When the oncology specialist recommended I start chemo right away, he nonchalantly added, “Three weeks later, all your hair will fall out.” (He’s not one for sugar-coating.)
As I sat in his office trying to process all the information I had just heard–about tumors, my diagnosis, treatment options, and the “non-curative”-ness of what I faced–I also attempted to wrap my mind around the fact that within a few short weeks I would be completely bald.
Granted, in the grand scheme of things, losing my hair was a minor issue. I mean…it’s just hair, right? It will grow back. But combined with everything else, it was a difficult pill to swallow.
I have often longed for straighter, “simpler” hair instead of the naturally curly locks I was (ahem) blessed with. But my hair has always been the outward feature people comment on most: “Oh, I wish I had naturally curly hair.” (Trust me…it’s not all that glamorous.) “I bet you don’t have to do anything to your hair!” (Yes, if you consider applying a mountain of product to tame the beast “not doing anything,” then sure.) Something inside me ached at the thought of losing that part of my identity.
Plus, after 35 years of manhandling my mane, I had finally tossed the straighteners and flat iron and embraced my God-given curls. I even began to like them… a little. And I was just waiting for 80s hair to come back, because let me tell you, this girl can rock some big-hair-band hair (see middle picture above)! So trying to take in the fact that I would soon kiss my newly-appreciated curls goodbye in addition to fighting for my life was a bit much for me to take in.
I read a lot of blogs and articles and talked to a lot of people who approached their hair loss with a plan. Some faced it head-on by shaving their head first so they could be in control of when it happened. Others searched high and low for wigs that were so realistic no one ever knew they were completely bald underneath.
Stage 1: The Short Cut
While I didn’t intend to approach this process in stages, I think it made the whole thing a little more bearable. Going into my first treatment, I still wasn’t sure what to do about my hair…face it head on and shave it all, or wait for the inevitable to happen? I had read that short hair is easier to manage as it begins to fall out, and that seemed like a logical first step. A good friend who is a stylist by trade came over one evening and gave me this cute new ‘do! I loved it so much I was sad I hadn’t done it months ago! (Thank you, Sheila!) [Updated: I loved the short cut so much, I kept it for a couple years after my hair grew back!]
Stage 2: Thinning
True to my doctor’s prediction, my hair started thinning a couple of weeks after my first treatment. Just a few strands at first, and I thought it would be a slow transition. I had even heard of some people not losing their hair at all, and one could hope! The thinning continued slowly for a few days. Then, suddenly it started coming out in clumps…HUGE clumps! It happened so quickly, I wasn’t prepared to take the next step yet. I dreaded taking the next step and put it off as long as I possibly could (which was only a matter of days). Thankfully, I had plenty of hats to wear!
Stage 3: The Razor
I really wrestled with the timing of shaving my hair. I wasn’t worried about “looking different” or not having hair. I struggled with the fact that everyone would know what I was going through. I wouldn’t be able to go to the store, out to dinner, or anywhere else in public and pretend like nothing was wrong. Once my hair was gone, everyone who saw me would know I have cancer.
I finally grew weary of sweeping the bathroom floor and vacuuming my shirt multiple times a day, and I knew what I needed to do. Again, my friend Sheila, offered to come over and shave what was left of my hair. As with most things, the dread I had built up in my mind was worse than the reality. Once it was done, I could move forward and start thinking about how to work in all those fabulous accessories I had been collecting.
I’ve always been pretty warm-natured, but I quickly discovered that without any hair on one’s head (or neck), one tends to get very cold…especially in Missouri…in October. For that reason, I preferred to wear hats that came down farther on my head. I also started wearing more scarves (around my neck or on my head) and head wraps.
My absolute favorite head covering for warmth and comfort is this inexpensive method (Seriously, if you know someone going through chemo, forward this video to her. It will change her life!):
Stage 5: Cranial Prosthesis
Yep, that is what it’s called (especially if you get a prescription from your doc, which you might want to do for insurance purposes…just sayin’). I wasn’t sure I wanted to get one (a.k.a. “a wig”) because I had heard they are incredibly uncomfortable and unnatural. But on a whim, Hubby and I stopped in a wig shop specifically for cancer patients. I decided to have fun with it, because honestly how many times in your life do you get the opportunity to try so many hair colors and styles at one time?
I eventually discovered a cute little pixie cut that my husband swore was very natural-looking. It is eerily close to my original hair color, although not a style I would have ever chosen for my own hair. Still, I liked it. It’s fun. It’s cute. It’s warm.
And bonus…I it looks great with a cute scarf tied around it!
So, if you see me out and about, chances are you will see me in a hat, a wrap, or my cranial prosthetic. 😉 Pretty sure you won’t catch me walking around in my bald head, though…it’s just too cold for that!
This post is part of the series, Embracing Hope. Be sure to enter your e-mail address in the box to the right so you can receive new posts delivered directly to your inbox!