“Bad Hair Days” when you have cancer

The last entry I posted was rather heavy, so I wanted to write about something more light-hearted. Surprisingly, right after my diagnosis my hair became an issue – not only for me, but also for others.

A couple of years before being diagnosed with leukemia, I started losing a lot of hair. My hairdresser thought I had been using the wrong products. I changed. It didn’t help. I began to take supplements. Tons of them. It didn’t help. And I lost more and more each day. I was afraid of using my hairbrush. In a movie, I saw a woman with extensions, something I had not even known existed. When I went to the hairdresser the next time, I could watch him sticking extensions into a woman’s hair. I told my husband about it later on. For my next birthday, he gave me a token for extensions. It was a good decision. Finally, I did not fear my brushes anymore and I felt comfortable again. I used extensions for about half a year. After that I didn’t need them, because my hair was suddenly growing again.

But as soon as I got the diagnosis, everybody talked about my hair. Whether I was going to lose it. Whether I was going to need a wig. At that moment, though, my hair was the least of my concerns. However, as people kept mentioning my future baldness, one of my first, absurd thoughts when I was diagnosed with cancer was: “Where am I going to stick my extensions when there is no hair left?” 

In the terrible period between diagnosis and prognosis I went to a new, trendy hairdresser. A lot of gossiping was going on there, the women present were extremely self-important and showed off all the time. I was getting annoyed. I had come because I wanted to treat myself to something special in a difficult time of my life. I realized I had chosen the wrong place. When it was my turn, the hairdresser asked me in an exaggerated way how I wanted my hair to be cut. At that point, I was so mad that I snapped: “Just do your best, it might be the last haircut in a long time, because I have cancer.” The gossiping stopped for a minute. The clients were shocked and pretended to check their fake fingernails or expensive watches. I admit, it was childish – however I felt much better. And I got a great haircut, by the way. 

My son had alopecia areata when he was still a preschooler and we did not know if he was going to be completely bald. In our family, we decided to be positive about it and to make him feel special because of his partial baldness. It worked; he somehow started to believe that he had lost his hair due to his superior intelligence. He thought his head was literally “too hot for his hair”. Fortunately, it stopped – he is now rather vain and addicted to styling gel. I would have felt sorry for him growing up bald and being treated like an outsider. Yet, our family was optimistic and certain that we would be able to deal with it. The thought of losing my hair during chemotherapy has never bothered me, maybe because of our experiences with alopecia areata. If my little son could cope with baldness, why should I fail?

Although I was trying to look at it from a humorous perspective, I have dealt with a sensitive issue in this blog and I hope my words are not offensive to anyone. In most cultures, a person’s hair is a symbol of vitality, youth and even sexuality. Long and healthy hair is supposed to be an indication of a woman’s fertility, according to psychologists. Just think of all the rituals: Buddhist monks shaving their heads, catholic nuns cutting all their hair. These cultural, religious and psychological undercurrents make losing our hair so scary.

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