Two days before my second round of chemo I noticed what I had dreaded the absolute most since I found out I had stage three breast cancer about three months ago—that my hair was falling out with a little more intensity than usual. I was more upset about losing my hair that losing my boobs. I was more upset about losing my hair than how lousy chemo makes me feel. Losing my hair, I felt, was the ultimate slap in the face by cancer. After it takes everything—it comes back to take just a little bit more. The volume of hair I was losing at that point was a very minor increase and if you had not been the person resting underneath that hair for twenty-eight years you probably would not have even noticed. But I did. I held the strands in my hand and had a conversation with my hair. No seriously, I did. I told my hair how incredibly uncool it was being for falling out and to just stop. It didn’t listen.
The next day there was more hair. A few strands on my pillow. No!!! This isn’t happening! I really figured I would be part of the one percent—the upper echelon of cancer patients if you will—that didn’t lose their hair. Honestly, with my kind of treatment it is probably less than one percent of people who keep their hair. But regardless, I was hopeful. My mom already had a hair appointment scheduled for her that day randomly and she asked me if I would like to accompany her. She planted the seed in my head and let me mull it over for a while. I just sat there on the couch assessing my follicle situation. I didn’t know what to do. A part of me was just over it. My hair was very long at that point; it reached the middle of my back. And of course the other part of me wanted to hold onto my hair forever and fight cancer tooth and nail. Never give in.
I cut about a foot of hair off that day. I sat in the chair and didn’t shed a tear while my hairdresser put my hair in a ponytail and chopped the whole thing off. My mom was crying but I told her it was just hair! No big deal! My new haircut fell a little below my chin and looked pretty cute (if I do say so myself). Maybe this was as far as I would need to go? I think the reason I was not traumatized by this initial hair-chopping experience was because I realized I had no choice in the matter. It is not like your traditional let’s-chop-off-all-my-hair post-mortem moments when you regret your decision. For me, I didn’t have a choice, so I embraced my new haircut. But that, unfortunately, was not the final one.
By the next weekend my hair was falling out in clumps. I was literally filling up wastebaskets with the fist-fulls of hair I was pulling off my head. Hair was everywhere and yes, it was pretty gross. If I touched my head, hair would fall out. If I brushed up against something, hair would fall out. If I just sat there completely still minding my own business, hair would fall out. And then it started to hurt, which was the real breaking point. It felt as if thousands of tiny, sharp needles were poking into my scalp. It hurt so badly. Finally, three nights ago I was in so much pain from my hair that I called my mom while she was at work and told her I was going to take scissors to it. I was holding my hair up to a pair of scissors like a hostage. One wrong move and she gets it. I was having an emotional breakdown looking at myself in the mirror where a bald spot was starting to form on the very front of my hairline and the pain of the prickles was all just too much. My mom came home and told me to wait until the next day when we could get my hairdresser to do it. I told her I couldn’t wait. It hurt too badly. GET IT OFF ME! So my mom took the scissors and cut some more off so I couldn’t feel it poking into my neck. There was some relief there but not enough. It still hurt.
The following day I went to see my hairdresser, Debbie. She let me come in after the salon was closed so I wouldn’t have to basically shave my head in front of strangers. I was very grateful for that. I felt so sick on the ride there (I was still very nauseated from the chemo) that I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to actually sit in the chair long enough for her to cut my hair. Upon arrival, I immediately rushed to the bathroom of the salon worried I was going to throw up right then and there. I composed myself, stepped outside of the bathroom, and informed her that my hair situation was borderline appalling. I had a hat on so no one could see the state of my hair but the bald spot had gotten worse. It was forming into a large strip going down the middle of my head where my part generally rests. I looked like a possessed clown that no one wants at her birthday party and I was over it. So we all sadly acknowledged the fact that it was time to cut my hair off and I sat down in the chair.
Debbie started cutting off my remaining hair section by section. I was looking in the mirror while she did it. When I realized that I did not recognize the person staring back at me I lost it. I started crying. I could not compose myself. I was so angry that I looked this way. I was so angry that this was happening. For the first time in a long time I was feeling utterly sorry for myself and the whole scene was pretty pathetic. I just sat there in the chair, basically bald, weeping and shaking and pissed off. I finally pulled myself together and she continued. When it was all said and done I had about a half an inch of hair left on my head interspersed with patches of baldness. My worst nightmare realized, basically. My mom and Debbie insisted that I looked cute. I allowed myself to entertain the thought. I mean, how else am I going to get through this? I quickly put my hat back on.
Unfortunately the pain and the prickly feeling are still there. Last night I tried to cut off even more hair but it doesn’t seem to help. It is so painful to sleep that I really can’t sleep. Resting my head on my pillow is excruciating.
No one really wants to lose all her hair days before Christmas. The one positive aspect to all this is that I take zero time getting ready in the morning. Not that I really have anywhere to go. BUT if I did, I would be out the door in no time at all. I also look pretty badass. If anyone tries to mess with me I will just take off my hat and that will be the end of that. I should probably just roam the streets of my hometown with my scary looking head showing and cut down on crime rates. It is a weird juxtaposition however, because when I do have my hat on I look like a synchronized swimmer, but when I take my hat off I look like a cold-blooded killer.
So that is it, people. My hair is gone. I am down to the brass tacks and things can surely only look up from here. I asked my mom earlier this week if this part of my journey is as bad as it is going to get. We both agreed that most likely, it is. So this is good news! I am looking straight ahead. I am focusing on the finish line. I am buying cute hats. I am purchasing a purple wig (I told my mom it is an absolute must). And I am shopping in the scarf section of Macy’s. I asked my sister if the scarf industry only manufactures ugly scarves—like if it is some sort of regulatory requirement or something. Why are they all so hideous? I will keep looking.
I hope each one of you has a very happy holiday. I hope you all celebrate a little more than normal this year to make up for my largely non-celebratory year. I am so sick from the chemo most of the time that I don’t have many opportunities to celebrate. So get out there and get all Christmas-crazy for me and send me some pictures. I would really appreciate it. As for me, I will celebrate the best I can. I am going to bake Christmas cookies, hang out with my family (having my niece and nephew around makes anything better), and enjoy the parts of the holiday that I can. Next Christmas I will have hair. Next Christmas I won’t have cancer. Next Christmas I am going to celebrate so hard it will scare some of you. Happy Christmas!