study history. She is tall and pale with a beautiful head of strawberry-blonde hair that she would sweep out of her eyes when she spoke to me.


But the voice on the phone sounded lost. On one hand she spoke clinically and detached about Dozorubicin, Pamidronate, Disodium, decreased blood cells counts and increased risks of bleeding. Of having no appetite and the vomiting. All of which she could cope with. But the voice starts quivering, how could she cope with losing her hair?

No hair would be a badge that she was sick. People would treat her differently knowing of her sickness. How could she get on with her life, how can she face the world without any hair?

She told me she would start treatment one week from now. I gave her some phone numbers of wig shop I visit for fashion parades and photoshoots. Then I told her she should cut the hair off before it fell out. Better to take control now than be passive.

Pre-emptive strike.

I make a house call to Lindy two days after her first treatment. I'm meet at the door by her husband and a beautician friend who is there to cheer her up. Lindy is in the kitchen brewing up a tea made up by her naturopath. "All I need is my doctor, my naturopath, my beautician and my hairdresser." Cheers to Team Lindy, she now has an entourage.

In the lounge room is a chair with a mirror, which is set up for the big chop. And while Lindy brushes her hair for the last time I wrap her in a gown. Clumps of brittle hair easily fall from her head. "The Doctor warned me about this, so I understand what you mean. Cut it off now rather than watch it fall away."

I ask her if she wants to keep the hair for posterity. She declines. Hair is dead once it's cut from your head. It would be a reminder of all this. So I take my scissors and begin cutting her long locks til only a half-inch remains. Then I plug in my clippers and buzz cut the rest off. I can see where her scalp is irritated and bald even though her hair is less than one mm short. I place a hot wet towel over her head, then apply a mixer of shaving cream and moisturiser and shave the remaining whiskers off. After, I rinse her head and apply more moisturiser.

After some time in the bathroom contemplating her new look she reappears, her striking eyes a little teary. Lindy assures us that she will be ok. As I place a slightly darker than natural long strawberry blonde wig on her head and begin to cut and set it, Lindy's best friend arrives and doesn't notice that Lindy is wearing a wig. This makes Lindy very happy. I tell her about other clients who are now growing thier hair back after chemotheropy, and how most survivors have stronger hair now than they did before., due to better diet and lifestyle.

One year has past since Lindy had the chop. Her hair is still short, but no longer brittle. She pops into the salon regularly to chat and have her wig styled, which she now has in different lengths and styles that I have set and cut. Her favourite is her curly, bright red one for going out and parties.

Special thanks to Lucinda for editing prowess.

Useful links for Melbourne
New York-Cancer Care, Wigs by Joseph Paris


  1. Beautifully written and so very sensitive JP... makes me cry ... as I lost my mum to cancer just a very short while ago (not something I wanted to share in the chair...)

  2. wonderful post Jean-Paul, beautfully written. I'm reading Helen Garner books at the moment - half way through her most recent fiction The Spare Room. An older woman has a friend - dying from cancer - come to visit her for 'alternative' treatments in Melbourne. Garner writes real good, but you have also captured something unique here with fantastic personal insight. big love xxx