Wednesday, June 15, 2011

hair loss and other musings

Of all the things I dread about chemotherapy, being bald is the least of them. I find myself almost excited about the opportunity to do something radical I never would do if I wasn't forced into it. Am I delusional? Unprepared? A little bit crazy? Maybe, but that is how I feel and from everything I have read, other women simply do not feel this way. At least, if they do, they don't write about it. Or I haven't found those women's stories. So here is how I feel right now. While I still have a full head of hair. I promise I will admit if this all changes once I am holding a chunk of hair in my hand and looking at my bald scalp in the mirror.

Books and websites and personal anecdotes passed from friend to friend to me all warn that hair loss can be the most traumatic part of chemotherapy. In fact, one of the very first questions I am asked when I tell someone I am in chemotherapy or that I was about to start chemo is "will you lose your hair?" There is generally a head tilt and genuine sympathy in the voice when this question is posed and I chalk that up to the asker's own fears about facing baldness.

Early in the process I had several people tell me about some person or another they knew rather remotely who went through chemo and never lost their hair. These stories were meant to be encouraging but hair loss doesn't hurt physically and doesn't seem nearly as traumatic to me as puking constantly, losing finger nails or having severe diaherrea alternated with constipation (to name a few of my fears). Plus, when it dawned on me that I might lose more than just the hair on my scalp, I started looking forward to a summer without waxing or shaving.

As early as that first weekend after the big C was dropped in my lap I started buying hats and scarves and planning for baldness because to me, chemo meant losing my hair. Not just because that is the stereotype I have seen on tv but because my oncologist told me - you will lose your hair. All of it. She wrote me a prescription for a wig and handed me some ridiculous pamphlets which I will share with you when I really need something to laugh about.

My next step was to cut off my long hair. I have since received so many compliments on my new look (not all of them cancer-related, pity compliments either) that I think this is a style I may happily return to when my hair comes back. Because guess what, it always comes back. It will grow back 2-3 months after chemo - possibly gray and curly or maybe initially very fuzzy, but that is just the last remnants of the damaged cells and once those grow out, back to normal I will go.

That may be the biggest reason I just can't get worked up about hair loss. It feels like the least tragic part of the whole cancer-chemotherapy situation because 1) it isn't painful; and 2) it goes back to normal in the end.

Besides, I never did anything remotely rebellious with my hair as a teenager or in college. I had long (very long), straight hair that I tried to color once and when I thought it looked purple (it didn't), I panicked and asked my mom to help me fix it. I was not self-assured enough or insecure enough (whichever of these extremes it takes) to pull off anything remotely crazy with my hair.

And truth be told, I regret that a tiny bit.

I have now been settled into the corporate, professional world of being a lawyer in New York City for the better part of a decade and that means conservative dress, conservative hair. There are blogs out there that would advise wearing a ponytail too high in that environment is unprofessional frowned upon. So why not seize this crazy opportunity to do something different? To do something a bit wild and rebellious with my hair before I get to do my best to rock the bald look? And in the process, why not have fun with it, embrace it and laugh about it?

On the day I was originally supposed to start chemotherapy, I declared a personal Pink Day and asked all my friends and family to wear pink to support me through my first treatment. Things didn't go quite as planned that day but before we knew about the detour I had my mom spray some pink streaks in my hair and I loved it! We went to a Broadway play that evening and sometimes I would forget I had these crazy pink streaks in my hair until I looked in a mirror and then I felt amazing! It just made me feel so brave in the face of adversity, like putting warpaint on my face as I prepared for battle.

This past weekend I confessed a strange fear to a friend - what if I don't lose my hair? I have been buying hat after hat after hat and scarf upon scarf. I even have a wig (her name is Brandi and I am sure you will all be meeting her later). But what if I have made all of these plans and I am the freak who keeps all her hair? What then? I keep thinking I should just start wearing the hats and scarves to transition to wearing them without hair but mostly I've been saving them - they are my chemo headgear and I will have plenty of opportunities to wear them once I'm bald. But again, what if I keep my hair? Does that happen?

Not with the drugs I'm taking it doesn't.

Sure, there is a chance my hair could just thin out over the course of the first four treatments but the drug I will have those last 4 treatments is crazy powerful and any remnants of hair will be blasted out. Pretty much from everwhere. But I don't want patches of hair - I want all or nothing. So my resolve is to shave it off at the first sign serious clumps coming out.

Yesterday in the shower I noticed an unusual amount of pubic hairs coming out. I inspected my head but didn't notice anything unusual. I have always been a heavy shedder and, if anything, it seemed I was experiencing less hair loss rather than more.

But this morning, it was undeniable. The shedding has begun in earnest.

Each time I run my hands through my hair I am rewarded with a number of strands. No clumps, just a few strands. My doctor told me it would starting falling out two weeks after my first treatment and would all be gone within the month. I am 12 days post-treatment and right on time.

Which means, it is time to start getting a little crazy with the hair dying. Yes, photos will follow. And don't worry, if I end up having an emotional break down when I shave it all off, I promise to confess that to you. If I don't, you can all continue to scratch your heads (as I do) over how oddly detached I am from the emotional side of cancer.


Becky said...

You are amazing! I love your outlook on all of this. You are very inspiring!

Christy said...

Your warrior paint attitude is so inspiring. LOVE IT!

Tiffany said...

Hope all is well. Sending my well wishes to you...

Tracy said...

I, too, am hoping you are doing okay. Have been looking for a post but have seen none. Sending love and encouragement your truly ARE amazing.

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