Thursday, March 1, 2012

Losing My Hair

Four and a half years into this journey now, I've lost my hair 3 times now.  My very first appointment with my oncologist was on a Thursday and the following Monday I had my first chemo treatment, so I didn't have much time to adjust to the big changes suddenly thrust upon me.  Hair loss, I was told, could be expected to begin 3 weeks afterward, and it did happen nearly to the day.

The extent of hair loss will vary depending on the type of medicine you are receiving, but my experience has been complete baldness each time.  My oncology nurses told me that I would only have "some thinning," but it never worked out that way for me.  Perhaps they were trying not to scare me, I don't know for sure, but I was never terribly traumatized about it -- it was only hair and would later grow back. Besides, I had bigger fish to fry.

My hair before had been fairly straight, but very thick.  The photo I have on my profile (not the plastic wig above!) was actually taken a couple years prior to my cancer, but I chose it because it was one of my favorite styles and how I wish it still looked.  As it started coming out in the shower, I piled the fistfuls in the corner and filled nearly half the wastebasket.  This happened several times, and I still had a good amount left on my head.  I was picking up hair off my pillow each morning, off my clothes, the backs of chairs, everywhere.  I finally had enough and decided it was time to take the leap and just shave off what was left.

I offered the job to my husband, John, but he wanted no part of it.  My youngest son, Matt (about 18 at the time), agreed to do it and we headed into the bathroom with the hair clippers.  I told him to just have fun with it, and we both really did.  I think he decided to get revenge for the horrible home haircuts I'd done to him and his brother when they were little.  First he buzzed it into the shape of one of my sugar-bowl cuts (circa 1990), then he used the edge of the clippers to spell out words on my head, and lastly he graduated to a mohawk.  The two of us were hopelessly lost in laughter.  My older son Kyle even stuck his head in the door to see exactly what was so funny, but John didn't share our humor and stayed away.  I really wasn't upset about being bald and hoped that my positive attitude would help my guys be okay with it too.

Once the hair was gone, I was determined to take advantage of a new fashion opportunity!  When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!  I explored all the options -- several different wigs, various hat styles, and tried to learn how to creatively tie scarves around my head (although I never really mastered that one).  I found wigs to be too uncomfortable and itchy to wear for very long and eventually just wore them for church or special occasions.  Hats became my favorite, but I was very self-conscious about completely covering my baldness.  I didn't want people to notice the bald gap in the back of my baseball cap or the fact that I didn't have a hairline near my ears.  When I went out in public, I felt like people might notice I was different and wonder about what kind of cancer I had.

If you are new to this and looking for head covering options, there are plenty of places to be found on the internet that specialize in items for chemo patients.  They even have instructions for tying scarves and mini hairpieces to tuck under the edges.  One of the best is through the American Cancer Society at: TLC Hair Loss Products for Women  You can probably pick up a copy of their catalog at your oncologist's office, too.  If you're shopping for a new wig, have fun with it and try a different style or color you may not have been brave enough to make the commitment to with your natural hair.  But, I would recommend that you go to a store with a large variety so you can try them on before spending the money -- you may be surprised by what actually looks good on you and what doesn't.  Also, check with your health insurance to see if you qualify for reimbursement before spending $300 on that fabulous wig as that may affect your decision.

After chemo, you can expect your hair to grow back different than it was before.  Although my color has always been the same (white -- without the help of L'Oreal!), it has gotten curlier each time.  The first time it grew back, I tried every kind of conditioner or straightener to get it back to the way it was, but nothing made it look the same.  I've since decided to just work with the new curly locks!

The second time I went through chemo and lost my hair, I let Kyle shave my head.  I don't recall it being quite as much fun as none of us had expected to be going through it again so soon, but he was still a good sport about it.  My darling John surprised me one evening by disappearing into the bathroom and coming back out with a shaved head to match mine as a show of his support.  What a guy!

The third time, I just went to my hairdresser and gave her my business since I wouldn't see her for awhile.  I knew John still wouldn't do it, and I didn't ask.  

I've gotten MUCH less conscious about whether people in public recognize me as a chemo patient and whether that bald spot peeks through the back of my cap.  I know I get lots of curious stares whenever I walk through a store, and I've even had a few brave people ask about my cancer -- or tell me about their experience, or even their loved one.  Sometimes it has been a means to initiate a wonderful conversation.  I know I don't look "normal" (why does that matter, anyway?) but I think of it as a kind of badge of honor -- I'm fighting a battle with a fierce enemy, but it hasn't beat me yet!

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