Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow? Maybe, Maybe Not.

18 02 2011

Me, hairless and happy, at Alpenfest, Gaylord, Mich., July 2006

Two days ago, I called and made an appointment for an up-do. We have a family wedding this weekend and I love to have my hair done up for special occasions.

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



21 responses

18 02 2011

Your courage, humor, grace and positive outlook continue to amaze me. Keeping you and your family in my prayers! -Sean

18 02 2011

You KNOW I’m rootin’ for ya! I love you Aim! oxoxo

18 02 2011

Stay hair, stay!!

I understand far too well what it’s like to be a bald woman. I live on the other side of the coin – I have alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes my hair to fall out. When I’m out bald I feel like such a fraud, because people come up to me and assume I have cancer. I’m told how brave I am, that they’re praying for me or suddenly having them share their stories about their hair loss from when they had cancer. I *get* that you’d want to be *you* for a long while, and not just another head with cancer.

18 02 2011

I gave ya a tug and still there, rooting away for ya in PA

18 02 2011
Kristi Rugh Kahl

While you were bald and beautiful, I’m rootin’ for you too so you can keep on tuggin’! Enjoy the family wedding and weekend!

18 02 2011
Chelsea L.

Yes; definitely “rooting” for you!

18 02 2011
brian Murphy

When you showed me around your house last Wednesday I knew that I was in a house, home, and household filled with love. And then I remembered the quotation–from Willa Cather–that Toni put on her Valentine’s Day card to me, which certainly applies to you, Don, and Theo:

“Where there is great love, there are always miracles.”

18 02 2011
Amy Rauch Neilson

You probably did not notice that there is a picture of you, Toni and Lauren on our fridge. You have a place of honor in my home and my heart.

18 02 2011
Bob Deady

Comb on, Amy!
I’ll be thinking of you on Tuesday.

18 02 2011
Laurie Horn

I’ll be at the “root” of it too, “rooting” for your tresses staying put.

18 02 2011
Jennifer Fink

I want to see a picture of you and your hair, looking radiant at the wedding.

18 02 2011
Amy Rauch Neilson

I will indeed post a pic — I promise!


18 02 2011

Rooting for you with prayers combing your way daily! Love ewe!

18 02 2011

Hair you listen to me and stay in that scalp! You are much prettier there than in the garbage basket!!

18 02 2011
Ken Peters

We are rooting for more than just your hair, sweetheart!

18 02 2011

Wishing that it stays and you have decades and decades of thick healthy locks of hair.

If I may be so bold as to ask this, perhaps in some future post would you be so kind as to educate us on how the world could have made it easier on you to be in public when you were bald during your last chemo? Would you have preferred that no one mention it, or that they mention it and move on?

I am here “rooting” for you on so many levels. Hang in there and enjoy the wedding updo.

18 02 2011

I’m with Ken on this one.

18 02 2011
Linda Stanislawski

I truly hope you keep your hair. I know first hand what it is like to be without it as a stage 3 cancer survivor! Keeping you daily in prayer .

18 02 2011
Bob Adams

With hair or without, you’re beautiful both inside and out.

18 02 2011
Karen Simpson

I had cancer number 2 this spring and summer.
I had previously had some eye surgery and discovered books on tape/cds.
They are available at the library and are quite a godsend for the sleepless naps
Just resting does help and the books help keep from ruminating about things – you are in my prayers

19 02 2011
Anne Noble

Sending good juju your way for Tuesday and beyond. May you keep your beautiful hair and beat this !@#$%^& disease. I am rooting and praying for you.

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