Because I was the poster child for chemo side effects (i.e., ALL of them), it didn’t come as a complete shock to me that hair loss was next on the list. The second (or maybe the third or fourth) shoe had dropped…
Prior to breast cancer, I used to have long, long hair (all one length past my shoulders). However, between blow-outs, straightening treatments, updo’s, and split ends, maintaining it became annoying. What put me over the edge was the seemingly constant line: “I can’t get in the pool and play (even though I really wanted to) because I have an event tonight and I can’t mess up my hair”. Enough was enough. Way, way too much maintenance. All done, though, due to chemo.
Being bald-bald-bald was, I knew, inevitable. Hair loss occurred for me because the chemotherapy targeted all of my rapidly dividing cells—healthy cells as well as cancer cells. I’ve already told you about the attack on the healthy cells in my mouth on my Mouth Mishegoss post.
Did you know that hair follicles are the structures in the skin filled with tiny blood vessels that make hair? I had no idea either. They are some of the fastest-growing cells in the body. When not in cancer treatment, hair follicles divide every 23 to 72 hours. Geez!! But as the chemo did its work against cancer cells, it also destroyed my hair cells. Within a few weeks of starting chemo (in my case 2 weeks), a person may lose some or all of the hair (www.breastcancer.org).
There really is no known, proven prevention for hair loss due to chemotherapy. Recently, attempts have been made (and continue to be made) to reduce hair loss by using tight bands or ice caps. These techniques were thought to reduce the blood flow to the hair follicles, thus limiting the chemotherapy exposure. Unfortunately, these techniques did little more than cause headaches and have been abandoned in most settings. Not too long ago, there was a lot of publicity around a new type of ice cap (featured on Good Morning America). I didn’t entertain the thought because this concept was so new when I was going through chemotherapy. So, I reconciled myself with the fact that I would, indeed, lose my hair. Fine. Just one more aspect of breast cancer.
At the beginning of week two on chemo, my head had been prickly and itchy which, I assumed, were the precursors to hair loss (BINGO!). The best way to describe the feeling was as if I had worn a hat all day, from morning until night. When I took the hat off, my head would need a really good rub to get rid of the prickles and itches. You know that feeling?
In addition to the prickles and itches, I had clumps of hair coming out in my hand. Clumps. Big clumps with absolutely no pattern whatsoever. Not so cute and quite freakish.
My radiation oncologist and friend, Marisa Weiss (founder of breastcancer.org) said:
There are studies that show that for many women, losing their hair is worse than losing a breast. That’s because you can conceal the loss of a breast, but hair loss is so obvious and apparent.
I don’t know if this is the case with me, because I chose not to have a mastectomy. BUT, I do know that hair loss was a big F-bomb.
So, with the unsolicited outpouring of hair follicles, I knew it was time to shave my head, but just couldn’t do it. I thought I would be the one person to keep her hair. Most of my hair did fall out. I was left with sprouts on my head that I would call the true survivors from my chemo battle.
Why would I choose to not to shave my head? For the following reasons:
- To give me a sense of winning or control. I knew breast cancer was causing this, but I wanted to see if chemo would really make all of my hair fall out. As it turned out, although I was left with sprouts, the little that remained on my head made me feel as if a part of me was able to win the chemo battle. Is that skewed thinking? Probably.
- I was told that I would continue to have the prickles and itches even if I chose to shave my head.
- Did I want to share the shaving experience with girlfriends? Not particularly. I knew that being with girlfriends would mean a lot of laughter (better than the alternative) and dropping a lot of F-bombs together. To me, shaving my head wasn’t an event.
- The shaving of my head experience just didn’t appeal to me.
Now, I wasn’t quite feeling like “Bald is Beautiful” (on me) and I would have preferred to have my own full head of hair, but the Shining Moment for me was knowing that I could make the decision not to shave my head, and be okay with it.
As I plugged away with sprouts on my head, I realized that I continued to have Shining Moments.
- Humor. Humor. (It sure beats the alternative!)
- No waxing, shaving or plucking.
- Respite from washing, blowing and styling hair (time savings: 5 minutes).
- A wig that was used as a toy for the cats while hung on the door knob.
- Seamus MacManus’ Quote: “Better a Bald Head than No Head at All!”
Wishing you all a very happy, hairy, Shining Moment Day.