Hair Envy

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A strange thing has started to happen–people are telling me they love my hair.

This is not a completely new occurrence. Friends, family and coworkers who’ve witnessed this journey over the past year often comment on my wild mane of chemo curls. They know how excited I am to have some tresses of my own again, no matter how unruly they may be.

What’s odd is strangers or people who’ve met me since treatment and don’t know about my cancer making positive comments about my hair.

It happened the other day at Jersey Mike’s, of all places. I was in line and the shop owner–a chatty guy who gabs with all his customers–made a comment about my hair. He throws out compliments generously, so I wasn’t really surprised by his statement. It was the response of the woman standing in front of me in line that left me speechless.

She told me how she always noticed my hair when she’d see me in the restaurant (I have a weekly sandwich habit), wondering if she could make that cut work for her own curly tresses. She genuinely wanted hair like mine, hair that I’m often struggling to love.

It happened again at work. A new coworker has several times remarked how much she loves my hair, asking if it naturally curls like that. To avoid the awkward cancer explanation, I just smiled and nodded. “I’m so jealous,” she replied.

There are few things stranger than having someone tell you they’re jealous of your out-of-control chemo curls.

I recently got an actual haircut (adios, poufy mullet!), which has given my mane a bit of shape. I’m back to my old blonde, and I’m able to pin back pieces with bobby pins to give it some semblance of a style. All this to say: I don’t really hate my hair right now. I kind of dig it, actually.

But, it still feels weird to get compliments. I think it’s because for so long now, my bald head/short hair has been a symbol of my illness–an obvious clue that something is wrong with me.

Now it has gotten to a length that looks as though it were cut that way on purpose. And to the passing stranger or unsuspecting coworker, it doesn’t look any different than any other short hairdo.

It’s just another piece of the puzzle of putting my normal (whatever that means now) life back together. To the rest of the world, I no longer look like a cancer patient. It’s no longer obvious something terrible happened to me. And while part of me has a hard time reconciling that–since the trauma of it is still pretty fresh in my mind–I’m mostly glad to just look like everyone else.

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One Year Later

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It’s hard for me to believe this, but today marks one year since I last had chemo.

I know that’s kind of a weird anniversary to mark, but it signaled the end of the hardest part of my treatment, and a turning point in my treatment plan.

I was originally scheduled to receive four rounds of two drugs, Adriamycin (doxorubicin) and Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), followed by 12 rounds of Taxol. The AC regimen was tough. But I made it through.

Taxol was supposed to be a walk in the park compared to the cocktail of these two powerful drugs (Adriamycin is nicknamed “The Red Devil” both for its crimson hue and how it makes you feel). But I ended up being the special case that can’t tolerate the medication, and I became very ill. After two terrifying, uncomfortable weeks of fevers, headaches and MRIs, my still-depleted white blood cell count made it clear that the chemo was behind all my troubles.

At that point, my doctor decided to discontinue chemo and proceed with surgery because he feared continuing with the drug would damage my bone marrow. So, I missed the last 11 doses of Taxol. While I sometimes wonder if that will come back to haunt me in the future, I can’t say I was too upset about getting an early reprieve from chemo.

So, how am I today, one year after completing that part of treatment? Pretty good, all things considered.

Physically, I feel great. It’s funny because most of the actual feeling bad from having cancer came from the treatment, not the disease itself. Once I finished treatment, most of that unpleasantness (fever, headache, nausea, fatigue) went away. I’m still dealing with the side effects of menopause–which technically started with chemo and kicked into high gear after my oophorectomy–but that stuff is pretty manageable.

My hair is still a work in progress. A year ago I was completely bald, save about half a dozen little whispies that never fell out (my brave soldiers!). This was my hair about a week ago:

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As you can see, it’s still pretty curly. Although, I think the curl is starting to phase out a bit (the hair coming in at the roots seems straighter). I actually even had a real haircut last week, as the back was getting a bit long and unruly (I basically had a curly mullet).

I also lost a toenail due to chemo (a lovely side effect of Taxol), and that has almost completely grown back in.

Chemo can also cause lingering cognitive issues (chemo brain). While I certainly have my moments of fogginess, I’m not sure they can be chalked up to chemo.

Last week at my checkup, my blood work showed my white blood cell count slightly down. My oncologist said this was normal in someone who’s had chemo, though, so I guess the lingering effects of the drug can still mess with my immunity, too.

So, where am I with treatment now? I am essentially done, save the adjuvant therapy I’ll be on for the next decade. That’s a pill I take every day called Tamoxifen. Since my cancer is estrogen-receptive (estrogen basically feeds it), Tamoxifen works to block estrogen from feeding cells and causing them to become cancerous. Some people have a lot of difficulty with this drug, but thankfully I’ve handled it pretty well thus far.

At this point, I’m mostly just dealing with all the emotional aftermath and figuring out how to move forward in my life. That’s getting better every day, too, and I’ve learned some new coping mechanisms to help me along the way.

Cancer treatment is a long process. I don’t think I fully understood that even at this point a year ago. But standing here now, I’m thankful to have come as far as I have in this past year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cancer Chic

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The lovely Anna Crollman

While I never wanted to be diagnosed with cancer, having this disease has led to me meeting some pretty amazing people.

Anna Crollman is one of them. I discovered Anna’s fabulous blog, My Cancer Chic, while scouring Pinterest for tips on making my post-chemo hair grow back. Anna’s also a young breast cancer survivor, and she started the blog two years ago after struggling to find resources for beauty and style guidance for those during and post treatment and surgery.

And in a small world-type moment, I realized that Anna lives just down the road from me in North Carolina. So, I thought she and her blog would be a great subject for a fashion and beauty column I write for The News & Observer of Raleigh.

One thing Anna and I talked about during our chat was how alone young breast cancer patients can feel because most of the women diagnosed with this disease are not among our peer group. She does a great job of providing resources and inspiration to women of all ages dealing with this disease, but particularly those of us who are under 40.

If you’re in treatment, a survivor or just interested in great beauty and wellness tips from a stylish, vibrant young woman, I encourage you to check the blog out!

Adventures in Hair Growing

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I’ve always had a lot of hair.

As a kid, I would suffer through sob-inducing post-bath de-tangling sessions with my mom, her hands nearly cramping from raking a comb through my long, matted hair.

In my 20s, I went to a stylist who called over some of her coworkers to show them exactly how much hair was on my head–circus freak-style. And my poor current stylist would sometimes have to take breaks while coloring, cutting and styling my hair during the waning months of her first pregnancy.

Of course, all that changed with chemo.

But here’s the good news (besides that clean path report): My hair is growing back!

And boy, is it growing back weird.

In Cancerland (that sounds like the world’s worst theme park, doesn’t it?), they call the situation I’ve got going on “chemo curls.” My hair is about an inch long, and in the back especially, it is curly. Really curly. Shirley Temple with a Richard Simmons perm curly.

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This really doesn’t even begin to capture the ringlet action I have going on back there.

Apparently, this is another fun side effect of the chemo. A friend who’s much smarter than me when it comes to matters of science explained that the chemo curls happen because even though it’s been months since I’ve had a treatment, the lingering effects of the drugs remain in my system. That’s kind of crazy to think about. That’s also why after six months to a year, the hair starts growing back as it normally would (in my case, not curly).

In the meantime, I have no clue what to do with this mess on my head. I’ve tried all manner of taming methods–texturizers, headbands, etc. I’ve also played around with the color a bit. For a while, I thought I might like to be a redhead. Then I realized, nope, what I really want is to be blonde again. It’s weird, but even though my blonde comes out of a bottle, it makes me feel more like me.

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Like a sexy Medusa robot

So, I went to the salon a couple weeks ago to get some highlights. I was amazed that the stylist was able to put my short, kinky strands in foils. That is some next-level styling, right there.

The result isn’t exactly where I was before, but a step in the right direction to looking more like the me I see in my mind’s eye.

That’s the thing about this whole losing my hair process–in my mind, it never really happened. When I imagine in my mind’s eye how I look, I look as I always have with long, blonde hair. It is truly jarring sometimes to catch a glimpse of my reflection and see how I really look.

I get lots of compliments on my short hair. A lot of the time, I think people are just being nice because they feel sorry for me having gone through this shit. Sometimes the compliments come from strangers, though, so I think they might be genuine. Regardless, while I appreciate being told I look “cool” or “sassy” or whatever, I can’t really love this hair. While I’m very grateful to have it at all, the current state of my tresses is just a constant reminder that something really bad happened. And something really bad could happen again.

So, I’ll let it keep growing. And hopefully I’ll figure out a way to grow with it.

Feelin’ Myself

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I don’t know what it is–maybe it’s the new year–but I’ve been in a mood this week.

And that mood has been decidedly good.

I’ve really been “feelin’ myself,” as the young folks might say. What exactly does that mean, you might ask? Well, according to the Urban Dictionary:

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Yep, that really does sum it up. I went back to work in the office yesterday, and it felt SO good to be back. I love my job, and I love my coworkers, so I really missed being in the office every day with them. And they all welcomed me back so warmly–the day was like one big warm fuzzy.

And on top of that, I missed having that nice, normal routine of getting up and leaving the house to do something every day. It just felt so nice to get back to something that feels so familiar.

I’m also starting to embrace my growing-in hair. I’m honestly just grateful to have enough to cover my scalp, but beyond that, I’m actually starting to get into the look. And it helps that I’ve gotten lots of compliments on my hair from my very kind coworkers. While the wig I wore before more closely resembled my old hair, it never looked or felt right to me–something about it was just off. What I’m rocking now is MINE, and while it doesn’t look like what I had before, it looks right because it’s me.

Physically, I’m still recovering from surgery, but I feel so much better and have my next surgery planned, so I have a timeline for when I’m going to look more “normal.” My body is still pretty rough, but I’m coming to terms with it and looking for fabulous new clothes to cover it (any excuse to shop!).

So, if you see me walking around these days, you might notice I have a little more pep in my step. It’s because it’s 2017, and I’m feelin’ myself in the new year. I hope you are, too!

 

I Miss My Hair

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Last night, I dreamed I had hair.

I was walking through a hotel lobby, wearing a cute dress and kind of bouncing with a little swagger in my step. And as I walked, I could feel my long hair bouncing along with me. I remember in the dream touching it, surprised, because I couldn’t believe it was actually there.

I miss my hair so much. I know this is a silly, vain thing. I know that in the grand scheme of things, this is such a minor inconvenience. I know that I should just be grateful that my treatments appear to be working, and the side effect of losing my hair is a small price to pay. I acknowledge all of this.

But, I still miss it.

I run my hands over the fuzz that’s left on my head, willing it to grow and multiply. My oncologist told me that it could start growing back while I’m on Taxol, and I’m trying so hard not to get overly excited at that prospect, lest it not actually happen.

I look at other people out in public, envying them and their full heads of hair. I feel like people with beautiful hair are everywhere. And I’m so jealous of them.

I gaze wistfully at my hair products and appliances, seeing them gather dust in my bathroom. I still shampoo my head, which is kind of silly since there’s so little actual hair there, but it feels better to me to at least use a little something.

I got a pretty nice wig, but to be perfectly honest, I hate wearing it. It looks so fake to me (even though it has fooled quite a few people at my job), it gets hot and itchy, and it has a weird smell. I thought wigs would be fun, but I think they’re more fun when you’re not forced to wear them. I much prefer just wearing my beat-up old ballcap that I’ve had since high school.

So, I’m just watching and waiting, hoping to see some growth.

It’s Just Hair

I cut my hair this week.

Knowing that it’s going to fall out once I start chemo, I figured it would be easier to deal with that loss if less hair was actually hitting the floor/shower/pillow.

A haircut might not sound like a big deal, but for a long hair devotee like me, it’s a major change. How major? This is the last time I had short hair:

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In case you can’t tell by my amazing fashion and way-cool Geo Storm, this is 1999.

That’s right folks, I haven’t had short hair since the ’90s, when I was growing out my Dharma & Greg haircut (I also had the Rachel–I was really into sitcom hair back then).

I love my long hair. It’s thick and shiny and pretty.

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R.I.P., long hair.

I told my stylist about my cancer diagnosis, and she was understandably shocked and saddened. She’s been styling my hair for nearly a decade now, and she and I have known each other through getting married, buying houses, having kids–all the big stuff.

Since she knows me so well, I knew she’d be able to help me through this process. We decided on a sassy layered bob. I probably should have gone shorter, but this was already pretty drastic for me, so I decided to stick with what felt comfortable.

But first, I had to take care of my roots.

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Sex-ay!

I know it was probably stupid to spend good money on highlights for hair that’s going to fall out in a few weeks, but getting my color done just felt normal and good. I need every chance I can get to feel normal and good right now.

The actual process of getting my hair cut wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. A few snips and it was gone. And once my amazing stylist was finished, I actually felt excited about my new ‘do.

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Hello, awkward selfie.

I know this look won’t last long, but I’m enjoying it while I can. In fact, I’m actually thinking about staying short once my hair grows back in.

I know the real hair drama is still ahead of me. My stylist made me promise to call her when I’m ready for the clippers. I know that cut will be different and much less fun. But, hair grows back, and right now I’m trying to remember that it’s a small price to pay to meet a much greater goal.