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I have started counting hairs.

I noticed three in the shower this morning. They came away as I shampooed my recently shortened hair. A few more came away with a towel that I used to dry my hair. Today as I ran my hand through my hair, one and two and three each time. The doctor says by next week they will be coming out in fistfuls. It’s hard to count fistfuls. 

I remember the last time I was counting hairs. It was about six years ago, and I was trying to get my dissertation proposal passed. I had recently turned 30, and I noticed silver sparks along my temple and forehead, shining brightly against my dark brown hair. At first it was very symmetrical, and there were only four of them. I called them the four hairmen of the apocalypse, and I thought I was clever. In fact, I was so determined to cleverly manage my anxiety about aging that I wrote a Keatsian ode on the subject: “Ode on a Silver Hair.” However, my subjects’ number soon eclipsed my ability to count them. They multiplied rapidly and are blithely scattered across my scalp now. 

I didn’t try to count the falling hairs after my son was born two years ago. For months I thought I had escaped the postpartum curse of hair loss. But month four came, and as it left, it took my hair with it. Not all of course but enough to clog the shower drain multiple times. Enough to make me feel that the hair I had left hung limp and stringy down my back. This was expected. Another fun, body image destroying perk of pregnancy and postpartum life. 

But my hair bounced back. In fact, it became thicker than ever before. I grew it out till it touched my shoulder blades and then some. Most days it would slip and tangle along my back until I’d lose patience and twist it up in a clip.

I like my hair, but I don’t like doing it. I like TikToks that show me ways to get presentable hair in five minutes or less. I like a quick French braid and a messy bun. I like mostly blow-dried hair, falling down my back as I run out the door with a scrunchie around my wrist. Up until three months ago I had every reason to think that this relaxed approach to my hair would last me indefinitely.

And then. A genetic predisposition to breast cancer flared from the smoldering embers of possibility into the flames of reality. I had done everything right. I had gotten the regular screenings I was supposed to get. I had gotten the follow up tests when I needed to. Nevertheless, cancer. The aggressive little tumor, taking up residence in a breast that only a year and a half ago had been nourishing my son, that tumor meant everything shifted. I hoped surgery would be enough. The doctor said, “stage one.” That was good, right? The doctor also said, “triple negative.” The doctor also said, “poorly differentiated.” The doctor also said, “aggressive chemotherapy.”

Shortly after my diagnosis, I was crying in a church pew. Meanwhile in the back room, the Coffee Break ladies met for Bible study. I was not alone. A friend and a well-intentioned acquaintance sat with me while I wept. I ugly cried. The acquaintance was a stoic Dutch lady, a breast cancer survivor, and she asked as she stroked the strands falling down my back, “How attached are you to your hair?”

No matter how attached I am, my hair is soon to be less attached to me. I started to ready myself and my family. I brought my husband and son to my hair salon where Savannah, who has patiently dyed those silver sparks for a couple years, let my toddler “help” cut my hair. My husband took a video, and in it my giggling son hops around the salon while tossing a fistful of mommy’s hair into the air, the locks separating and drifting down to settle in a dark brown pile on the floor. Uncountable.

I went for a wig fitting this week. I learned I don’t particularly like the look of anyone else’s hair on my head. I especially do not like blonde hair on my head. I found one wig that will work. It’s long like my hair was before my toddler-assisted haircut. It curls a bit at the ends, a style I would normally need hours and several cans of hairspray to achieve. So I suppose I’ll enjoy the ready-to-go ease of a wig, but the hair doesn’t feel right when I run my hands through it. It looks too shiny. It feels too slippery. The kind woman doing the fitting showed me how each hair had been individually tied. “This wig,” she said, “will move like natural hair.” I didn’t even begin to try to count the hairs on that wig. There were many.

Even if I wish I could tie each hair to my scalp, or get out the superglue and scotch tape, I’m led to believe such methods for keeping one’s hair are ill-advised. I cannot hold onto my hair anymore than I can count it.

I tell God in my prayers that I am trying to keep my hands open. Open to receive from others when I would rather manage on my own. Open to let God take away those things I’m tempted to cling to: my breasts, my energy, my work, my hair. Open and empty and begging God to fill me back up. 

God tells me that the hairs on my head are numbered, and they fall by his providence. I’ll aim once more for cleverness and mangle Hamlet: “There’s special providence in the fall of a [hair]. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all.”

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Bethany Besteman

Bethany Besteman is a worship coordinator and church administrator at Silver Spring Christian Reformed Church in Maryland. She also works as the intake editor at Reformed Worship. She has a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from Catholic University of America.


  • mstair says:

    …regular prayer attention henceforth…
    Thank you for your courageous, truthful writing. It will minister to all of us as we now distantly accompany you on this leg of your earthly journey.
    May we accept our “readiness” as sincerely as you…
    Asking Our Lord’s Favor for You and family…

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Oh my goodness. So quietly and disarmingly powerful. Please write again.

  • Joanie Rosema says:

    Beautiful post, Bethany, and very relatable for so many. Praying for you.

  • Phyllis Roelofs says:

    O, Bethany, so emotionally open and beautifully written, thank you. I ugly cry with you. I am exhausted by the big C affecting many I love, know, and others I don’t really know. I, too, love my hair, which is thinning from aging. I promise to say a prayer for your healing when I daily lint-roll the grey hairs from my black bathroom rugs. Peace to you and yours in this circumstance.

  • Mary Swier says:

    I’ll be with you praying to our all-knowing God for your journey and healing.
    Your powerful writing went straight to my heart. Keep writing please.

  • Gloria J McCanna says:

    Oh, yes, may these days be filled with grace upon grace, and your medical team so keen and present for all your needs, fears and questions. Peace dear sister.

  • “Open and empty and begging God to fill me back up.” That’s right where I am in my cancer journey. Thank you for saying it in such a poignant and painful way.

  • Nancy VandenBerg says:

    Having walked this journey seven years ago with triple negative breast cancer and its aggressive treatment, I can assure you that you’ll make it, but only through His marvelous grace. You won’t be alone for even a second and you will come to know Him more deeply than you can imagine or hope for. Yes, there will be dark moments but you’ll make it.
    To a woman losing her hair and knowing that He is still aware of the number remaining is an insight into what a wonderful mathematician He is! We might as well look for humor, huh!
    Also, remember to thank Him for His marvelous medical miracles that can allow us more years of life. A few decades earlier we would not have had this privilege and blessing.
    I’ll be praying for you, Bethany.

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    Praying for you, Bethany. And thanks for this honest and moving article.

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