Not Long and Beautiful

There are some issues that get talked about quite a bit in cancer. I admit, some of them were huge issues for me, like the Dumb Shit People Say to Cancer Patients—but I’m kinda over that now. I do revisit the topic if something happens that grinds my gears, then I write a post, thinking to myself, “OK, I’ve overdone that topic, don’t want to write about it anymore.” Ha ha, until the next time. The Dumb Shit will always irritate me, but just less than it used to in the first confusing, angry, depression-filled months after my treatment ended.

Hair was not a big issue for me either. Of course, I did write about it in a guest post elsewhere, but that was enough—or so I thought. (Read the old post here, but I’ll sum up and refer to the finer points in this post.)

I’ve heard some tales in CancerLand that some women found the loss of hair more emotionally challenging than loss of breast tissue. Not so for me, and I only had a lumpectomy that left me lopsided and single-nippled (is that a word? it is now). As much as I find the “don’t worry it will grow back” comment insensitive when said to me, deep down, I knew it would grow back–unlike my nipple. So that is how I rationalized that the hair loss was of less importance than breast surgery.

Where it gets complicated for me is the old myth that my hair would grow back better, stronger, and curlier. I always had curly hair, and having my regrowth even curlier was and remains a problem. A big, fuzzy, my-head-looks-like-a-dandelion kind of problem.

Now, as I said in that old post, I do not mean to diminish the very real sadness many women feel about going bald. But for me, it was more of a symbolic problem. When I had long hair before cancer, the first thing I did each morning was pull my hair into a messy bun or ponytail to get it out of my face. During my time of chemo baldness, I’d reach up each morning to get the non-existent hair out of my face, only to find myself grabbing air. I was cruelly reminded each morning, before even managing to get totally awake: “oh right, I have cancer.” I never got a moment’s respite.

When the hair (ALL the bodily hair, again, that is what that old post is about) began to return, I vowed to let all my hair grow back–long, beautiful hair, just like that hippy dippy song says. But, I did go back to some very private hair removal for a VERY good reason (again, covered in the old post, click above). And since writing that post, within the past 8 months or so, yes, I’ve even resumed eyebrow waxes. So my “let it grow, let it grow” phase was nearly over.

As of the other day I can officially declare my let it grow mantra kaput. I was having an extraordinarily bad hair day. I heard myself mutter, “maybe I should just shave it all off.”

Whoa.

Some of the bitter moments during treatment would find me remembering how I’d wanted to just shave all my hair off on a bad hair day, and kicking myself for taking my hair for granted. I vowed to never make that half-joking comment again. But, I did.

So how did it come to this? This is where the myth, told to me by a few well-meaning souls, of hair coming back thicker and better, proves to be just that: myth. My hair has become more unmanageable each day post-cancer treatment; it is not thick and lustrous. It is coarse, thin, frizzy-curly, and just awful. That vow to be grateful is forgotten, and here I am, not only taking it for granted, but saying what I used to say in my younger carefree days, “….(sigh)….I should just shave it off”.

Because I over-think everything, seek symbolic meaning where it should not be sought, of course I began to rack my brain for other lapses I might have committed as my treatment days recede into memory. Are there other bad habits I indulged, or things I once took for granted that I now take for granted again?

I cannot think of anything right now, but I am on alert. I mean, I certainly do NOT take my health for granted like I did. On the contrary, I constantly scan for aches and pains, miniscule changes in anything, because I am sure I’m in a downward health spiral, what with cancer and just plain being over 40. I’m not the sappy, mushy, treacly type (I’m more lemon-acid-sour), so I never had some big clichéd epiphany of “life is precious, I’ll be a better person”, so overdone in mainstream cancer stories. I think perhaps I’ve slipped back into some fatalistic thinking again lately: “oh everything causes cancer, just eat what I want, do what I want, it is unavoidable”. This is in stark contrast to the first post treatment years of carefully avoiding nail polish and eating or drinking out plastic containers. I know that is irrational; one self-applied manicure and one microwaved dinner by themselves maybe won’t push my cells into unrestrained division to form a tumor. But I avoided those things right after treatment as more of superstition. Like I know stepping on cracks would never break my mother’s back—yet I’ve never intentionally stepped on one. (My mother is highly superstitious to the point of never walking out a different door of a building than the one she used to enter, because she thinks it causes bad luck. Of course, I make a point to use different doors to drive her crazy, because sometimes I just like to push people’s buttons—what can I say? I can be a brat for fun.)

OK, OK. This whole post is an exercise in overthinking dumb shit. And maybe being too hard on myself simply because I had a bad hair day.

On the other hand, maybe it is time for a drastic haircut, time to let go of the long hair to which I’ve formed an unhealthy attachment. Cancer made some terrible physical changes for me. It is time to adapt.

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Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

18 thoughts on “Not Long and Beautiful”

  1. I can relate to this!!

    Let me first say, that I made a loud noise when I read this part of your post, “…o I never had some big clichéd epiphany of ‘life is precious, I’ll be a better person’, so overdone in mainstream cancer stories.” I said, “damn right!!!” and scared my cat. Not your fault. I grew up watching Mexican novelas.

    Losing my hair wasn’t a big issue at all but exposing my bald head to the public was because I didn’t want to get any kind of attention. I must admit, when the rest of my body hair started to grow back, I was pissed. And even now I remember my “chemo days” as those days when I didn’t have to pull a hair from my chin. The difference between now and before cancer is that I now allow nature to take its place. I don’t stress the hair on my body as much as I used to.

    I keep my hair short, as you know, because it is my new comfort zone. And let me tell you, it’s a lot less of a hassle. I know what you mean when you talk about your long hair getting in your way. For me it did, in many ways. I feel more “free” now that I have shorter hair.

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    1. Oh my stars–yes! The hair on the chin! But guess what–mine never fell out (and oddly enough, the few grey hairs I missed during the head shave hung on as well–I WATCHED). I did pluck out that chin hair and it was one of the first things to come back, figures, right?!

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      1. Many people I know were very disappointed my chin hairs came back so quickly. They were wishing, like me, they weren’t back at all. I really hate those hairs.

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  2. I really enjoyed this post. I was one who mourned the loss of my follicles more than the cancer itself…at first. While I am also on constant cancer watch, with every single little ache, pain or pimple, I have to admit, once my hair grew back into something that made me look more like ME, others noticed I seemed to actually BE me again….only with a new found neurosis. Ok, obsessions. I never have a “bad hair day” anymore. Any day with hair is a good hair day to me, but yeah, I have found myself taking it, and many other things for granted. Loosening up the rigid avoidences I adopted pretty much at diagnosis. And no, having had bc hasn’t made me at all any stronger or fearless or ticking items off a bucket list…. Seems like I have overblogged on those topics. Sorry to say, bout to do it again. I so enjoy reasing your posts! xx

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    1. Your hair in your pictures always looks so wonderful! Man, I get what you are saying about the rigidity that came with Dx. And yes, I’ve been thinking lately, especially as I wrote about my hair (which is not of great interest to me), I keep going off on the same topics. Oh well, still have much to say on those things I guess–sigh. Thanks I love your posts too, you know! xoxx

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  3. Don’t get me started on hair… I hated losing mine during chemo, just hated it and it drives me crazy still when I hear people tell someone about to lose hers that it’s only hair, or it’ll grow back. Both true, but only to a point. Like you said, growing back better seems to be a big myth. My hair today sucks and before cancer it was one of my better features. I attribute my hair’s demise to chemo and now being on an AI. So just another thing cancer took from me. No, not a big deal, but I get so tired of giving away bits and pieces of my femaleness to this darn disease. Boy, that felt good to say. I supposed we do over-analyze everything, or as you said, over-think every thing. That sorta sounds better. But this is par for the course following cancer don’t you think? Anyway, enjoyed your post. Good luck with deciding what to do about that hair cut.

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    1. I’m sorry to hear you have the same view–that hair coming back better is a myth. But then, I think at least I’m not the only one-and that I CAN attribute my hair’s revolt on cancer, I’m not crazy for blaming cancer, (I’m sure some folks would just dismiss my fussing as old age stuff). And goodness yes I’ve been over-thinking way too many things lately–and I don’t wanna think about my hair. I guess that is a mark in the “pro” column for getting a drastic cut, ha ha. Thanks for the wish of luck–I’m sure I’ll chew on the decision all summer…..

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  4. A few months before my diagnosis, I cut my long, long hair into a short bob, a drastic change. My long-most-of-my-life best-feature hair. I think having it cut before the diagnosis helped me to be so pragmatic about its loss, since I’d taken such a big leap already.

    I do encourage you to try different things with your hair. If you’re not happy with it, try something new. I know of some women who ended up continuing to shave their heads and use wigs, instead of going back to their natural hair. And there’s women who have short, nearly-buzz cuts without even being sick. Find a hairstyle that works for you. You are under no obligation to let your hair grow out, and cutting it short or even shaving it off is not a betrayal.

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    1. You know it’s funny–I’m not one to say something like I faced cancer so I can face anything else. I’m more like, I faced cancer therefore I should not have to face anything (but that’s another post). But I catch myself thinking that since I’ve been bald before (due to cancer), if I do drastically go short again, even if I hate it, I won’t be as perturbed about it as some think I might be. Even if I hate it, it will be temporary–so what the heck? Thanks!

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  5. I was told the same things about how my hair would grow back thicker, curlier, better–even though I had nice, straight thick hair. I remember at the time thinking how odd the comment was, that there was some benefit to come from losing my hair as a result of chemo. When it grew back, the texture was different and not what I would call “better”. This is a myth I agree, and hearing it at the time simply felt strange.

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  6. I had been proud of my long wavy hair and took losing it hard, always wore a wig, scarf, or hat in public (and usually at home – it was that or break the mirrors). Yet, I knew in my heart, hair loss was temporary, mastectomy, even with eventual reconstruction, was a permanent and much more difficult loss both emotionally and physically.
    BTW, you are right that hair does NOT return better. Mine came back thin and grey. Even my eyebrows and eyelashes came back grey. Hair on legs came back still brown. How unfair is that?

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    1. I had lots of grey when it came back as well–although I chalked that up to always having artificial color in my hair prior to cancer, I thought when it grew back that I was finally seeing the real color in years!
      In some ways I’m more upset about the hair loss now than I was then. I “knew” it was the least of my worries back then–given that the surgery was going to have a permanent impact. But given all the trouble I’m having with it–it seems more of an upsetting piece of a package: things cancer ruined in my body.
      Thanks for commenting!

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  7. CC – I wish I could be as expressive as you. I admire you for it and hope to continue reading your posts for a long time. (Not that you should have cancer for a long time…you know what I mean!)

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  8. Love this post!

    Oh, hair…the whole cancer treatment process does such weird things to all of it. My hair has always been one of my better features, but I’m so not into fussing with it. I didn’t have to have IV chemo, so I didn’t have to face the prospect of losing it, so I don’t know how I would have reacted to that. I have this silly theory about not having to get IV chemo. Prior to being diagnosed, I had donated my hair twice over the years to organizations that make wigs for people who’ve lost their hair to cancer treatment, first to one for kids, second to one for women w cancer. So, when I didn’t have to have IV chemo & consequently lose my hair, I liked to jokingly theorize that maybe it was because I had paid tribute twice to the Angry Chemo Goddess, and she let me off the hook.

    On the other hand, I did get folliculitis during radiation, and lost all the little hairs on my breast as well as my underarm hair. No great loss there, although I could have done without the burns, the swelling, the respiratory infection, and the lifelong scar tissue and cording. I used to have a veritable thatch of hair on my legs, but assiduous waxing over the years has gotten rid of most of that. The big surprise was that oral chemo, in the form of tamoxifen, turned the hair on my head into a pile of broken straw. My hairdresser used to drown it in conditioner, but it still looked like something gathered up in a hay rake. After a year of tamoxifen, I had to quit it — not because of my hair, but because it was turning my brain to straw as well, and contributing to massive fatigue. I can’t take AIs because of a family history of osteoporosis, so, after a rather intense discussion with my med onc, I quit tamixofen. After about a year, the hair on my head stopped looking like straw.

    Honestly, you’d think cancer treatment was a conspiracy against hair…

    Also, love “I’m not the sappy, mushy, treacly type (I’m more lemon-acid-sour)…” LOL. Heck, yeah! And damn glad you are! Me, too, in case anyone hadn’t already noticed. xoxo, Kathi

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  9. A conspiracy against hair! Yes it IS! Funny now that you mention it, I cannot for the life of me remember if the hair on my arms went away. I do remember not shaving my legs for a few weeks. My thick (but light-color) eyebrows sure got odd and patchy, of course.
    So glad to be in your lemon-acid-sour company and so glad you glad I’m that way (and not the constant downer I presume most folks think I am).

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