The telltale sign of someone with cancer is losing their hair. It’s something tangible you can see. It’s also an internal journey.
I knew I was going to lose my hair once I started chemo. My doctor told me this would happen. Before I lost all my hair, I had it cut a couple times. It was past my shoulders, so first came the bob. Then a page boy cut, and then I shaved it when it was getting too thin. I had heard that I would know when it was time to shave my head. I did. My friend, Mary shaved her head with me. It was such a nice gesture, and helped me feel less lonely in going without hair. Aren’t we cute?
Over the next few months, I went pretty much completely bald, with the exception of some baby-like peach fuzz hair. I wore hats to cover up my shiny head. I felt some shame around it. It felt like a billboard for cancer treatment. It was something that people could see, and made my struggle with my illness real. There could be no avoiding it when I looked in the mirror. The thing that probably bothered me more than the hair on top of my head? Losing my eyebrows.
Over the summer, my doctor decided to change my chemo schedule. At first I was going for three weeks on, and one week off. This gave me lots of side effects including fatigue, dehydration, and of course, losing hair. Then, we went to every other week for treatment. That’s when my hair started to grow back.
From bald to new hair.
I had been bald for a few months, and as I started getting my hair back, it was strange. I didn’t think I would get my it back, to be honest. It’s an oddly humbling thing when you go bald due to treatment. I have cut it (really) short in the past, and have grown it out past my shoulders. I always said it was “just hair”, but when you have chemo, it feels like the whole world knows.
Everyone seems to know.
I struggled with people knowing what I was going through, of the looks of pity I would receive. People mean well, and they say things that show they mean well. But when you’re sick, you just want to feel better and blend in. At least that’s how I felt. I didn’t want to stand out. I didn’t want my struggle to be that open to the air and those around me. I didn’t want to feel so “out there” – it made me feel very vulnerable. (Seems ironic as I write this post in a very public way.) I know there are others who feel, or have felt, the same way.
Getting my hair back has been odd. The texture is different, it’s soft, wavy, somewhat gray, and it’s also pretty unruly. (I might need to get a haircut, which feels strange again.) Overall, getting even some hair back makes me feel somewhat normal. It just looks like I have a short haircut. I don’t feel the need to wear hats, and I don’t dread looking in the mirror as much.
Losing hair and getting it back has been a journey. I have an outward sign of what is going on inside. It’s somewhat emotional. Losing hair, including eyelashes and eyebrows, makes you feel hopeless and the person in the mirror looks “sick”. You resign yourself to it, because you know it’s going to happen. I never did take to wearing a wig. I felt weird wearing one, but I can see why people do it.
I imagine losing your hair to chemo is a personal journey for everyone who goes through it. It’s different for everyone, including how they handle it. Is there a right or wrong way to look at it? No. It’s a personal choice, fraught with emotions. I’m learning how to “sit with” the current state of my hair, eyelashes and eyebrows. They are, after all, a part of me on this journey.
Resource: I found these great eyebrow tutorials on YouTube