That call was actually quite ballsy, quite brazen of me.
That’s because, by the time my appointment rolls around on Saturday afternoon, I might not have any hair to “do.” At which point I’ll have to call my hair stylist and say, “Yeah, about that appointment…I need to cancel. My hair fell out overnight.”
Yes, that’s a realistic time frame for how it happens. It not only happens quickly, it happens on schedule.
During my last go-round with breast cancer and chemo in the summer of 2006, it was exactly as my doctors predicted. Seventeen days after my first treatment, my hair began falling out. Within 24 hours, I was bald.
We were at a family reunion in the mountains of northern Georgia at the time, camping out in a pull-behind when I lost the first patch. I had just showered and blown my hair dry. I was standing in front of the mirror over the tiny bathroom sink when it happened. I ran a comb from my scalp to the ends of a section of hair. I felt an odd “release,” and when I looked at the comb, I saw that my blonde tresses were enmeshed in the teeth.
I remember thinking, “Oh geez. Here it comes, and there it goes.”
I tried to salvage it as best I could, but by the next morning, most of it lay on my pillow. I
acknowledged that it was a lost cause and I shaved my head. Even is better than patchy. Trust me on that.
When it comes to chemo and hair loss, it is literally hair today, gone tomorrow.
But this time could be all together different.
Yes, it is possible to go through chemotherapy treatments and not lose your hair in the year 2011. Though not even five years have passed since I last went through chemo, it’s a whole new ballgame. A paradigm shift, if you will.
In 2006, I was on a chemo regimen of Adriamycin and Cytoxan. Probability of hair loss: 99 percent.
This time, I’m on a regimen of Gemzar, Carboplatin and BSI-201 — the PARP Inhibitor. Probability of hair loss, according to the Clinical Trials nurse, Robin, about one in six. If you do the math, that means I have about an 83 percent chance I won’t lose my hair this time.
Why is that so important at a time like this? Lots of reasons, the least of which is vanity.
Last time, my son was an infant. He didn’t know the difference. This time, he’s a bright, five-year-old little boy. He’ll know the difference. And I want to shelter him from the blow of my illness as much as I can.
Last time, as a Stage 1, I only had to do two months of chemo, and then my hair began growing back. I had a short ‘do by Thanksgiving. This time, as a Stage 4, I’m looking at about nine months of chemo. I’d be bald a long, long time.
Last time, every time I was out and about sans wig, people stared. Sometimes, they looked on with pity. Other times, they stopped me and asked questions.
I don’t have to tell you that I don’t mind talking about what I’m going through. But I don’t want to talk about it all the time. Keeping my hair means I can go out into public, a cancer patient incognito, if you will, and enjoy being with my friends and family. No stares. No looks of pity. No questions from strangers.
So, when will I know? According to my doctors’ calculations, if I’m going to lose my hair this go-round, it ought to happen any day now. But, if it doesn’t happen by Tuesday, I very well could be…home free!
Last night, we had dinner at my bff Tabitha’s house. After we finished off the spaghetti and piled our plates in the sink, we were sitting on the couch when she noticed. In the last few days, I’ve taken to twirling a lock of hair around my fingers, and then giving it a gentle, almost imperceptible tug. Most people wouldn’t have caught it. But Tabitha knows me too well. She did.
“Honey,” she said. “Try not to get your hopes up too high. I don’t want you to be devastated if it does fall out.”
“It’s not going to,” I said. And I made her reach over and do “the tug.”
My Dad used to say, “If I were a betting man…”
Well, I am a betting woman.
And I’m betting that this time, I keep it.
By Tuesday, I’ll know. And I’ll let you know.
In the meantime, please “root” me on. Pun fully intended.
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson