my tale of hair, baldness and hair again...

>> Wednesday, February 10, 2010

i had recently attempted to leave a blog comment for someone who has battled cancer and in the process lost her hair, spent time being bald and now has come full circle back to having hair. my comment ended up too long to be accepted and i realized that it was actually a blog and caring bridge post in the making. in the past i have tried to keep my cancer related posts on my caring bridge page where it's a bit more appropriate. for some reason though, i really felt like i should share it here as well. i have been sharing bits of my experience here more often. if it is becoming unfitting or uncomfortable to you all, please let me know. cancer is an awful subject. one that does need to be talked about. this may not be the place and i understand that. if you would prefer that i keep it more to my caring bridge page, please let me know.

it may seem odd or even vain and inappropriate to some, that when faced with a serious illness and not knowing if you are going to live or die, that hair would be on the radar at all. let alone be a big deal at that time. maybe to others it isn't or wouldn't be. as i look back and even as i think about it now, it was a big deal to me. now i didn't carry on about it a lot, in fact i tried to be accepting and brave. there were times though that i lost that calm demeanor. after all, i am a girl.

not quite three years ago i was faced with the fact that i was going to lose my hair to chemotherapy. i knew it, and that it was unavoidable. i was prepared. mr. h and i picked out various head coverings and even a wig while i still had my hair. i was even able to laugh about it at times with my family and friends. they were all (and still are) very supportive of me. i was ready for it. or so i thought.

the day my hair started to really fall out, as in handfuls, i cried. i thought i would be ok with it. but reality is cruel sometimes. mr. h went ahead and shaved it off for me. how hard that must have been for him. but he did it so that i could be in control.

i had told the girls that this was going to happen. i tried to prepare them as best i could. we shaved my hair off while the girls were in school, thinking that would be the least traumatic way for them. looking back, that may not have been the best way. or maybe there really was no right way to prepare them for it. bethany was so upset, she cried a lot and needed to talk about it. kelley may have been too, but she kept it to herself out of respect for my feelings i believe, i admire her bravery. such strong little girls-they were only 6 and 7 1/2 at the time. bethany has beautiful natural curls...that she did not get from me. i told her that maybe God would let my hair grow back in beautiful curls like hers. well, that seemed to offer her even the tiniest bit of comfort. and for the next several months she prayed and prayed to God about that.

i didn't dare go to their school once i lost my hair. but her class found out that i had lost my hair. maybe she told them or maybe the teacher discussed it, i'm still not sure how they found out. they made fun of her, well no, they made fun of me. it broke her heart that the kids were so mean about her mommy. it broke my heart that children could be so mean to my baby and that i had caused her such anguish. she was sad and embarrassed. i didn't blame her as i felt the same way.

everywhere in public that we went while i had my head covering on, bethany would announce to anyone who listened-why i looked the way i did. around the house if i took off my covering because it was uncomfortable, she would ask me to put it back on and i always did. mr. h and kelley would tell her to not announce my cancer in public or to not ask me to cover up. but i thought it was ok. anyway to help her deal with it. mr. h would lovingly rub my head every day. he did this for months, every single day continuing when fuzz appeared and even until i had grown quite a bit of hair. he also shaved his hair off when he shaved mine. we were bald together. and throughout my growing-out process he made sure his hair was always cut shorter than mine.

during the second month of my chemotherapy, i had to have heart surgery. well surgery to cut a "window" into the lining around my heart to allow fluid to drain out. the cancer mass was compressing my heart and caused my heart to start drowning in fluid. as the tech rolled me into the operating suites he had to have me take off my head covering, it wasn't sterile. i was mortified at the thought of being taken anywhere bald. the guy was so nice, he went into the OR suites and came back with one of those blue surgical caps that looks like a paper shower cap. the type that all of the surgical employees wore. that way i would fit in and not be left with my baldness.

after chemotherapy was completed, my hair started growing back as patchy fuzz. it didn't look very promising. it had no color other than some sort of a very light metal shade. it took several tries with hair dye to first get it to take the color and then to find a color that didn't look ridiculous. i was finally satisfied when i got it to a dark brown. i got my first haircut six months after the first fuzz appeared. just a trim that transformed my uneven purposeless style into a "pixie" cut. with a bit of hair product and finger styling it actually looked like i wore my hair that way on purpose.

and my hair continued to grow. two things were stopped growing in as that awful colorless metal shade and started growing in the same color i had dyed it-which was not my original color. and it came back curly! bethany was so thrilled that God had answered her prayers! i was too!

the picture in my profile was taken a really long time ago. i've not had it cut since the pixie trim. it is long! and curly! and so much better than what i started with. i do need to get it trimmed and reshaped sometime soon, i think.

what a journey it was. i have a hard time remembering what i looked like with no hair. though i took many quick glances in the mirror during my baldness. i didn't want to look, but i couldn't stop looking. we have a couple pictures of me during that time with a head covering on of some sort. and some early hair growth progress pictures that only show a portion of my head. but there are none of "me" bald. the wig never got worn much, once when i met some online friends for the first time and anytime we went somewhere that the girl's classmates and friends might see us all together. it was uncomfortable to wear especially during summer in florida.

i still remember waking up each morning after dreams of having a head full of hair, thinking that the baldness was nothing more than a bad dream. then reaching up and touching my head feeling nothing but baldness. realizing that it wasn't a bad dream after all. day after day. i thought it would never grow back. that regrowing my hair would be the worst post cancer problem-which it definitely wasn't by a long shot. now it seems that it grew back so quickly, though then it felt like an eternity. the experience of cancer has changed me forever. and the experience of baldness has also changed me forever.

i now cringe whenever someone says in response to a person's bad haircut or when a child cuts their own hair and the parent is mortified (which bethany did do as a preschooler)..."it's just hair, it'll grow back". yes it does grow back, but those words have a whole new meaning to me now.

my biggest post cancer fear? of course it's that my cancer will return...but i think it's the baldness that i am the most dreadful of. maybe that's vain of me. thinking back to not having my hair, my "crown", it was hard. regardless of how baby fine it was or the cowlicks or the way it was straight everywhere except for one spot in the back that insisted on waving, i missed it terribly. i regained my hair and was blessed with a greater degree of beauty and i am so very thankful for that. sometimes i start to get annoyed when it falls into my face or when i have a lot of tangles to brush out. at those times i give myself a good silent scolding, because i am so happy to have my hair back.

when i lost mine, both girls, but especially bethany, had their hair cut into much shorter styles. bethany's curls have since grown out and it is so very long and pretty. she isn't growing it out to keep it though, she is growing it out to donate to locks of love or another organization like that. i'm not sure how long hair needs to be for a donation, but when i take her to get hers cut-i may get that much needed trim and cut mine for a donation as well. we can do it together.

with all of this rambling about my hair, i probably owe you all a picture of it as it is now. i really, really don't like to be on that side of the camera. however, i will try to get a good picture of my hair to share sometime soon.

thank you all for allowing me to share my forlorn but in the end triumphant tale of my hair.


Lorri February 11, 2010 at 9:12 AM  

glad to have inspired you! great post! pictures would be great too! :)

Lysana February 11, 2010 at 3:05 PM  

Thank you for sharing your experience. I am glad you shared it, and I do not think it is an inappropriate topic at all. I also understand how it would be very hard to deal with, regardless of how people think things "should" be. So, lots of hugs, and I hope you never have to go through ANY of that again.

Lindsay February 15, 2010 at 11:01 AM  

It was a great post. I remember when I started chemo, I would wake up in the middle of the night every night, and feel for clumps of hair on my pillow. The worst feeling was brushing my hair when it started to fall out. I had to do it outside. My control was that I tried to hang onto my hair as long as I could. I never shaved it. I had to have my driver's license renewed, and the DMV wouldn't let me take my pic with a wig on. I was as bald as a cue ball. And I had to show that picture a lot. That crushed me. Mine came back curly and super thick and much darker than it had been. Weird how that works.

Brandi February 17, 2010 at 10:51 PM  

Heather, you have always been a strong person in my eyes. Reading this story helps me understand how hard it was for you to do what you did and what you saw your girls go through when you were going through treatment.
Hooray for Bethany! What a kindred heart she's got! She reminds me of her momma! By the way, Locks of Love requires 10" of un-bleached hair. Colored and permed hair is okay.

heather February 19, 2010 at 5:00 AM  


thanks for sharing. i'm sorry that you also had to go through this. my passport picture is bad, my hair had just grown back to cover most of my head. and i had trouble with color. it looked more like a bright red scalp. i guess i'm stuck with it. when we used it a few months later, the lady almost
would accept it thinking it was a man's passport. ugh.

thanks for the love everyone!

Tracy February 19, 2010 at 10:24 AM  

Oh sweetie - what a lovely post. You are an amazing woman and mom.

Love you, T.

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