One of the first questions I asked my oncologist was "am I going to lose my hair?" I was told with the medications I would be getting it would thin but I probably won't lose it. I was so relieved! As a plan was put into place it was decided that instead of two medications they would be giving me three. It was a very aggressive step but because of my age and the fact that in every other way I am healthy, I could be treated in ways others might not be able to be. This also meant side effects might be more likely. The day before my second chemotherapy treatment I ran my hands through my hair and a considerable amount was wrapped around my fingers. It was such an unsettling feeling. My entire life I have been identified by my hair, I've been called red, ginger, carrot top and always asked how's my temper. I have had long hair for most of my life and it has been such a part of who I am. I just stared at the hair in my hand thinking "oh my god this is really happening!" There are moments when reality hits me that I have cancer, it's not the moments I thought that startle me the most it's the unexpected moments that I am not prepared for. I, at times, important times, am slightly numb. Going to my first chemo treatment I sang to the radio and stared out the window of the car blocking out what I am about to go do. I focus on other things around me that have nothing to do with the doctors appointment I have to go to, push out the overwhelming details of everything going on because it's just too much sometimes if I take it all in (That's why I always take someone with me to appointments). That moment though when I was at home doing normal everyday things and not ready for my hair to, all of a sudden, start falling out is one of the moments that took me off guard.
Now what? Now what is going to happen, is it all just going to come out, will it take a couple days, a week, what do I do about this? This is where my struggles with hair loss began. I have a ton of hair, everyday I would run my fingers through my hair and take out handfuls of it, I would look in the mirror after and still have hair! I made Sydney look for bald spots and even though it felt thinner there were no spots and I still had hair! It literally was making me crazy. I started putting my handfuls of hair in a waste basket beside my bed and could not bring myself to throw it out. I still haven't. My weird thought behind this was what if it doesn't grow back, or comes back a different colour not red anymore, I would still have it and be able to remember. It felt like such a part of me that I just couldn't let it go. I have seen very brave women and men shave their heads and own it but for some reason I just couldn't. I held on to the hope that the thinning would stop and I could still make it look somewhat normal.
Pulling hair out for well over a week at this point. The pile of hair is what I had pulled out that day!
The basket of hair was starting to make the people around me a little concerned that I was not only losing my hair but possibly my marbles. I also thought that if anyone made the comment "oh you lost your hair" I would have a snotty, sarcastic comment back like "No I haven't lost it, I know exactly where it is, it just doesn't happen to be on my head!!" It was very frustrating and I sent out this ranting message to my support group:
"Last but not least my hair!!! Now this has been a month long struggle for me and actually the hardest thing I have had to emotionally deal with. Truth is I have tried to talk myself through the thoughts of being bald and having my hair not define me but the truth is I DO NOT want to lose my hair. There are so many elements to how traumatic and difficult it has been to wrap my mind and emotions around this happening. Also the social implications of being bald. A banner that screams to everyone "hey I have cancer!!!" I stare in the mirror everyday and think is today the day. Do I take control and shave it myself or let it fall out to the point where it just has to go. I can't bring myself to shave it off because it is so important to me that it is still there!! It is literally driving me crazy."
Eventually it thinned out to the point where going out without a bandanna was not an option but it took two months to get to that point! Sydney bought me a cute purple bandanna that I could just slip on and was really comfortable. I wrapped the scraggly long hair I had in a bun and clipped it under the back of the bandanna. I still could not bring myself to cut it! At the end of summer Becca, Tamara and I went out for an afternoon to the movies. I had hardly been anywhere all summer and because I wasn't feeling too bad that week I needed to get out of the house. On a whim that day I made an appointment to go and try on some wigs. The bandanna was working well for everyday outings but if I had to go anywhere that was fancier then jeans and a t-shirt I had nothing. I also felt that if it looked like I had hair when I was out where no one knew me I could just blend in and not be given that head tilt sympathetic look. As much as I know the sympathetic look is because people care it still starts getting on your nerves after awhile. Just being around people sometimes where cancer is not even mentioned means I don't have to think about it either.
We went to the small boutique where I had made the appointment, I sat in the hairdressing chair in front of the mirror and Becca and Tamara were ready to give me feed back to my new look. I took a deep breath as I pulled off my bandanna nervous to show not only the woman helping me but Becca and Tamara too. I wasn't sure if they had realized how much it thinned and that you could see right through to my scalp. If they were at all shocked that I had been sporting a hair style that reminded me of a middle age man that was holding on to his 80's long rocker hair as it thinned due to male pattern baldness they didn't show it for a second. They just smiled warmly at me and I could see how much they just loved me in that moment. Tamara and Becca probably know more about me then anyone and can both read me like an open book. To me they always seem one step ahead of me and know what I need before I even do. They know when I need their strength, when something is just too much, and the right words at the right times. They know when my eyes shift to them with worry, sadness or hope they have already planned what to do before the emotion has even hit me. They are a little magic that way. I could feel the slight burn of tears in my eyes but the light on both of their faces took it away. "What style were you thinking of?" the stylist asked, I hadn't really thought about it and realized I can pick whatever style I want, the appointment took a whole new turn, this was now fun!! It was like going to the hairdressers and getting a whole new look over and over again and the ones I didn't like I just took off and tried on the next one. I decided on two completely different looks, one that look very much like my normal style and the other something I always wished for but never had, short dark and sassy!
About 8 weeks after my last chemo treatment I started checking my scalp to see if there was new growth and wondered if it was going to start growing back. I had my sister Suzanne check with her phone's flash light, making sure she checked every inch of my head for any new growth. Finally it started to grow back, I was so relieved! Because I had left the string wispy hair and refused to shave it off the hair coming in started pushing the dry damaged longer hair straight up. The best description of what it looked like would be troll doll hair, even I had to admit I looked crazy. I was still wearing my bandanna but the hair growing in made it itchy. That was it, it was coming off, I started hacking at it myself one morning even before I had my coffee, which probably wasn't the best idea, but when I make up my mind about something my patience seem to disappear. When I was done it was a little chopping and uneven but very very short. I admire the strength of all the woman and men that lose all of their hair because I never lost it all and I still had such a hard time with it! I have more treatment ahead, know it will thin again, and in different ways now that I have short hair but I have an idea now what is coming and how long mine takes to start growing back (about 10 weeks). I am getting use to my short hair and have had many supportive compliments which I am very grateful for! I have in the past wished my thick red hair away because it was different or it won't do what I wanted it to do but as I looked in the mirror, as it thinned and even more now, I appreciate every single strand on my head!