It was just a week and a half after my first chemo treatment when my hair started falling out. I knew it would happen around then, but it’s hard to prepare for.
It was Saturday, August 20, 2016, a date that I’ll never forget. I was relaxing with two friends by the pool and it was the first time I had seen either of them since before I was living in Rwanda. It was a day like any other, except we had a lot to catch up on. I was updating them on life in Rwanda and cancer while they were updating me on their lives and their expanding friend group that I hadn’t met yet. I hadn’t lived in this area since I graduated college in 2012, so I was pretty out of the loop.
One of my friends had dinner plans that night with some friends I hadn’t seen in a long time and some of the new ones I hadn’t met yet. She invited me, but I declined because I didn’t have a change of clothes and I didn’t feel comfortable going to a sit down restaurant straight from the pool. She was persistent though, and eventually I gave in after she said I could go back to her place and shower so I’d at least feel a bit more clean.
It was in that shower that I noticed my hair falling out more than normal. I wasn’t positive at the time because my hair normally falls out a little bit in the shower, but I was pretty convinced that this was the start. I sat with that for a moment, and decided to enjoy what would likely be my last evening out with my own hair, until all this was over. It would also likely be the last time I could meet new people and not have to share my cancer diagnosis with them if I didn’t want to. I could pretend to be normal and I decided to relish in that while I could.
We all met at Bartaco in Hyde Park, about 12 of us, and it immediately felt nice to see old friends and introduce myself to new ones. We sat at a long table, the kind where it’s difficult to talk to people on the other end without shouting over everyone in between. So, I primarily talked with everyone on my side of the table and let myself get lost in the feeling of normalcy. That night I made a handful of new friends, all of whom I still keep in touch with. Most importantly though, I met Ilan, my husband.
After dinner, we all decided to walk a few doors down to Sprinkles to get cupcakes. This is where Ilan and I started focusing on each other and sparks started to fly. Quite literally actually, because we sat by the fountain across the street where Ilan used the matches from Bartaco to light the wooden fork and knife from Sprinkles. It was simple yet mesmerizing, as fire always is.
The group started dwindling but a few of us decided we wanted to hang out longer. We were saying our goodbyes to the others and deciding where to go, when my friend alluded to my cancer in a conversation without actually saying it. I can’t remember what she said specifically, but essentially I ended up telling the small group that I had cancer. It was my first experience sharing that with people I had just met. I probably wouldn’t have shared it without the nudge either, but I’m actually really glad I did.
In true Robyn style, I awkwardly said something along the lines of “well, um, I have cancer.” Nothing else, just that. I didn’t know what to say, to be honest. Ilan responded first, with a surprised but comforting, “Oh, okay.” and everyone kind of left it at that for the time being.
We decided to drive to Davis Island, and once we got there, laid out some blankets along the edge of the water for us to sit/lay on. My new friends then asked a few questions about my cancer diagnosis and treatment, after making sure I was okay with it. They listened intently to understand the basics and then the conversation transitioned to normal topics again. They handled it so well and made me feel comfortable discussing it with them. I appreciated that it was a small part of the evening and didn’t become the focus.
This is where Ilan and I really began. We layed next to each other under the night’s sky, bent legs with our knees leaning on each other ever so slightly. We were face to face, in a rather intimate setting for having just met, talking about everything. It was one of those deep, soul connecting conversations and quite frankly, it felt like we were all alone. No offense to the others but we were in our own little world. Our comfort with one another was as if we had already known each other for years. I’d never experienced anything like it before.
It started getting late, and even though we didn’t want to leave, we all decided we should. Ilan, despite knowing I had cancer, which to me may have been a deal breaker for the time being, asked for my number and proceeded to ask me out the following day. I told him that I’d love to, as long as my hair keeps it together long enough since it had just started falling out.
I’ll start off by sharing that my hair certainly tried to hold on long enough. While I now know that Ilan would not have cared about my hair or lack thereof either way, I wanted that sense of normalcy on a first date. During dinner though, every time I thoughtlessly ran my fingers through my hair, the evidence was clear that hair loss was happening. Although it was slightly distracting for me, I didn’t let it take anything away from dinner and I don’t even think Ilan noticed at the time.
After dinner we decided to both drive to his place and walk across the street to the park so we could spend more time together. We walked along the edge of the water and onto the dock where the conversation kept flowing. Eventually, we walked back to avoid the mosquitos but instead of leaving, we just sat in his car and kept talking for a couple more hours. We could have talked all night long.
At some point during our car conversation, I realized that my hair was sticking to the back of the seat. Instead of being embarrassed or shy about it, I laughed and told him what I noticed. I started to pick my hair from the seat so he didn’t have to deal with it later and ended up with quite a ball of hair. Instead of being uncomfortable, Ilan embraced the situation with me. He grabbed the ball of hair and put it on his shirt collar, pretending it was chest hair, and we goofed around in the strangest way ever. We even have proof, in case you were wondering…
Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience sharing my cancer diagnosis for the first time with new friends and dealing with my hair falling out in public and on a first date. Instead of the hair loss being traumatic, it became a strangely fond memory because of who I was with and how we dealt with it together.