photo: september 2020, princess margaret hospital, waiting for first consult with the plastic surgeon
When the oncologist sits with you to discuss chemotherapy, one of the first questions you ask is, “Am I going to lose my hair”. The answer to that question varies with the type of chemotherapy your doctor thinks best to combat your particular cancer. For me, with my ER/PR+/HER2-, early stage, grade 3 cancer, the answer to the hair question was a definitive “Yes, you will experience 100% hair loss between weeks 2 and 3”.
So, there it was. The cold and hard fact that I would soon be bald. A bunch of questions leapt into my head. How cold would my head be in a Canadian winter without hair? Would it be itchy? Would I have birthmarks on my scalp? Would my head weirdly asymmetrical?
To the birthmark question – interestingly I have a large red mark on the back of my head – at times I see a swan, at other times I see a dragon. The girl with the dragon tattoo. As far as a misshapen head, very happy to say that I have a pretty nice shaped head, as far as heads go. If I do say so myself. My friend Michael commented that I have a great shaped scalp, and that it shows great genes. Thanks, Mom & Dad! 🙂
Knowing that hair loss would start soon after my treatment began, I asked Audrey to watch a few YouTube videos on how to cut a bob and boom, presto – I had a fairly decent chin-length angled bob. Sassy! Part of this was practical – cleaning up hair that is only 5″ long would be better than 10″ or so. And part of this was because – why the hell not. You’re losing the hair soon, so why not have some fun. And there was a lot of laughter that day. 🙂
After the first chemo, once I was through the worst of the nausea and stuff, I waited for my hair to start to fall out. Nothing. No more than usual, anyway.
The second chemo cocktail was given, and once I was able to start moving after the first several days of nausea and fatigue I started to notice some hair loss. Then once I was able to get into the shower, as I applied the shampoo, great handfuls of the stuff started falling out. It was time to cut even shorter, and then to buzz it down close to the scalp.
If you’re on this same path as me, you’ll read a lot of blogs and articles on how to shave your head. I decided to follow the advice of several hair dressers, and not shave to the scalp, but close to the scalp. The idea is that in chemo, your hair falls out with the root, and then doesn’t grow for several months. If you shave the hair that’s left on your head, the root will be left behind. And then potentially you experience painful ingrown hairs. No thanks. 1/8″ to the scalp, or close to that, was good for me.
Scene – two women who have never used clippers before. Once has a rain coat on, zipped up to the neck, and is sitting on the side of the bathtub. The other is standing in the tub holding the electric razor. The results were comical. Trying not to get hair all over the bathroom or ourselves, and also scared of cutting my scalp to ribbons. Trust me, it was funny. Much more laughter that day. We also used a lint roller on my scalp to get rid of the tiny buzzed hairs, and any loose ones that wanted to let go. See, funny stuff.
At the same time, as I was waiting for the hair loss to start, I was preparing by ordering head coverings, turbans, wigs, and digging out scarves I’d never really used. One of the great joys of travelling is being able to bring home beautiful things from other cities. I bring home a lot of scarves. And they usually sit in my closet. Well, they were just waiting for their time to shine! It’s true, it’s easiest to just throw on a close fitting fabric swim cap style, but I also love the turbans and wigs and buffs and toques. It’s actually a lot of fun. I mean, if you need to lose your hair to cancer, it’s your prerogative to do something to make you smile. If that means going bald as a baby – you do that. For me, it means bright colours, fun fabrics and usually, lipstick.
The most interesting thing about this all to me is that after 4 rounds of chemo and 2-months of treatment that I still haven’t lost all of my hair. I asked my oncologist about it at my last check in appointement. When I told her that the hair that hadn’t fallen out yet had started growing in length. She asked if she could see. I took my covering off, and she said the most surprising thing, “This is a new one for me. You have some pretty tough follicles”. She also said it bodes well for my hair regrowth. It’s great to stump your doctors about something good for a change!