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.”

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

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Dagnabbit!

7 02 2011

Theo and I were both bald and beautiful on his first birthday, August 22, 2006


There was a whirring inside my head the night I found the lump — January 9, 2011.

Don and I were lying next to each other in bed, in the dark, on our backs, staring up at the ceiling.
Quiet.

A kaleidescope of images from my first breast cancer discovery and treatment in 2006 were spinning in my head. Bandanas and baseball caps. Wigs. Theo’s first birthday party — he and I were both bald. That brings a smile to my face. How cute is that?

Then, of all things, came this thought.

Dagnabbit! I’m going to lose my hair again! And I just grew it back!

Yes, I know. I was in treatment nearly five years ago. But my hair takes forever to grow.

I know. Of all the things to be worrying about.

But still.

It’s maddening.

Last time, chemo turned my hair from my lifelong natural blonde (yes, that was real all these years), to some unrecognizable, unsuitable dark black. Permanently.

I’d heard rumor of people who got curly hair post-chemo — forever curly hair. Beautiful ringlets. Spirals even. I was signed on for that, but didn’t get it.

I got black and straight. And now, dyed back to my once-natural blonde every 8 weeks.

When I shared this frustration with my friend and Theo’s pediatrician, Michelle Hicks, she said, “Girlfriend, on the other side of this, I’m going to pay for you to get hair extensions! The best!”

I said, “I am so there!”





Rapunzel…Let Down Your Hair!

27 02 2010

Me, sporting one of my wigs and a crown of flowers, with Theo at the 2006 Gaylord, Mich. Alpenfest

It took me nearly four years, but I finally did it. Yesterday. I donated all of the wigs, bandanas and a knit cap I wore when I was going through chemo. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds.

I came across them a couple of months ago, when I was cleaning out my closet. There was the wig with the long, thick blonde hair that I’d sometimes pull up into a ponytail or through the back of a baseball cap, the shoulder-length one with soft waves that had fooled everyone at my high school reunion, the sexy Marilyn Monroe platinum blonde one that I wore when I was feeling well enough for a night on the town.

As I searched a little farther back on the shelf, I saw all of the bandanas my cousin Christine had made for me — the wedgewood blue one covered in tiny silver stars, the bright yellow one with jewels sewn in the shape of flowers, the breast-cancer-ribbon pink one, and my favorite — the tie-dye one. At the very back, I came across the sable knit cap my friend Maureen had knitted for me over the course of the cold winter weekend when I’d first received my diagnosis. I took everything off of the shelf, packed it carefully and set it aside. I’d bring it with me to my next appointment at the Beaumont Breast Care Center.

Yesterday morning, I grabbed the bag and threw it in the car. I was off for my quarterly blood draw.

After my appointment, I stopped by the Resource Center. That’s where I met Ruth, the soft-spoken woman with the silver hair who oversees the Center.

“I thought maybe someone else could use these,” I said. As I opened the bag and began unpacking its contents, I found myself sharing moments from 2006. “I wore this tie-dyed bandana to a Tigers game in June, and here’s the wig I wore to my high school reunion. It did the trick — no one even realized I was going through chemo.

“This one — well, it made me feel sexy when my husband and I were out celebrating our 7th wedding annivesary,” I continued. “And surely someone could use this knit cap in weather like this,” I said, thinking of an older, bald-headed woman being pushed in a wheelchair I’d seen in the Cancer Center just a few minutes earlier.

Ruth listened intently and patiently as I made my way down to the bottom of the bag. There was a brief silence and then I looked into her eyes and, by way of explanation, said, “I’ve had this stuff for four years now, and I meant to donate it sooner. But I guess I was afraid to — afraid, somehow, that I’d be tempting fate.”

Ruth put her hand over mine, nodded gently and said, “Lots of women feel that way.”

I told her that I’d be celebrating my fourth anniversary cancer-free on March 3, 2010, and that I was finally beginning to feel a little more secure, a little more sure that I was going to be OK.

“I won’t be needing these anymore,” I said, perhaps more to myself than to her. I turned then, leaving everything sprawled on the table in her office,

The bandanas, the wigs, the knit cap have a job to do for other women who are going through what I once did, not so long ago. It was time for me — and for them — to move on.








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