One of the top five things that first flash through your mind after news of a cancer diagnosis and chemo is the “hair question.”
“Will I lose my hair?”
The answer, depending on your treatment, is a resounding, “You betcha!” According to my oncology nurse Nancy G, the Taxol I’m receiving is what’s responsible for my achieving that Lex Luthor look.
“You WILL lose your hair”
But the good news is–it will grow back.
For the curious among you who wonder what it’s like, let me take you through the process.
The way I see it ladies is you have two choices. You can weep, wail, and pull the covers over your head or you can take charge and go on the attack. I chose to play offense.
Those of you who know me are familiar with my mass of tresses. I am not “follicly challenged.” I’ve got hair to spare. Lately, I’d taken to gathering my hair in a big fat ponytail. It’s easy and luckily for me, it seems to be trendy. The only drawback is that the inch-thick ponytail weighs a ton and this sometimes gave me headaches. There had been days when I’ve fantasized about just cutting the whole thing off. Now, I had a perfectly plausible rationale!
The question was how to do the deed. Go for the GI Jane right from the get go? Or take it in steps? I talked to my chemo angel Sandy. She told me how she tried to keep her hair until the 11th hour and suggested that I avoid the mess and just get after it. Nancy G suggested going the multi-step route so it won’t be such a shock to my family. My son Jim HATES change. So I decided to go incremental.
Once that question was resolved, there is the whole issue of the 5Ws (as we say in the news business). Who? What? When? Where? …as we already know the WHY.
This required careful study.
I needed to surround myself with strong women for this adventure. I had to assemble a three-step posse. I already had two gals who are my chemo angels; Sandy and “Lady C,” have both “been there-done that” cancer-wise and have my unfailing thanks for all they do. But WHO for the hair? I couldn’t go it alone. Hmmm.
Stage one required Steel Magnolias. My off-and-on hairdresser Mary counts as one.
Just ask her to tell you the back-story of how she bought her latest salon. This lady has guts. The person I asked to take me to Mary is another force-of-nature lady. I call her Mamasan. I used to work for Mamasan. She was a tough boss and mentor. We had fun even though we worked hard. At last once a week, we would laugh so hard that we’d cry. I learned much from Mamasan. I could write volumes, but half of it I promised to never reveal… We stayed in touch. I wanted Mamasan there.
I was last on Mary’s appointment schedule that night, which suited me just fine. Mamasan also gets her tresses maintained at Mary’s so it was old home week. Once we got my moppy top mass of hair sectioned off and the initial cut made for Locks of Love, the rest of the cut was pretty much routine. My daughter’s plans for the evening fell through and she even stopped by the salon to take some pictures.
My friend Linda later remarked that I had the quintessential North Carolina summer hair cut.
Around Father’s Day, I had been experiencing some major league hot flashes. It was time for stage two. I just wanted less hair! My friend Judy brought her barber shears and held my hand as Jim did the honors. Judy is another tough gal. We’ve been friends more than 20 years and have helped each other through the good and the bad. She was there holding my hand on the 40th birthday when I got my ears pierced. And she was here brushing the hair fuzz off my nose. I felt like crud that day and she knew it. I really wanted to take all the hair off, but I couldn’t sit upright that long. She rubbed my back, gave me a hug, and then sent me to the shower.
When the hair gets this short, you are afraid to look in the mirror. After toweling off, I glanced. A younger version of my father was staring back at me. Whoa! I looked like the passport picture from his freshman year of college–minus the flat top.
Precisely on schedule–which is 14 days after your first chemo treatment–the hair started to fall out. I hung on a day or two, figuring it’s not that bad. It’s not really going to all fall out… You go into a little bit of denial. Intellectually you know the day will come. But I was shedding as bad as Twinkie. I was blowing my coat! This was the emotional tipping point. I started to tear up. Jim, whose unspoken mission is to get me to cry when necessary, saw a good opening for me to let off some overdue emotion. “You know this bothers you,” he said. “It’s OK to cry about this.”
My steel dam of emotion began to crack. I suddenly had this picture in my mind of my favorite doll Ruthie. When I was four, I used to do Ruthie’s hair–with scissors–and the resulting coiff was a glorious patchwork of straw. I loved that doll–too much. She was pretty hammered looking by the time I got done with her.
“I’m going to look like my Ruthie doll,” I whimpered, the tears starting to well. Jim, who had not ever been told about Ruthie, just played along, coaxing me along for a nice good cry. He was moderately successful. I whined about Ruthie and then lamented that I would look like Piglet soon afterward. As I’m lying there sniveling I’m thinking to myself… How whacked do I sound?!
When the hair started to fall down the back of my shirt and itch… and start falling in my food… and litter my bed pillow, the words of Nancy G rang in my ears. “It will be a mess.”
It was time for step three. This time, I handed my daughter my Lady Panasonic and told her to finish the job. Caroline is another strong woman. Now 22, I’ve raised her to be independent, think for herself, and take nothing off of nobody. I’ve seen her get her heart stomped on, weather life’s crushing disappointments and marveled at how well she approaches difficulty. She has her father’s analytical mind and my Stay-Puft marshmallow tendencies. I guess you could say we’re close. She was the perfect choice for the final chemo buzz.
With her father watching anxiously, Caroline set up a stool outside by the garden shed. It was all gone in 10 minutes. The last of my hair went to the birds. I went inside to hit the shower. I put on a good face, singing, “I’m So Pretty” from West Side Story for the benefit of my son. He took a look at me and winced.
From the looks of things, I’ve got a patchyish sort of 5 o’clock shadow thing that is still reminiscent of my dad. I’m wearing my chemo beanies full time now. No wigs for me! I’d rather go “commando.” Right now, we’re still looking sort of GI Jane As I get further into treatment, I imagine I’ll favor Piglet.