This is a guest blog post by MyLifeLine.org member, Joni Hemond.
I’ve always loved my hair. It is thick and wavy and a nice color. My few strands of gray have multiplied over the years but are still relatively hidden. I can wear it short, long, and any way in between. It is flexible and forgiving and generally looks acceptable, despite the fact that all I do is wash-and-go.
Knowing my hair is going to fall out completely is a strange thing. Personally I’ve mostly had hair styles that reflect convenience over style, but wonder now that I won’t have it anymore if I should have been bolder with my hair decisions. I’ve become fascinated with the way people choose to style it and color it and take care of it, with the way it can give you a small glimpse into someone’s personality, or make a huge statement.
I also have a new and interesting camaraderie with middle-aged bald or balding men. I study their contours, their scars, their moles, their divets. I wonder about their style choices: Shave all the way? Grow out part of it? Hair replacement? Cover it with a cap? Sunglasses on top of the head? Pair it with hipster eyewear and a leather jacket? As a woman, it’s a little more difficult to incorporate baldness into your personal style. I do have two advantages over my male counterparts, however: 1) mine will grow back and 2) I don’t have the added nuisance of nose, ear, and back hair sprouting up and demanding attention.
There was a radiologist at my medical school who had the strangest way of dealing with his hair loss that I’ve ever encountered. His only remaining hair grew in a half circle on the sides and back. He chose to grow out the above his left ear. And I mean he GREW IT OUT. Like three feet. He took that wall of side-hair and wrapped it around the top of his head like a turban. This was all well-and-good indoors, or on a calm, sunny day. My friend and I happened to walk out of the hospital behind him on a day that was very windy. Oh, boy. That flap of hair blew straight up to the sky despite his best efforts to contain it. Clever, but not an option for me (because, of course, I will have no side-hair to grow out).
A few years ago, my daughter Isabel, who was nine at the time, decided she wanted to grow her hair to donate it. I thought it would be a fun experience to go through together, so I did it with her. On Mother’s Day 2013, Isabel donated ten inches and I donated fourteen. Mine had to be cut off in two separate pony tails because it was so thick. Oh, the irony.
The treatment I’m on makes you lose your hair, pretty predictably by day 18 of chemo. In the counseling I received from my oncology team, I was told once it starts it doesn’t thin much, but rather just falls out within two to three days. My hair loss has not occurred in this typical pattern. I am going to share my shedding experience (so far), and I will give you a warning that my honesty may be a little bit too much information for some. But it’s funny. And I know you’re curious. Here goes.
Something odd happens when my sisters and I talk to each other on the phone. Our voices on the other end of the line trigger us to have to use the bathroom. It is a phenomenon I’ve coined “SistaLax.” Well, I was talking to my littlest sis on Day 15 of treatment (on speaker phone with her and her friend, no less), when SistaLax hit. I was still chatting as I sat down on the toilet so it took me a second to register the collection of hair on the edge of the seat. I thought, “Why in the world is there hair all over…?—ah, right, I’m losing my hair. But, wait, here?!?!” I informed my sis and her friend, and we laughed like crazy. Then I yanked the hair on my head and sure enough, out came a fistful. That was within 24 hours of my second chemo. And for the last five days, it has continued to fall out, one fistful after the other, with no clear end in sight even as I write this.
Several friends and acquaintances who have been through chemo shaved their heads once the hair started falling out, which was an empowering experience for them. I think it is a brave and beautiful thing to take control and own it like that. But I wanted to experience the hair loss, strand by strand. It is a reminder to me that this treatment process is raw and gut-wrenching and painful and sometimes ugly. It is a fight. I am battling something that would kill me if didn’t go in, fists up, and that is made evident by every strand that is lost. I study the tiny follicles, little buds at the end of the hair. I notice the texture and color and softness. I weave my fingers through what has fallen onto the countertop before I throw it in the trash.
Losing hair hurts. My scalp feels tender the way it does when you’ve had your hair in a tight pony for a long time. It hasn’t come out in clumps but instead has thinned all over, particularly at the front and sides. I currently have the worst style of all styles: a mullet with a receding hair line (complete with my widow’s peak, which is going strong). At first I kept a Buff around my head just to contain the shedding, and now I wear it to cover up the whole rather hideous look. I’ve kept my three kids involved with every step of the process. They each cut a lock of my hair before this all started, and have helped me brush it and pull it out, and massage it when it aches. Lucien, my five-year-old, has been the most involved…he even lays out paper towels on the side of the tub of for me to lay the fallen hair on when I take a shower!
It’s not fun, but it ain’t all bad. My oncologist put me in touch with someone who grew his hair out for four years in honor of his mother, who passed away from breast cancer. His friends donated enough money to have a wig made from it, of which I am the lucky recipient. In a few minutes I’m heading to a party my fabulous friends and family are having so I can get me some stylin’ head coverings. I can’t wait to give lots of “port hugs.” And the little things? No shaving, no tangles, no blowing drying. And a cheap, pain-free Brazilian.
So what have I learned about the way I want to be bald? I’m going to remember the process. And I’m going to rock it: bare or wigged, scarved or with a hat, the cute with the not-so-pretty. Sure, my hair will never be the same; then again, neither will I.
About the Author: Joni is a happily married 41-year-old mom to 3 children (ages 6, 10, 12). She works as an academic pediatrician and feels that her job treating patients and teaching future physicians is a privilege. Outside of work, Joni loves running, writing, strategy board games, traveling, hiking, snowboarding, and hanging with family and friends. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in March 2014. In addition to fighting with chemo, surgery, and radiation, she’s given cancer an extra kick with exercise, a positive attitude, and writing about her experience on MyLifeLine.org