Hair Today Gone Tomorrow

Am I going to lose my hair? This is usually one of the first questions when someone finds out they will have to undergo chemo, regardless of the type of cancer. I know it was on the top of my list when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016.

Hair...military style

I started growing out my hair when I retired from the Army in 2005. Women are authorized to wear their hair long if it is pinned up and off the collar while in uniform. However, I found it to be quite a pain. In 2001, the black beret became standard headgear. Nobody, except men with buzz cuts, looks good in berets. I looked absolutely ridiculous with my bun protruding from my beret. So… I cut my hair short and kept it that way until I retired.

Flash forward 11 years. I am in the oncologist’s office. He says your tumor is very aggressive, I highly recommend chemotherapy. I was devastated. Admittedly, some of it was vanity… I did love my hair. It was long, all the way down to my lower back, sandy brown, and it was beautiful.  Besides a couple of requisite perms way back in the 80s - where I resembled a poodle - I had never treated my hair; not even colored it.

Taking control of my hair loss during chemo

So, knowing I was going to lose my hair, I took control of the situation just like almost everyone I know that has had chemo. I first had my gorgeous hair cut into a cute bob. That same day, I went to get my cranial prosthesis (AKA a wig) to match exactly, even down to the slight gray highlights (which were actually a whole lot more of than I thought). My plan was that as soon as my hair fell out, I would immediately start wearing the wig and no one would ever know I had no hair. Well, it didn’t exactly work out that way.

I was in the hospital recovering from pneumonia when it started coming out in clumps. As soon as I was released from the hospital, I made a beeline to my hairdresser with a couple of my best friends in tow. I had her shave it all off with my friends documenting the transition for posterity sake on their phones. When she finished, I looked like the soldiers I used to have sympathy for, the ones who had just started basic training. I had no hair! Although my friends said I looked fine bald, I didn’t think it was a particularly good look on me.

Moving from wigs to hats to bandanas

I tried the wig…for about a day. was hot and itchy! I quickly decided this wasn’t going to work for me. I then spent an obscene amount of money on adorable little hats and turbans to cover my pathetic bare head. Then one day, I noticed a whole rack of bandanas at Walmart with every color of the rainbow. They were only a dollar, so I bought practically every hue. I must say, I rocked those headcovers! My boss jokingly called me a fashion diva because my bandanas always matched my outfits.

I actually rather liked having a bald head. Getting ready for work was quick and I saved a fortune in hair care products. I also noticed how exceptionally kind people were to me. In a crowded waiting room, someone always offered me their seat. People always let me go ahead of them in the grocery store line. Strangers would smile and wish me the best.

My GI Jane look

I also had been diagnosed with polycythemia vera (PV), a blood cancer, the same year as the breast cancer. Although treatment for PV typically doesn't cause one to lose all their hair, some PV medications do cause significant hair thinning. In addition, one of the symptoms of of PV is low iron, which can also contribute to hair issues. Needless to say, I wasn't sure if I would ever get my hair back.

However, a few months after I finished chemo, my hair started to grow back...ever so slowly.  With the short, dark stubble, I joked that I looked like Demi Moore in the 1997 movie GI Jane for a while. Then the curls came, black and gray. I liked the curls, such a completely different look on me… and so incredibly easy.

Now, three years following chemo, I look in the mirror. My hair is back, practically the same color, with a little more wave and perhaps a few more touches of gray. But, I’ll take it! Despite all, I have hair! My hair is now about the length it was at my retirement. I guess it’s time to grow it out again…

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