When you say Cancer, hair loss comes quite fast in the conversation.
Brunette since 1974
I was born with hair. Dense brunette hairy baby. The Latino side of me I suppose.
I had a bowl seventies cut, then in the 80s a square with fringe, no fringe, long straight hair and later in my teens the wavy perm version of it (omg). I said yes to hubby with long straight hair in a bun and cut them shorter after each kid but it always on a square haircut base.
On April 15th 2018, on my post lumpectomy appointment the surgeon told me that I had to have chemo. Who knows maybe my hair won’t fall.
The oncologist would later tell me that it would be 8 dense dose chemo sessions (2 cycles of 4 sessions). All the 3 drugs used, being known for their aggressive effect on hair. I would be bald.Read More
Cool cap, wig and head scarves
I never thought that wigs would be a solution for me. It is too hot here in summer (Chemo would start in May and finish in August) and why trying to look like the person I was when I would never be the same?
Since I started chemo 4 weeks after the surgery, 3 after the insertion of the Port-a-Cath, I had time to sort my shawls. The pure cotton ones would be great to cover my baldness. I shopped few more online in my favorite colors.
I would be bald till end of the year potentially so had the full right to feel good, to look good…. no chance I give up and wear black or white hoping to blend in the crowd. Nope, I like colors so instead of wearing shawls I would wear head scarves.
The surgeon had told me about cool caps. I read but the feedback was not that encouraging. Not working with aggressive chemo drugs, uncomfortable and even painful (hours with wet hair and the freezing cap on the head), friends told me about migraines. I thought I would give it a try but in the first chemo day I was told that I had to buy my own, close to 3000 AED, not covered by my insurance for a very uncertain result. I concluded that I had other more important challenges than hair.
I read and was told that hair would start falling soon after the 2nd chemo. Potentially by chunks. Advice was to cut short to get use to the new me, buy very mild shampoos and massage slowly.
I decided to cut in a pixie and called my very special, big hearted hairdresser: Karine. What she did was simply thoughtful and touching. She booked me as her last client of the day and said we would cut slowly. At my pace. As short as I could take on that day. And she did. For 2 hours. We eventually laughed. It wasn’t bad at all. I was celebrating my new hair on that evening with my husband and wonderful friends. I wish you all to have friends like that. We had champagne to celebrate my new pixie.
For the eyelashes and eyebrows, I used specific cosmetics purchased online and brought by my mum from France. I knew I would lose them but was hoping it would be the latest possible.
Few days before starting chemo, in the hospital waiting room, I met with Jenifer. We had the same haircut hence realized we were waiting for the same Doctor. We discovered we had many more things in common than the haircut and the treatment. She would be the one to introduce me to the Pink Ladies, and with Marisol (a friend leaving in Paris), a guide through this journey.
Not much happened on the first chemo from the hair point of view. Well, they started falling but only me would notice. I was careful, extra careful washing my hair. It was stressful. I hated the importance it was taking. Honestly, the other side effects were more reasons to stress but hair loss is the “symptom” of cancer in the eyes of the others, my kids in particular. Appearance.
GI Jane hairdo
After the 2nd chemo, the fall intensified. I would not wear light colored tops anymore, lean comfortably on armchairs, not lay down on sofas as I was leaving hair behind me. Worse, when my little one would hug me, I would discreetly hold her hand to collect the hair left in between her fingers. I don’t even tell you the details of the fall of the body hair. Yep. Not fun.
I decided to take back control of the situation 4 days after that chemo, when my lovely maid found me crying on all fours in the bathroom trying to collect hair, kneeled and cried with me. No way the coming months would be stressful because of hair. How dumb. It grows back.
I called Karine again. The time had come to shave. I explained the kids. Anyway, the hair on my head was dead. Still hanging there but I could pick them up without forcing. I wrote to the teacher of my little one as I knew she would really struggle having a bald mum. The teacher would help her if required.
Once more Karine was wonderful. Really. I am do thankful. I arrived with my head scarf in the bag. She had set up a station behind a screen, with the mirror covered. She had even thought about the water and tissues (for both of us as she said).
I left after 1hour (combed so all the dead ones would fall, shaved twice, shampooed to remove hair etc.) with my head scarf.
Honestly, shaving was a relief. I didn’t really cry. I was moved by Karine kindness but not sad. Just relieved. I would be able to focus on something more important. The funniest was to discover nice moles on my scalp and a big birth mark in the neck that no one had ever seen since I was born hairy. The very same birth mark than my Venezuelan grandpa who had passed away when I was 17. It made me very proud, you can’t imagine!!! That was a sign. A beautiful sign from heaven. I would be a proud bald lady. Yep.
Back at home, my 6 years old daughter told me she didn’t want to see me without the scarf. The boys were more quiet but uneasy. I kept it during the whole dinner, evening. Long, too hot, I was desperate to get rid of it. On day two, my husband spoke to the little one and after dinner I announced I would go to my room and uncover. Coming out of the bathroom, she was there in my bed with daddy waiting for me. She was ok but made me promise not to go out bare head. That being said, later, she would lend me her conditioner so it would grow back faster blond like Rapunzel. So sweet,she was trying hard. I promised and thanked for the conditioner.
In the following days, I realized the dead roots on my head were painful and falling while showering. Not too sure why but I felt the urge to get rid of them. Nothing dead in my body. It was a strange sensation. It should all go. So I shampooed daily twice and rubbing hard. I also took epilator when finished the (painful) job of removing the remains in 3 sessions. A bit violent but it has to be done. I felt good. In fact, I felt good when I was finally totally bald. Shining scalp.
(Young) Wild & Free
During all these months, I played with colors, knots, basically used head scarves as styling weapon. I also bought hats. I voiced the idea of getting henna crown tattooed but the kids were against. I respected their opinion of course. At home though I would hang out in all my glorious baldness.
My husband was fine and of great support. We joked about our baldness, took pics of our scalps. I empathized for all he was suffering for years with the cold of AC. Once, he saw a bald lady in the street and told me that she was looking great uncovered, suggesting I could do the same.
In fact, I covered for the others, (and the sun), not for me. All stress caused by the fall was gone the minute Karine shaved and I found the birth mark. I sent my bald picture to my family and few friends. Some were shocked. Of course, they didn’t know the stress of the losing hair. The baldness was showing them the illness, symbolizing all what they feared. The bland reality.
I would not cover in the hospital, at home or in the car for example. All my close friends and family saw me bald. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I could see in the eyes of some that they weren’t comfy seeing me as I really was.
The eyebrows and lashes started falling toward the end of the chemo. That was a bit more difficult but they had resisted for a long time. They had done all what they could. I hadn’t make up my eyes during the whole period to protect them (make up removal would be fatal) and put the protective Chemo mascara gel but it wasn’t enough. In any case, I never removed the only brow on one side and the 2-3 left on the other. They had resisted and I felt I had to respect my body for its resilience during the harsh treatment.
I started radiation with nothing left hair wise. During the 6 week radiation treatment, it slowly at first, and then very quickly came back. Basically, about 2 months after the last chemo, brows, lashes and a very decent amount of hair was back.
Seeing the early baby duvet coming by back, my daughter “authorized” me to leave the house uncovered. I did immediately: supermarket, office… everywhere. This is me says the song. Well, here I come.
A fellow Pink lady came during the summer on her way to shave so I could show her how to tight scarves. She wrote me a thank you note saying that she had being inspired by my “freedom”. I had never seeing it from that angle, but yes, without my hair I feeling free. I couldn’t care less. Hair was the least of my worry. The more bare-able of all chemo side effect.
An unknown gent in an elevator recently told me I was looking great and it was brave (to hang out with Sinead O’Connor / GI Jane haircut). I could see in his eyes than he knew the “why”. Maybe his wife, sister or himself went through a similar experience. It was kind of him and if I look good it is probably because I feel good and more alive than ever.
Today, hair is growing back. Grayer, I think. I will know in few weeks the new color and texture since it changes afterwards for most people. Surprise, surprise. Actually, quite exciting. I like the new shade and got compliments. Now, I shampoo and it foams. By Christmas or 2019, I might even comb. And I might keep my pixie cut. Maybe not dye it if the gray is confirmed. Anyway, I am not the same person than “before” so a new hairdo is perfect. And it will give the opportunity to visit Karine more often. Oh, and I will keep using head scarves and hats for fun.