Follicle Follies

Two of the chemicals that get pumped into the ol' mortal bits on a regular basis have, amongst other side effects, the ability to make your hair abandon ship. Hair loss, particularly on a woman, is really the defining sign of the condition. I've received enough funny looks that I'm considering the addition to a "Yes, it's cancer doggone it!" sweatshirt to my regularly worn, "Cancer Sucks," baseball cap. It's a nice cap really; army green with green print. It's subtle enough that you have to work to read it, which makes me feel better about sporting a chapeau that uses a word that I discourage in my own kids.

But I digress.

A question that comes up in the mind of the non-informed regards the extent of the actual defoliation. A friend, on the phone, stammered and stuttered his way through the inquiry, with the air of one expecting a quick and decisive end to aforementioned friendship. After all, it really is quite the personal question. The answer is: it depends.

It depends on exactly what chemicals you're getting and how your body reacts to them. Some folks lose what's on the noggin, some lose what's on the legs too, some lose the entire enchilada. Speaking for myself, some of the hair has wandered off into the sunset, some decided to stick around, and most of what's left seems to be in a holding pattern. My eyebrows have thinned out, as have the lashes. I've shaved my legs once in the past month. Pits are not a problem. Other parts–well that's really none of your beeswax.

However, the hair on my head . . . oh, the hair on my head.

It's always been my blessing and my curse to sport a plentitude of the stuff. For whatever reason, I have always had the sort of hair that most women want. Okay, the color was never anything to write into a love sonnet, but thick and lush and luxuriant about covers it. The downside is that it's always been so thick that there's not much anyone could ever do to tame it. At least not since the eighties when gel and mousse were all the rage. And, as I've gotten a little older and the gray started to sprout a little more, it was getting coarse as well as thick. Thus, for most of my life, I've kept it short. Really short.

Until two years ago.

Out of curiosity and the desire to surprise the heck out of my mom, I let the hair grow. And grow. And grow. Once in a while, I got the ends trimmed for the sake of neatness, but as of August 2008, it was past my shoulders and could have housed a colony of hummingbirds. I wanted to cut it short again, but was vetoed by my daughter and best friend.

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Imagine, then, the irony of losing it the chemo way.

Three weeks into the treatment, I noticed a certain . . . lack of follicular anchorage. The brush needed to be cleaned after every few swipes. The tub drain resembled a large drowned rodent after every shower. So, I got it cut short; to about an inch and a half. It was cute, really. Sort of perky and fun. I liked it.



That lasted for about a week.

Then it was wholesale shedding. There was hair on my pillow, in my eyes, in my mouth when I woke up in the morning. My bath towel needed a good scrubbing with a lint roller after every shampoo. It was gross, I kid you not.

So, back to my hair-cutting friend I went. With great respect for the blood-thinner I was taking, she simply buzzed my 'do into stubble. No one wanted me to have a bleeding scalp wound, least of all me, so we decided amiably that stubble it would remain until it fell out on its own.

Five cycles into the chemo, it still hasn't fallen out.

When I take off my hat and look in the mirror, a prime candidate for the Marine Corps looks back at me. My daughter compares me to Bruce Willis. (Demi Moore? Natalie Portman? Sigourney Weaver? Nooooooo, I have to look like John Friggin' McClane crawling through the duct-work at Nakatomi Tower.)

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This leads me to the question: if I'd just kept combing my hair, would I have ended up with a reasonable, if somewhat thinned out, thatch? Did the hair that couldn't be tamed decide to get the last laugh in? Do I hear a cosmic little voice shouting, "Psyche! Just kidding! We weren't all going to fall out! Gotcha!"

Probably. I'm sort of contrary at the best of times. Why shouldn't my hair be?

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