“Why are you patting your head?” It’s itchy.
Mum looked confused. I was watching TV, and every few seconds I would pat my head with the base of my palm. On the top, on the sides. I looked like a mad woman, but I didn’t want to scratch it.
I’d been told that a sensitive scalp was normal, and it would feel like each follicle would be crying for attention; or that my hair would feel like it had been pulled back tightly. It was driving me crazy. Every now and again I would scratch a part slightly, but quickly look to see if anything had come out.
That was the tail end of Christmas week. Five days ago I started shedding.
I have been told that when people think of me, they think of my hair. The sheer volume of it. The pace in which it grows. I don’t just have a lot of hair, I have a lot of thick hair.
For the most of my life I’ve had it long, but have fluctuated with bob length to shoulder length over the last few years. Last month I braved the cut. I was happy with how it looked. Suzy had told me cold cap would benefit me greatly. I followed instruction.
For two weeks post chemo my hair was the same as before. It had grown in fact, quite quickly. I was thinking of getting a tidy up with Lucy again. Then Tuesday night, I got up from my sofa and saw strands. Just a few strands, but enough for me to know it was starting.
Of all the side effects that everyone knows of chemo, it is hair loss. And of all the things that I dreaded the most, it is hair loss.
It doesn’t matter what anyone says to you. It doesn’t matter what suggestions you are given. It doesn’t matter how much you try and think “it will grow back” or “there are options”. I don’t think you can ever be prepared for hair loss.
Nothing can prepare you for that moment when a few strands on your blanket suddenly turn into subtle shedding on your top, to a brush of your hair where strand upon strand comes out.
NOTHING can prepare you for that!
I’d had a number of people tell me to get a wig, to go for trendy colours. I agreed, it would be fun. My chance to go crazy and be playful with it. I had other tells me that I should get a wig just in case, because it would be good for me. Or a head scarf. I would rock it well, they said.
But just like my surgery, I don’t want to lose my hair. I know it is happening, but it doesn’t mean I’m dealing with it. I’ve never been one of those people that wants to enhance my body in any way through extensions or replacements. It’s just never been me. And now, here I am. Six weeks post surgery, implant in place and I’m shedding like a pet does in a home. Stray hairs here and there.
I just don’t want a wig.
Four days after my last chemo, Delph and I headed to Raoul’s wig maker in Paddington. The LOC team had referred me to go there. The goal was to try some wigs on. Just in case. To give the team an idea of how my hair was naturally. To match the style. To see what worked. For the most part it was ok. I tried a few on. Most didn’t fit because of the volume of hair. The sizes weren’t quite right. It was a weirdly awkward experience.
Thursday last week, we headed back. I sat in the Jasmine room. The team had called telling me they had the larger sizes in. The difference this time was, every time I touched my hair, the strands would just come out. I cried. I had a mixture of emotions when the wigs would go on. Wig after wig, the team came in with different versions. They wouldn’t quite fit right. None of them fit right.
Liz and the team were as great as you can be. They measured my head from all angles. They explained that the wigs would require stretching if I needed it. They gave tips on what to do for the next chemo. To strap in that cold cap and make sure everything was as fitted as possible. They explained they could shave my head if I decided I wanted that.
I couldn’t even contemplate wearing a wig, let alone shaving my head. My hair is such a big part of my identity. It’s a part of me that I have grown to hate over the years when it is warm and humid, but grown to love when I don’t need to worry about volume or styling. My security blanket. My mane. So to contemplate a shaved head?
I took the wigs off when the team would leave the room. They just made me feel claustrophobic. When the wig cap came off, I was scared to brush my hair. It looked flat. I couldn’t see the back. I tried to do what I could. Delph took over. I don’t know how I would have managed doing this without her there.
I found a wig that “could” work, but based on how the next chemo sessions would go, I could get away with not having one.
“Cold cap seems to be working for you.”
I was back with Suzy at the LOC.
“A lot of patients after their first chemo have already lost hair. You may not lose it all”
Let’s hope so.
You see that’s the thing. If you were to see me now; you wouldn’t even know I’m shedding. To most, my hair looks like a perfectly normal amount to anyone else. To me, it’s flatter. To me, I constantly fiddle with the strands that are falling out. To me, I know I need to accept it. To me, that’s the bit I find hard.
So, for now, I hoover the carpet and brush my clothing. I discretely wipe the strands off the table during dinner, and I sit with a beanie on. Because this is now my interim security blanket. My beanie. And until I’ve figured out how I deal with it all, the beanie remains.