There is a difference between intellectual knowledge and emotional reaction!
I knew from the beginning of my chemotherapy treatment that hair loss was probably inevitable. Oh sure, the medical professionals said many people only experience thinning of their hair not actual complete loss but that comment struck me as part of the this-isn’t-so-bad, wishful thinking school of a prepping the patient drill. All of the patient descriptions covered the hair loss phenomenon in detail. Engaging the best of my intellect, I listened to the people who had actually experienced chemo and prepared appropriately.
(Interestingly the medical professionals spoke consistently about the nausea effects I should expect; assuring me that they’d give me anti-nausea medications by IV before the chemo and provide pills to use at home. Either the pre-chemo meds are TERRIFIC or my stomach is lined with stern stuff. I didn’t even experience a moment of queasiness.)
Back to hair. In anticipation, I had my longish, curly hair cut short to accustom myself, and others to seeing me with less on top. Given my amazing hair stylist Steven’s skill, my new punky hairstyle got rave reviews. Those who knew about the cancer figured out my strategy; those who didn’t, thought I was simply making a change. Either way, I felt like I was doing a great job getting prepared for the next step. First my scalp started to itch and hurt. Scratching the itch, even gently, ended in fingers covered in hair. Here we go I thought. I got in the habit of bending over the toilet and scubbing my head to remove loose hair there rather than sprinkling it behind me as I walked though the house. Not too bad, I thought. Two days later my over the toilet riffing became bowl filling and with a great deal of trepidation, I grabbed a bunch of hair and pulled gently and realized that my hair was coming out by the handful. There was a moment of fascination followed almost immediately with overwhelming feelings of grief. The last opportunity for denial—this cancer thing can’t be real or it isn’t going to hit me like other people was GONE!
Steven had vowed to re-visit my haircut with his clippers when I was ready. A call elicited his promise to come over to our house with his partner, Rob, Friday night to finish my shearing with the promise of pizza to end the event. Sheet on the kitchen floor. Stool in the center. Steven’s gentle hands on my shoulder. The unfamiliar buzz of the clippers. Clumps of my remaining hair falling softly to the floor. The end of the hair chapter.
As I viewed my new self in the bathroom mirror, the clippers started up again. Back in the kitchen, Frank had taken my place. Bald in solidarity, he explained; my dear husband finding a way to join me on this strange journey.
He’ll need a haircut in a month. I won’t.