Not to be insensitive but from where I currently stand, which is on the diving board above the chemical soup, losing ones hair seems like a trivial side effect of chemotherapy. Of course this is spoken (or rather written) at a time when I can still run my fingers through it, still whip up a sloppy bun, still use it to cover a spot on my shirt.
My hair has more or less defined my physical appearance and, for a time, self-image. It is true that I have beautiful hair. I can say this without it being boastful, for I truly had nothing to do with the hair that I have. I didn’t work hard to achieve it. Women of a certain age may recall from their possibly traumatic ‘tween years the saying that went: When they were handing out tits I thought they said ‘pits’ and said, “I’ll take two tiny ones” (which turns out in hindsight to have been a very fortunate misunderstanding on my part). Well I don’t know what I said when they were handing out hair, but I must have shouted: “Give me awesome, wavy, golden locks or I’ll break your face.” Because that is exactly what I got.
At age six or seven I got a haircut called a pixie. I looked like a skinny, freckled, redheaded boy. My friends called me headward. A pharmacist referred to me as “son.”
Maybe it was the trauma of “the headward period” that caused me to let it grow past my hips in the years that followed. My Granny would brush it sometimes. She’d put it up in a bun, in braids. I could count on her to trim it for me, confident she’d never take off more than necessary. Here is a photo Granny took just before a trim:
My boyfriend (now husband) had no particular opinion of, or attachment to, my hair.
“Should I leave it long?” I asked.
“I’m thinking of getting it cut short?” I tested.
Seriously? How could he not be in love with my hair and need me to keep it long? Wait – maybe there was more to me than that. Partly because of that, and partly just because I grew up, it no longer defined my appearance.
When I was a sophomore in college a boy that I’d never spoken to, but who I had a secret crush on, remarked one day as I walked by, “Don’t ever cut your hair.”
“I won’t,” I assured him, stunned and flattered by the crumb of attention.
Turns out I lied. By graduation it was shoulder length.
More recently my hair is long again, and kind of crazy, mostly a reflection of the cost of a good haircut and of my hectic life.
When my doctor was jotting notes about this next phase of my treatment, hair loss was the first item on her list of side effects. The list included cardiovascular issues, low blood count issues, bladder issues, neuropathy, etc., all of which sounded way more scary to me than hair loss. So why was that at the top of her list? She said it is very “distressing” to patients.
This is a medical oncologist with years of experience at one of the top cancer hospitals in the world and she put distressing hair loss at the top of the side effect list. Maybe I don’t have any idea what I am in for. Will I easily handle the great shed ahead? Or will I join the distressed de-tressed? I’ll let you know in a few weeks.