Thursday, May 24, 2007


May 24, 2007

Right on cue, my hair started falling out the day of my second chemo treatment. I had decided not to shave my head, though it would definitely have made it easier, because I wanted to see what it was like to lose something I had always taken for granted.

It was interesting, and it was also messy and physically painful, which they don't tell you, and emotionally traumatic.

The first couple days, I felt like my hair was some kind of installation sitting on my head; if I didn't mess with it, it would be okay, but any time I touched a hair, it came out. So I put a scarf over it to try to "keep it on." The scarf also helped dull the sometimes burning, sometimes bruised feeling in my scalp. When I would take off the scarf, or it would slip off during sleep, there would be gray and dark coils everywhere my head had touched.

By Monday, the wastebasket in the bathroom was full of what looked like an odd sort of hedgehog, but because my hair is so thick, I still had more or less a full head of hair. When I would take off the scarf, there would be a Brillo-like wedge sitting on top waiting to be plucked off. I brushed my hair out gingerly, but was still afraid to wash it. That night, I told a friend, "Now I am at the combover stage." She said she would call me The Donald.

Yesterday, finally, my scalp was itching too much, so I gave up and decided to see if I could make it all come out. I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and yanked out handful after handful, then washed my head/hair and pulled out more when it was wet. By the end of the day, I looked like Ben Franklin, with a ring of hair at the bottom of a bald head. Actually, I didn't look like Ben because my head turns out to be a perfect egg shape, no news to friends who already suspected I was an egghead.

Last night I slept without a scarf for the first time since Thursday. When I woke up I looked in the mirror and almost screamed.

"Who is that ancient woman?" I wondered.

I no longer look like an eggheaded Ben Franklin. Now I look like Scrooge or Bob Cratchett, whichever one looked like a skeleton with a couple tufts of white hair coming out of his skull. Honestly, I always knew my hair was important to me, despite the fact that I never heeded my mom's implorations to "do something with it." But I never quite realized how important hair is to how we perceive ourselves and each other. With my hair, which was really mostly gray by now, I think I looked just about my age, maybe a few years younger. Without it, I look 100 years old. Every wrinkle and line in my face jumps out.

Plus my scalp itself, which still hurts, is kind of pasty white. How do all those cool young women who shave their heads for fashion pull it off? And what am I supposed to do now? Rub it with olive oil? Dust it with corn starch, like you do with babies to keep their tender skin from getting irritated? And the most important question of all, when you're bald, do you wash your scalp with shampoo, because of all the nutrients and soothing herbs that they put in shampoos, or do you wash it with soap like the rest of your skin? Advice from the experienced welcome.

(Incidentally, for those of you who are wanting to know about more pragmatic things, the treatment went fine, Thursday and Friday were not too bad, Saturday and Sunday were bad, Monday was pretty bad, since Tuesday I've been less nauseous but still really tired. Had acupuncture today, which I think helped, and am hoping to be feeling good by Sunday.)

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