“Does everyone undergoing chemotherapy lose their hair?” I asked my oncology nurse.
“No, ma’am, depends on the medicine,” she answered without hesitation.
Okay, let me get more specific. “Does everyone who gets paclitaxel lose their hair?“
“Yes, ma’am,” she answered, just a tad too cheerfully.
At least that clarified what I could expect.
In a matter of days, I knew I was in the process of dropping my curls, and I don’t mean straightening… well, perhaps I’ll even lose all my body hair, not that I have much.
I had already begun to feel the prickly tingling on my scalp after the third session (11/2), but I wasn’t sure whether that was an extension of the tingling I was feeling all over my body or the attack on the cells of my hair roots. I suppose it could be both.
Soon I knew for sure. Since a few days after my fourth session last Tuesday (11/9), I was able to remove clumps of hair off my head without pulling at the scalp at all. The uprooted hairs were just buried in my curls—LOL!—because I hadn’t been inclined to brush or wash my hair, as my head felt tender.
After our nightly walk around our subdivision, I decided to be brave and shampoo my hair. I stepped into the shower with a near-full head of hair, albeit much shorter than usual (my honey had already cut it for me). I stepped out with what I estimate to be about three-quarters of my hair on the shower floor.
I didn’t freak out.
Rather, I was fascinated by my ability to run my hands across my head and remove significant clumps of hair… over and over and over. When I thought I’d captured it all, I gently took a comb to the remaining hair and caught a few more clumps.
This will make shaving the rest tomorrow easier, I think.
How do I feel about going bald?
I’ll readily admit I enjoy a bit of vanity. I like to feel pretty and attractive. And so, throughout my life, I’ve been motivated to take decent care of my appearance by eating healthy, staying fit, and dressing stylishly with a classic flare.
This kind (and amount) of vanity is healthy and fosters confidence, I’d say. It pays tribute to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of beauty. It’s not about comparing myself to others or feeling conceited. (The opposite might be letting oneself go, ceasing to care at all about one’s appearance, often a result of low self-esteem.) The vanity I feel is not about false pride and being self-absorbed, although that is the usual way the word is used; that kind is based in insecurity, not self-assurance.
Back to my balding head.
It won’t make me feel pretty to be without my curls.
But neither do my curls define who I am and how I feel about myself.
What matters to me is that I love myself. I like myself. I like my imperfect self. I bring loving intention to everything I do and to everyone I care about. Falling short of our intentions is part of being human.
I can feel stoic about my alopecia. I am optimistic of having a positive overall outcome and my hair will return (one way or another) within a year after the sessions are over (in 10 more weeks).
Then I wondered whether I’m in a minority with this relaxed attitude towards my hair. My brief research tells me I probably am!
The hair is the richest ornament of women.Martin Luther
There’s a long human history of people using their hair to show status and style. Dyes, wigs, extensions and decorations have been used as fashion statements as far back as Ancient Egypt (10C BC).
If you check Answer the Public, you’ll find that today people search for how to grow it, cut it, color it, style it, and remove it. The words hair and beauty are frequently paired… which already tells us a lot about we collectively feel about our hair.
Hair is the first thing. And teeth the second. Hair and teeth. A man got those two things he’s got it all.James Brown
And it’s not hard for even the casual observer to notice how hair trends and changing fashions are used by people of all ages and cultures to build and express their identities and to make political and social statements (the Beatles weren’t the first men to sport long hair!).
One article estimated that Americans alone will spend in 2021 (wait for it!) almost $95 billion (with a B) on hair-related products and services (not all of it on the scalp)! And this takes the cake for me: almost a quarter of women don’t want to leave their house on a bad hair day, according to a study!
The medical websites covering this topic use words like distressing, frustration, and anxiety. In the cancer forums online, it makes me sad to read there are so many women who feel a high level of anguish about losing their hair to chemo treatments, even while knowing it’s temporary.
Have we as a culture gone too far? Does it feel right that we let our hair affect our mood, our sense of social security, and bring on this much self-criticism?
Luscious hair often does get associated with power, youth, and strength. Indeed, I’ll have none of those while my head is hidden in a cap or under a scarf.
And yet I’ll still have my innate sense of worth and the love of my honey, family, and friends. That’s really all the matters to me.
How do you feel about your hair? Is it important to you? Do you spend time and money on making it look pleasing to yourself or others?