The Bald Truth, II
Updated: Apr 20
A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life. ~ Coco Chanel
So many questions go through your mind when you know you're going to lose your hair. Will my hair fall out in clumps? How long will this take? Am I going to have bald spots? Will I wake up bald one morning? Why is this happening to me? When will my hair grow back? WILL my hair grow back? Should I buy hats? Scarves? Wigs? How long will it take to grow back? What will it look like once it grows back? Can I do this? Can I do this? Can I do this?
Some of the questions are easier to answer. Very, very basically, the reason chemo causes hair to fall out is this: Cancer cells divide quickly and grow out of control. Chemotherapy drugs attack rapidly growing cells—all rapidly growing cells. So, as hair follicles divide every 24-72 hours, they are some of the fastest-growing cells in the body. Chemotherapy does not discriminate between good and bad cells, so hair cells are fair game.
Hair loss begins about two weeks after the first chemotherapy treatment. Some drugs, not all, cause hair loss, and depending on the dosage, they may cause just a thinning. My drug cocktail—cytoxan and taxotere—inhibits cell growth, so one of its main side effect is hair loss. Believe it or not, the average human body has 5,000,000 hair follicles; only 100,000 or so are on the human head. If you're on chemo drugs, you're dropping a lot of hair for months.
When hair grows back (or if*), it will start months after the last treatment. How the hair will look—color, texture, form—varies with every person. I've heard some blondes end up with black hair while brunettes end up with red. Others have grey or white. Many say they have a lot more hair than before. Since I have so much hair as it is, I'm hoping I don't end up with much more than I did. (*A very small minority of people lose their hair permanently with chemotherapy.)
My hair loss began just under two weeks after my first infusion. (Give or take two weeks is about the norm for this side effect to start.) My scalp was sore last weekend, and when I ran my hand through my hair, a small clump of hair came out. As the week went on, more and more hair came out every time I brushed my hair, touched my head, or walked through the house. I had hair in my eyes and my mouth and on my shoulders and the counters. Each day,, my scalp hurt more and more, and when I could barely touch my head Friday, that was it.
I'd had enough. Enough hair in my mouth. Enough hair floating in the air. Enough hair clogging my brush and my hands whenever either touched my head. Enough of the painful scalp. Enough hair on the counters and the floors and the chairs and the pillows. Enough fretting over the inevitable.
I cried a lot. I can't do this. I can't do this. I can't do this.
I stared at myself in the mirror for a long time before I grabbed my cell phone and called Fran, the woman who does my hair. I would only trust her to do this. She is a wonderful and sympathetic person as well as a good stylist. She told me what to expect, and we made the appointment.
I cried when I saw her, and, unable to hug me, she put her hand on my arm. She explained that she would first cut a lot of the excess hair off. After that, she would shave it with one blade and then with another. I cried as she clipped, shaved, and shaved.
"You have a nice head," another stylist said as she walked by. I said nothing, but Mike and Fran agreed with her. I looked at the stranger in the mirror. Who the hell was staring back at me?
Fran trimmed the bangs and sides of the blonde wig for me. I looked in the mirror when she was done, and I was looking back at myself. I felt better immediately. I can never thank her enough for doing so much for me.
I should mention that shaving one's head and having wigs and turbans and scarves are not the end of the story. Once you shave your head, you have 1/8-inch stubble all over it, and that stubble continues to fall out. What to do? What to do?
Lint rollers. No lie.
As with most of the hurdles I've experienced due to this insidious disease, most of the stress I created for myself was worse than the experience itself. Tomorrow (6/29) is my second chemo treatment, and that will put me at the 50% point. Telling myself that I am getting closer to the last treatment helps tremendously.
As does the support of the wonderful people in my life. Alex Elle once said of friends, " ...the love is enormous and genuine. It gets no better." Amen, and thank you.