If you don’t have a tape measure near your bathroom mirror and use it daily to anticipate hair growth, you probably don’t understand what I am going through. So let me try to explain.
(Disclaimer: This post doesn’t talk about serious medical matters, so if you are not inclined to hear about bald women, skip it.)
How it all started
Little known fact: Not everyone who gets chemo loses their hair. However, most cancers that originate above the waist and blood cancers like leukemia require chemo medicines that cause hair loss.
When I started chemo on October 10, 2014, my doctor told me that in 18 days, my hair would start falling out. On the 18th day, a Monday, fists full of long hair came out of my head. I took photos on that day, because I figured the end was near. The hair loss continued for the entire week, but I still looked okay. I decided to to ahead and get a short, neck-length hair cut to make the transition to baldness less drastic.
I wish I hadn’t cut my hair, because the hair loss stopped and, except for two spots on my temple, I didn’t lose my hair. Even though I would have still needed to wear caps to cover the two spots on my temple, I could have kept my hair long.
My doctor said that in his entire long career, he’d only seen one other patient who hadn’t lost her hair while taking those chemo medicines. I was an anomaly.
Then in January 2015, they changed my chemo medicines. During the first round, I still had my hair, but after the second round, my hair fell out. I was bald and looked like ET (the extra-terrestrial). I did have about 37 long hairs on the back of my head that never fell out. God knows the number of hairs on our heads, but at this point it didn’t take Him very long to count mine.
Hair loss is a small price to pay for killing cancer, yet it is hard to ignore.
I never shaved my head. All hair loss came naturally. I wonder how many women shave their heads who might not have ever lost all their hair; they just assumed they would so they shaved it all off.
I bought a wig. At its best, it looks like I am wearing a dead cat on my head. So to minimize the dead cat look, I wear a cap on top of the wig. While it does eliminate the dead cat look, it makes you look like a lumberjack (in the case of winter caps) or a gypsy (in the case of my ruffled summer caps).
A wig and a hat and Texas heat are not a cool combination, and they itch. When I am home alone, I go without anything on my head. When family is around, I’m doing yard work, or I’m in town where I don’t know anyone, I just wear the cap. When I go to church, I wear the wig and cap. I look forward to the day I don’t have to wear any cover on my head.
Unfortunately, that day is not approaching very soon.
The tape measure
My baldest point was at the end of April, about six weeks after my last chemo. It took a long time before I saw little hairs growing back in. In fact, it took so long to grow in that I worried that I was going to be an anomaly again, and be one of those people whose hair would never grow back. Finally, it started coming in while I was getting radiation in Houston. Whew! Disaster averted!
It is September now, and my hair is only about an inch long. (So much for that theory that hair grows half an inch per month.) Most men have longer hair than I do. I really wish I had bangs growing long to cover my large forehead. According to the tape measure near the bathroom mirror, I have two inches to go before that hair reaches my eyebrows. Two inches = four months, if my hair decides to conform to popular beliefs about rate of hair growth. Maybe I’ll have bangs by Martin Luther King Jr’s. holiday in January.
I hate looking at myself in the mirror. I don’t look like myself.
I’m praying for a miracle. I pray along these lines: “please take my cancer away for good … and while you’re at it, as a bonus, can you please make my hair grow faster?” Hey! Nothing is impossible with God!
My hair has a “special situation.” Radiation was aimed at my neck and base of my skull. Hair is never ever going to grow back in the areas that were radiated. On the right back side of my head, above 3-4 inches above my neck, there is not going to be hair again. Hair from the top of my head can grow long and cover the bald area, but it’s going to take a long time to grow that much hair. Right now, I have hair growing on the left nape of my neck, but none on the right side. My future hair styles will be limited. Short hair and pony tails are probably not going to work for me.
I probably have 40-50 caps. Thank you to the many, many people who sent me caps in a gesture of support to my cause. When this is all over, I can share some of these caps with others you know who need them. Most of the caps were knitted with care by friends and family. Others were purchased. If you know some woman who needs feminine-looking chemo caps, please know that I get many compliments on the caps available from chemobeanies.biz. Even people without cancer stop and ask me about them, because they want these caps for themselves.
I’ve saved lots of money on hair cuts and hair products this year. For months I didn’t even have to brush/comb my hair. No need for blow dryers (I use one sometimes now, but only because wet hair covered by a wig or hat plasters itself to your scalp).
Someday I may show you photos of my different stages of hair growth. I don’t expect that to happen until I look normal again.
Moral of the story: Never take your hair for granted or complain about it. Just be glad you have it. And have compassion for men who lose their hair permanently against their will. They mourn the fact that they don’t look like themselves. At least mine will grow back.
Thanks for checking in. My energy is slowly coming back post-radiation. The cording in my neck is still a problem that needs your prayers; still taking pain medicine for that. I’ll be in touch again soon!