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Considering the privilege of going grey

By Sarah Bell

One night recently when I was applying my nightly concoction to my face, I noticed the light catch the glimpse of opaque sheen just beside my part at the crown of my head. I reached up and ran my finger over where I thought I saw it. A subtle move with my body and I lost the light and of course this spot on my crown. I felt for something in my hair — dust? Food? Perhaps more likely from my kid gracing my hair with his dirty toddler fingers. Yet, I felt nothing. There was no food or dirt to be found.

I moved back into the light and saw it again. I was able to isolate the offending hair and then my mind finally caught up with what I was seeing. It was a grey hair. My first. I searched around the area and found a few more.

I was beside myself. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And I was…absolutely ecstatic.

I had never considered what going grey could mean until the opportunity to do so was so narrowly almost taken away from me. Seeing these grey specklings was an appetizer for how incredible it must be to live a lengthy and fulfilling life. Something I had always imagined for myself primarily as a result of my two extremely healthy-ish but very elderly great-grandmothers. This imagery was quickly stripped from me when getting the news that I had AML around three years ago.

Since having cancer in my late twenties, and with a young son relying on me, I now feel like it’s my very duty to take the utmost care of myself. In any manner of speaking I try to supplement my body and optimize it — while still ordering a side of fries or ending my meal with dessert if I feel the urge. I do so to prolong the inevitable death that was once a much closer reality and avoid my previous foe, leukemia, as much as possible. And yet seeing this grey hair filled me with the utmost joy. My heart swelled to the calibre of the Grinch realizing the true meaning of Christmas.

I’ve started on a new journey of self-care after entering recovery. All manners of creams and ointments line my vanity and trail across my dresser. These items range from those that nourish the skin to those that style hair without damaging it all the way to a slew of vitamin alphabet soup. Even still, finding my first gray hair was a moment of jubilation. It was like counting down to New Year’s and seeing all the fireworks. It was like finding evidence of the Loch Ness monster. I never thought I would see it with my own eyes. I never thought I would be confronted with my age because with cancer a very real part of me never thought that I would age.

Not only was facing cancer a challenge, but staring down survivorship has been as well. I now love watching myself age but I loathe seeing signs of aging in those I love. I know all too well how fleeting life is and being confronted with that in those I love is much harder now than in seeing it myself. I want to be able to see a life well lived in my wrinkles and lines — with grey fireworks in my hair. A marker of each arduous day I’ve passed with my wrinkles showing off the joy and laughter I’ve faced.

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