Here’s How I Shaved My Head

by Jenny BurbankPatient, Breast CancerFebruary 2, 2021View more posts from Jenny Burbank

I’m out to prove a point, btw, that what YOU read, see, hear about cancer is a load of shit. People posing triumphantly. Ringing a bell. Surrounded by family and friends. It’s a production. Someone is sick and they have this wonderful support system and the world stops and your loved ones rush to you and at least someone stays, and makes sure you’re okay, and despite the illness, you are grateful and filled with hope and unicorns and rainbows.

I had several friends swear they would shave their head with me. They did not.

I had a friend who was going to come and do it for me. He did not.

Instead! It went down like, fuck it. It has to be done. Hair (long black hair) was everywhere on my sheets and clothes and if I grabbed a small clump and tugged slightly it would fall right out.
I’ve heard so many women recount the experience as traumatic, and I guess I understand that, but if you’ve known me even for a little while, you’re probably aware that I’ve never been shy about clippers so.

I says to myself, this is a proper time to day drink. I think it was like 11am? So I go to the local watering hole. As I open the door to this bar dungeon and let the sunlight in, who does it shine on, but the person that… I can’t find the right words.. Was my ex, then was my friend, now is basically my arch nemesis? Yeah, HIM. At MY BAR. ON THE DAY I’M SHAVING MY HEAD. MY head. MY bar. Motherfucker. So what do I do except needle and prod him right up in his nebbish hobbit face to fucking leave so I could do this in peace.

The weasel says..blah blah It’s my bar I come here all the time.. And I was soooo angry… And I told him, not today it isn’t! He snuck out the back. I met him out front. And I punched him in the face.

NOW. I had a double Jame-O neat.

Made my way to Great Clips. This is how dignified the process was for me. A bar fight, alone, friends forgot me, at a Great Clips. Had a few vodka nips in my purse. They do it for free, ya know, bc everyone feels SORRY FOR YOU.

And typically, the hairdresser hesitated, all ARE YOU SURE and whatnot and I drink some vodka and I’m like. Please. I don’t fucking care.

Buzz buzz. I say, so whaddya do now, like get a razor and whatever? She goes OH YOU WANT IT THAT SHORT? I’m like yeah. I’m fucking going bald. Go shorter. Get it all, dammit.

The only other thing I remember is going home, on the bus. I did have a few head scarves with me bc I wasn’t sure if I’d need em? There was snow on the ground. I put something on my head. I saw someone boarding, and they did a cursory glance. They paused on me, and I saw pity. I think it’s a dead giveaway that you’re ill if you’re a woman with a shaved head.. And don’t get me started on this trend of hipster bald girls who act like it’s fucking cool… But I am no shrinking violet. I simply decided, fuck everyone. Took that shit off my head. And I glared right back at every passenger that boarded and paused to stare a second longer at me.

I still do.

To be clear, I am filled with terrible, terrible emotions that I work very hard on a daily basis to tame. I do it sober. I’m honest. I want everyone to know this experience is not sunshine and flowers. I think, in the worst case scenario.

You might go through it with parents that don’t want you. No friends or family calling to check on you. No one there after surgery. Going home alone. Trying to connect with people and failing. Shrinking physically, losing body parts, looking at a stranger in the mirror. And so many people I love WERE there at the beginning, then they weren’t. I’m not bitter about it, I accept that everyone else has their own lives to attend to.

It does break my heart, but I am not bitter. It’s ugly. I resent it. I want this to change me for the better, and it is.. And I want the platitudes and the myths to disa-fucking-ppear.

Published previously on Thoughtcatalog.com and upcoming article on the Mighty.com.


All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at https://www.elephantsandtea.com/contact/submissions/.

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6 Comments

  • Jenny says:

    Man I think Jenny is cool.

  • Rachael Walker says:

    I love this so much. I love YOU so much. Let’s be best friends.

  • Katie says:

    Whewwww this was good. I can relate to being filled with terrible emotions. I definitely didn’t get any cancer patient saintliness with my diagnosis. Thanks for your honesty.

  • Kaitlyn L. Irish says:

    You are a complete BADASS! I applaud you for your absolutely gut-wrenching honesty. I’ve been there. Thank you for sharing with the world your story.

  • Angie Giallourakis says:

    Well said Jenny!

  • Ling Vargas-Rico says:

    I can relate to this; people who’ve relied on you definitely change when you’re asking to rely on them. (Diagnosed with AML). And someone explain to me why hair is such a big deal in the wonderful world of women? Before this whole experience, I told my fiancé I would shave my head someday, just to do it (had it long for years). When my hair started falling out, I was more grossed out it than traumatized- I laughed as my nurse buzzed it off, relieved that I wouldn’t be seeing it all over the sheets anymore. Hair doesn’t define us unless we make it part of our identities, and my was definitely not. But, it’s hard not miss your long hair in PA wintertime…

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