Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Unbearable Weight of Hair

We BC survivors have been watching Parenthood with interest as it pursues the storyline of Kristina's breast cancer.The inevitable hair loss episode aired this week. She is out clubbing with her sisters-in law when she happens to run her hand through her hair and comes up with large clumps. The party is over and she dashes home to deal with this by herself. As some sort of self-enpowerment exercise, she shaves her head. Of course she looks beautiful but then she misses her hair and is in tears. She wakes her husband from a sound sleep  and he gasps to see a bald Kristina. She is angry that he gasps and proceeds to make him feel miserable. The next day he tries to make her feel better by buying her a wig, which insults her further. He can't win. Eventually she feels badly that she was so mean to him. She buys a sexy wig and promises him a night on the town where they will be 'husband and wife' again though at the crucial moment, she is too tired to perform. At the end of the episode though, she seems to embrace her new baldness and is seen walking into the California sunshine arm in arm with her husband. She is not even worried about sunburn.

How much does this jive with this BC survivor?

First of all, there would have been no swilling of martinis even though I like to drink. The Red Devil (standard treatment) made this impossible. Just a little bit of alcohol would make my throat and stomach burn more. I couldn't even drink coffee any more. Too much acid and the smell made me sick.  I drank Snapple raspberry tea for the caffeine I needed. And I lacked the energy to dance around with my relatives, not that I do at any time.

As for the hair loss, I was warned this would happen on Day 16 or so, 2 days after the second cycle of poisons began. Still part of me hoped that this wouldn't happen to me.  Simply combing my hair resulted in big clumps falling out. My scalp was burning. My chin length hair felt unbelievably heavy, a very strange sensation. I sit here now with even longer hair and I don't feel it. I took scissors and cut it very short in part to relieve the pain of it tugging. I left myself with  an inch or two of hair. Then that started to feel too heavy and I cut it down to less than an inch. It didn't matter; in a few days there were only a few strands left. My scalp was acutely sensitive for most of the time I was in chemoland. Warm water that felt fine on my shoulders would feel scalding hot on my head. And it was acutely sensitive to cold too. I couldn't leave it uncovered for a minute. Maybe some women look beautiful bald; there have some in my yoga class that actually look just fine but not me. I looked bad and I made sure that noone saw me bald. Even going to the dermatologist to deal with a large black spot that had been hiding under all my hair, I was reluctant to show my scalp to her. I didn't even let Steve see me bald. No he did not tell me I was hideous.

Lastly, the night on the town with her husband did not ring true. Again, no alcohol or even eating a gourmet dinner would be possible. At the last moment, she is too tired to perform though she admits she wanted sex just five minutes ago. Here is the reality folks: I don't think chemo and sex mix. Whatever biological pathways that are responsible for desire, chemo throws a big monkey wrench in them. And for those that believe desire springs from the head? Maybe some does but feeling badly and knowing that you look hideous does not help much. No cute stranger tried to pick me up.

I spent all day yesterday...doing nothing. Hate being ill but I am going out today..I don't care how cold it is.

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