Hair, Hair Everywhere
After my first chemo, I had two rough days where I couldn’t really get out of bed, but I bounced back very quickly, and apart from an early morning ER trip on day 5, getting tired easily, and having the world’s longest and strangest period (which will most likely be the last one for a long time), I have felt and looked like myself; many days, I forget I have cancer and am going through chemo. So because of that, I think a foolishly optimistic (or dumb??) part of me thought that I would somehow escape the other cumulative side effects as well.
But, no. You can’t escape the wrath of chemo. I learned this when it started raining hair. Clumps of hair lining the bottom of the bathtub. Strands of hair clinging to all of my clothes, in my food, on my pillow, on my puppy, on my car seat, in my hands… Hair. Everywhere.
I’ve opted to do something called cold caps, which is an ice helmet that is -32 degrees Celsius and weighs like 6 pounds that you wear during chemo, an hour before, and four hours after. It has been used for years, successfully enabling those going through chemo to keep around 50% of their hair or more. It is a lengthy, tedious, uncomfortable, expensive, and laborious process, not just on the day of chemo, but every day of your life during chemo and for a few months after. Anyways, I was going to just surrender to the baldness, until I realized that I would still be bald during my double mastectomy a month after chemo. Look, I’m a strong lady. But I honestly don’t think I could handle NO hair and NO breasts. I think it would be the thing that put me over the edge. So, I opted for the cold caps.
Usually, without the cold caps, people on chemo start losing their hair on day 10–14. With the cold caps, they tell you to still expect shedding day 14–21 after chemo. So when day 14, 15, 16, and 17 started passing with my hair exactly the same, I started getting relieved, and maybe just a little bit smug. I also still needed to shave my legs and armpits, which was thrilling (I know, I never thought I would ever call shaving myself “thrilling,” but alas…), because many who had gone through chemo told me they had nothing to shave anymore pretty much immediately after their first treatment. And I still did…a few times, actually!
But yesterday, it started raining hair. Lots of it. And today, the downpour continued. And not only that, let’s just say that I have no need of a wax any time soon. That’s all gone too. And it all happened so fast.
People try to console me by saying the hair loss is temporary, and it’s a means to an end. Fine. Yes. It is. But how would you feel if your hair — in every part of your body — was falling out and I told you not to worry because it was just temporary? Like you’d want to take a sharp object and hurt me? Yes, probably.
It’s not just the vanity of the hair rain, which of course is an aspect of it. But more than that, it’s the fact that my body is betraying itself. It’s my body showing me that it was in fact poisoned (albeit for a good reason), with cells being killed and unable to regenerate. I understand that the cancer is also being killed and kept from growing and spreading, fine, but it is a cost that is hard to surrender to.
My next treatment is in two days, and I feel like I’m in a countdown, my positive attitude getting harder to maintain. I handled the first cycle well, and bounced back fast. But now it starts all over again, and the cumulative effects will start adding up. My boyfriend and I went to see Dr. Strange the other night (I’ve never been so excited to have a date night, by the way), but all I can remember about the movie is that Tilda Swinton’s character had no eyelashes. Because I know eventually that will be me.
And so, perhaps another lesson cancer will be teaching me, through chemo, is that I’m still me, with the same heart, soul, and spirit, even if I look in the mirror, or people look at me, and don’t see the external Holly I, or they, are used to.