One Year of Hair After Cancer


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August marked one year since I shaved my head just two weeks after my first round of chemotherapy. I knew the hair loss was coming and decided ahead of time to shave at the first signs of clumps on my pillow. As I wrote in Waiting for Hair: The Toll of Chemotherapy, “Losing my hair wasn’t hard – waiting for it to grow back has been the most challenging.” I still stand by this statement.

When treatment ended, I became obsessed with taking a daily photo so I could see the progress. A watched pot never boils; this saying applies to hair growth, too. It seemed the day I stopped taking regular photos, it started growing like a weed.

Another daily task was scouring Pinterest for secret solutions. I put castor and peppermint oils in my shampoo. I massaged my head to wake up the hair growth follicles. I took biotin. The result: a freakish amount of blond hair on my earlobes that was never there before. Once a friend commented on my unusual amount of ear hair, I stopped and deleted this Pinterest board.

I’m happy to be past the point where unusually short hair prompts a conversation. I loved when other survivors approached me with their words of wisdom and encouragement, but there were also those who opened their mouths without thinking. For instance, there was the TSA official who asked, “What did you cut your hair for?”

With a sarcastic smile, I replied, “It wasn’t voluntary.”

I’m not sure he ever got it, but I questioned his intelligence for commenting on a woman’s hair in the first place.

I shared this story with a fellow survivor who advised me to respond to this question by saying, “I survived cancer!” This prompts celebration and not pity or surprise or embarrassment for asking. Great advice.

After about two months of growth, I looked in the mirror and saw a mullet staring back at me. Initially, I planned to tough it out as I grew it out. My philosophy was, why would I cut off perfectly good hair? However, the mullet lead to a change in strategy. If my hair was going to be short, it might as well be cute and short. Now I go for haircuts every month and only during the last week do I look like Joe Dirt.

For a while, I threatened my husband to dye it purple or pink or that wonderful grey that is so in style. I was in the, “I just survived cancer and I’ll do as I darn well please,” phase. But the reality is, I’m too chicken, which I find funny considering a year ago I was walking around with a bald head and couldn’t care less. Oh, how cancer changes perspectives constantly.

Whenever I’m frustrated with the current status of my hair, I stop myself and say a prayer of gratitude that I have any hair at all, because not so long ago I didn’t. I also think about those in the place where I was a year ago. Like everything in life and in cancer, it is a journey. And as the saying goes, it’s the journey and not the destination.

However, my next destination might be extensions. Stay tuned.

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And here’s a photo summary of my hair re-growth:

A Vacation from Cancer



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Last week my husband and I traveled to the Dominican Republic for the vacation I’ve been craving since beginning chemotherapy last July. Long before we departed, a pact was made. The island was declared a cancer-free zone. There was to be no mention of the “c” word. Doing so was punishable by a contribution to the swear jar, changing the kitty litter for the rest of the year, or, the worst task of all, laundry.

We were quickly reminded what time of the year it was as the beach was packed with college students. At first, nothing made me feel more old and uncool than having a post-surgery chemo body, avoiding alcohol due to a regenerating liver and rising when our fraternity brother neighbors were coming in from a night of fun. Initially, I was a bit jealous and irritated, but I then decided the carefree and fun environment wasn’t such a bad thing. They were on spring break and I was on a cancer break.

For eight full days, we pretended as if it never happened. I read four books, napped under a palm tree, swam in the warm Caribbean Sea and tipped the beach waiter enough that I never saw the empty bottom of my drink. My husband played hours of beach volleyball and kept a diet of fresh tropical fruits. Both of us played and rested hard. It was absolutely glorious.

A break makes so much sense for cancer patients. Our bodies require rest and relaxation, especially when they’re recovering or fighting an intruder. Treatments, appointments, paperwork, recovering and medications alone are all exhausting. Throw in a job, family or anything else, and fatigue and stress are two things that are guaranteed. And what happens when we’re stressed and fatigued? Our immune system is lowered, leaving us more susceptible to disease. Workers are given vacation time to avoid burnout and recharge their batteries. Students are given breaks to rest their brains. If anyone needs or deserves some time off, it’s cancer patients and their families.

Now, I know everyone can’t take a vacation or a cancer break. When I was in treatment, I had several appointments a week, making a getaway impossible. And when I wasn’t at the hospital, I felt horrible. Also, cancer can devastate finances and the ability to earn income, making a trip low on the priority list compared to paying for treatment and living expenses. So, if these situations apply to you, let me pull out my magic wand, wave it around your current space and hereby declare you on a cancer-free island.

Now go make yourself a drink and do something fun for the next hour, day or week. Remember, no mention of the “c” word.  And most importantly, enjoy. You deserve and need it!

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