I hope you weren’t expecting a picture of my bald head to accompany this long overdue story! I don’t think everyone could handle it, so I’ve spared the more sensitive the discomfort of seeing my shiny pate. But, perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.
Once you receive a cancer diagnosis, you’re bombarded with massive amounts of literature to help process the upcoming unpleasantness, side effects, procedures, etc. One of the recurrent messages I read in multiple places was that losing one’s hair is one of the most difficult parts of the cancer treatment experience. Hmmm. Hair… most difficult, I’m not so sure, at least not for the long term. But, short term, yes, the trauma was real.
Right on schedule, two weeks after my first chemotherapy treatment, I began to shed. On the first day, which was Day 15 of my first cycle, I could run my fingers through my hair and come away with three or four strands. Since I was prepared and expecting this, I found it a little amusing at first, and it became a very neurotic activity for those first couple of days to pick out strands of hair. There was no visible change in my appearance, because there are SO MANY strands of hair on a normal head. A new pastime, YAY!, pick out my hair.
And then I arrived at day 3 of my shedding… And my shower…
Once your hair is ready to fall out, it happens on a large scale in the shower. One friend who has been through this already mentioned to me that’s where a lot of hair fell out. Boy, was she right.
I don’t even want to know how long my showers were for the next three days. I hope the planet forgives me for the volume of water I wasted. The running shower was matched by the amount of water I shed as I endured the no longer amusing experience of my hair loss.
Surreal doesn’t begin to describe the experience of chunks of hair coming out as I ran my hands over my head over and over, my fingers becoming entangled in the gobs of hair that just came out. Over and over. And over and over. Until I found my fingers turning into prunes and gave up until the next day.
As the days progressed it looked like small woodland creatures had crawled into our bathroom and laid themselves to rest in our trash can.
And in my twisted attempt to amuse myself… just imagine how desperate I felt… I began to play the soundtrack from the musical “Hair”. It was the only music that felt ironic enough for the occasion. My favorite track wasn’t the theme song “Hair”, however, but the trippy, druggy song “Walking in Space”. The mood was right for the way I was feeling then and even now about this entire surreal experience.
Back to the fallout – yes, pun intended. By the second day of seriously fall out it was very obvious to the naked eye that something was wrong with my ‘do, and I needed to cover it. By the third day the shiny scalp was showing through. By the beginning of the following week, the bulk of my hair was gone, and I was left with a wispy covering all over my head, that was slightly thicker in some areas. Who knew that it wouldn’t even give me the dignity of all falling out? Trust me, wispy Troll-like hair cover is even less attractive than a bald head.
Joe decided to take matters into his own hands and announced the following weekend that he would shave off the rest for me. What a guy, willing to face the full shiny head. And what a relief it was for me. First, as already mentioned, the wispy hair was just not a good look. Second, what I forgot to mention is that as your hair is falling out the follicles become very tender and sensitive. It’s like they’re holding on desperately trying to resist the inevitable, but the effort is too much. And once it was all shaved off, at least that discomfort was relieved.
A friend had helped me to prepare for the hair loss by taking me to get a free wig from the American Cancer Society before I had started treatment. It seemed like a pretty good match at the time. But once I was bald I found the wig was very uncomfortable and it didn’t look very good on my now sickly, pale skin. Therefore, I’ve become a hat and cap person. That cute red/orange hat you see in the photo is one that I had picked up several years back on our vacation to Canada. But with my abundant head of hair it never fit well. Guess what? Fits perfectly now. Some of the other hats you see were gifts, and some were donated by knitters to the treatment center. I also have a variety of hand-me-down caps and scarves from my friend, and they’ve all been well-used. It’s a cold winter. I can’t remember a colder one. I never realized just how much my hair contributed to keeping me warm.
I expect that once spring arrives and the chemo treatments end my head will still be bald. I think it takes several months to grow back. When the weather becomes more warm, I may cover up less, and go out places with baseball caps on, revealing my naked neck and the lower portion of my bald scalp. I’ve gotten past the trauma of the fall out, can look at my alien-like head in the mirror and see it as the new but temporary face of me. And as I tell myself daily for this and every other side effect, this too will pass.