The Scariest Thing of all - Going Bald
What Happens when a Girlie-Girl Becomes Chemo Girl?
Never mind the sleepless nights, worrying about the needle pricks to come. Forget about the seemingly endless nausea and the pills meant for schizophrenics repurposed for vomit prevention. Ignore the fatigue, appetite loss and weight gain. What's the worst thing that happens to a girlie-girl on chemo? It's simple. Going bald. Losing one's hair, eyelashes, eyebrows and sometimes even nails is most definitely a nightmare.
When I heard about my breast cancer diagnosis I was so frightened. The fact that this cancer could take my life, that I would have to have a double mastectomy and reconstruction, that chemotherapy and radiation were on the table and ten years of taking a hormone blocker to follow were terrifying! And then I remembered how my Mom lost her hair and I immediately slumped into a depression. I joined positive breast cancer support groups on line, but the only things I could focus on were the horror stories of infection, pain and nausea. The bald women who posted photos of themselves in hopes of receiving positive comments about their appearance (and they did receive endless encouraging replies) scared me. "Will I be like that?" Their biggest complaint was they were called "sir" in public places. I commended them, for I found these women to be strong and powerful, but I would NEVER be seen in public without hair. I just couldn't do it. My self esteem is too tied up in my appearance, and well, while that doesn't seem very enlightened, it is the truth of how I operate.
I was married on February 22, 2022 at 2:22 PM at the park in Sarasota Florida. At the time, my biopsy had been done and we were waiting for results. I knew the results were to be breast cancer at the time as my mom had it twice and died from complication in 2019. My fiancé and I had been together since March of 2017, and so far we had been through his heart attack, 6 months of painful dental implant surgeries (his), a knee replacement (his), establishing my late husband's estate (a nightmare) but many wonderful experiences as well. Like loving unconditionally and buying a beautiful boat we could live on and finally moved on it in 2021! We knew we could handle this cancer diagnosis and treatment together and I knew I could count on him. He is as enthusiastic about my wigs and make-up as I am and is a wonderful partner. I call him the Master of the Moment! But enough of him. Because remember? This is about me!!
At the time of this writing, I am finished with my Double Mastectomy (I have painful expanders in my chest which get filled every few weeks until my desired size) and I am halfway through my 5 months of chemo. I have mixed feelings about chemo. Yes its hard, yes it's tiring, nauseating and frightening. Endless sticks in the arm for labs, weekly sticks in my sensitive port for infusions. Its tiring and frightening just waiting for the side effects to kick in. But the Master of the Moment constantly reminds me of the now. He asks me leading questions like "how do you feel now?" the answer to which is almost "pretty good" (except the day of and a few days after chemo). And then probes - "Do you want to feel good? Then be grateful for how good you feel now" This really helps to take me out of the fear and put me in a place of gratitude, acceptance and happiness. The Master of the Moment tells me that you can only think of one thing at a time, and if it's positive, I will feel positive. And so far, he has been right about this. Sometimes I want to fight it. But if I surrender to the moment, I can always feel better.
So this is me now. Middle aged, bald, a few eyelashes and barely any eyebrows. Of course I have make-up on. I have on scrubs because I still work part time as a speech language pathologist in home health care. I have a love-hate relationship with work but I am grateful I still get to do it. I have been an SLP for over 30 years, and helped may people through their cancer care, mostly head, neck and GI.
My treatment plan was revealed to me after my biopsy. I had ER positive, PR negative, HER-2 negative cancer. A rare brand, as most are PR and ER positive, HER-2 negative. This meant that I had a particularly aggressive cancer. not in its growing speed but in its rate of recurrence. The doctors informed me that I would have to treat this thing very aggressively. I would have to have a type of chemo called "Red Devil" aka AC 1 time every two weeks for 2 month for a total of 4 infusions, then Taxol weekly for 12 weeks, followed by 30 shots of radiation Monday through Friday everyday, followed by 5 to 10 years of hormone blocker pills. I got to keep my ovaries and uterus because I am post menopausal. I would have to have a mastectomy but opted for a double since my recurrence rate was so high and I wanted some symmetry to my breasts. My nipples would not be spared and another nipple reconstruction would have to be done as well areola tattooing. Needless to say, the treatment plan was terrifying. And while still in the thick of it, I can safely say that it still is. IF I focus on that.
About 3 weeks prior to starting chemo I had my hair cut to a chin length bob. It was thinning at the time anyway due to the cancer. I was 126 lbs, having lost quite a bit of weight in the 2 years prior to my diagnosis. The weight loss was gradual and healthy, but when people saw me, they thought I was a little too skinny. And I have to admit, when I looked in the mirror, I looked a bit too skinny myself. Anyway, I got used to seeing myself in short hair before starting cancer treatment intentionally, so the shock of having no hair would not be too intense. It worked. Because about 14 days after my first chemo treatment my hair began to fall out rapidly. My husband took electric sheers and cut my hair down to about 1/4 of an inch and from there it stayed. I lost about 75% of it and still have about 25% left, which doesn't grow. It is still stagnant. I lost about 75% of my eyebrows and 90% of my eyelashes. I lost all my body hair, but I don't mind that.
Instead of slumping into deep depression, I became determined to "stay pretty". I bought a multitude of wigs (some wonderful, some horrible), fake eyelashes (again, hit or miss), eyebrow pencils, stronger foundation to cover my darkening splotchy skin, watched YouTube tutorials on wigs and makeup and began my journey into reinventing myself. I have learned so much along the way. Today I even started a TikTok channel called Chemo Girl Rocks Wigs and Makeup and I hope to teach other women with cancer how to stay healthy and beautiful.
This has been quite a journey, with so much more to come!!