About My Hair: A Journey to Recovery
An inspirational book for chemotherapy patients
by Marcia Reid Marsted
Review: "Creating a thing of beauty from the pain of cancer"
By Gina Barreca
01/08/2001 Hartford Courant
"First, I am a photographer. Periodically, I am a
cancer patient." Compelling, devastating, and
powerful, this is the first line of photographer
Marcia Reid Marsted's work titled "About My Hair : A
Cancer Journal." Marcia describes the remarkable
photographic diary that she kept to document the
changes to her hair that she "knew would occur as I
dealt with surgery, a cancer diagnosis, and the
chemotherapy that would be necessary postoperatively."
I met Marcia for the first time over lunch at the
Altnaveigh Inn. I'd hurried through a busy morning at
work (despite being on sabbatical--or perhaps because
of it--I was more than usually frantic right before
the holidays) and arrived a few minutes late for the
11:30 appointment. She drove up from her home in
Canton but still made it to Storrs in time to go to
the Benton Museum at UConn before lunch. Even though
I had virtually no distance to cover, I was running
late. Breathlessly undoing my scarf even before I
walked in the restaurant door, I knew that I would
recognize Marcia even though we had never seen one
another before. I knew her face, eyes, and, yes, hair
from "About My Hair," her book-in-the making, and I
felt confident about our meeting. When an elegant,
attractive, and smiling woman holding a portfolio rose
to greet me, I was immediately at ease.
Having read the prose and looked at the photographic
images she produced, I knew that this would be a long
and important discussion about everything in the
universe, and a little more besides. I was right. To
confront cancer--"cancer" itself a word that, not very
long ago, was not even mentioned aloud by many
people, but whispered or abbreviated as if it were a
secret vice--is an act of unmitigated bravery. You are
brave because you have to be; you are courageous
because where there is courage, there is life.
From out of the shadowy wells of courage, many
surprises can emerge: understanding, patience,
empathy, compassion, awareness, spirituality, humor,
connection, love, intimacy--and art.
Marcia's work is a mosaic of all these elements. She
embraces the most personal moments, telling us about
her responses to her experiences with diagnosis,
doctors, the very idea of cancer, survival, and the
triumph of the everyday. Through her use of
photography and her spare but dynamic sentences,
Marcia shapes her individual experience into a
detailed and beautifully honest one; she forges her
world into a work of art.
This is not illness as grand opera; it is the
quotidian, the familiar, and the simple transformed
by the experience of cancer into something else
altogether. The clear, clean prose gets to the point,
as do the accompanying images. "This is just about as
bald as you can get," she writes in the lines
accompanying one of the photographs of herself. "My
eyelashes and eyebrows were gone, but I got pretty
good with an eyebrow pencil....The wig looked good. I
washed it once a week which was a nice change from the
daily wash which had been my norm.... Actually, as I
mentioned earlier, I bought two wigs at their
suggestion, but although they were supposed to be the
same, I liked one much better than the other and wore
it most of the time. Luckily it lasted. I liked
getting compliments on my nice haircut."
In some poignant textual moments, Marcia's husband
Jeff interjects his own dialogue into the piece.
"--The hair became the focus, not the cancer,"
explains Jeff. "I think that helped us both." Later
on, after the chemo is complete, Jeff writes a
response that is haiku-like in quality: "Must be a
strange period for all involved with cancer treatment.
Anti-climactic is not quite the feeling. Everyone
wonders--Now what happens?"
Awarded a CT Commission on the Arts Grant for "About
My Hair," Marcia is now a writer in search of a
publisher. After attending a workshop called "A
Gathering of Women Photographers," she was encouraged
by an overwhelming response to use her work to help
others undergoing chemotherapy. While several
organizations have shown an interest in helping her
distribute her work and get it into the hands of
those who might most directly profit from reading it,
Marcia hopes to find a way to make the map of her
odyssey available more generally.
The journey has been difficult, but Marcia Reid
Marsted has made a thing of beauty from it.