Owning the hair loss process

This is why I had my head shaved before starting chemo.

When you are facing a cancer diagnosis, one of the most upsetting parts of this new reality is brought sharply into focus. Any illusion of control that you thought you had over your life is gone.

You are at this weird standstill – an emotional purgatory where you really aren’t able to give much thought to future plans because all of it hinges upon what the next test result discovers. Plus, there are typically days and weeks of waiting for critical, what does my future hold results. It completely sucks.

Even when you are strong in faith, you’re still human, and being on the receiving end of this kind of news, (i.e., it might be treatable, but then again it might be terminal) is, to say the least, chilling.

I distinctly remember sitting on the edge of the exam table in my breast surgeon’s office when she gave me the news that the second lumpectomy revealed more extensive disease. Up to that point, I hadn’t really worried too much. But in that moment, as I tried my best to listen to everything she was saying despite the pounding in my ears and mounting inner fear, I privately wondered “Oh my gosh, am I going to die from this?”

Shortly after that appointment, my husband and I met with the chemo nurse. Over the course of an hour, she went over the possible regimens, side effects, risks and patient acknowledgements we needed to be aware of before moving forward. It was a lot to take in; once we got back to the car, no one was in the mood to pick where we should go to lunch, despite the fact that we were both hungry. Instead, we just sat in the car and had ourselves a good, brief, but very necessary what in the actual hell cry.

Then, like any self-respecting Texans would do, we went out for Mexican.

As we both took time to process the deluge of new, scary and overwhelming information, we did our own research on all the things and then came back together to talk brass tacks.

For me, I told him it was a priority to own the hair loss process. I wasn’t the least bit interested in waiting for my hair to fall out on its own, as I’d read too many accounts of the literal mess it creates, falling out unevenly and haphazardly, to say nothing of how jarring it is for women to see themselves in this state when they look in the mirror. My mind was already swirling with enough possible scenarios already; adding to the mix any chance of chaotic hair everywhere in the house except for on my head sounded awful.

So I called Lucy, my friend and hair stylist since we first moved to Texas, and we hatched a plan. A week before my first infusion, we would shave my head in her private salon suite. The privacy was important to me as this was all still very new and I did not want to go to a Sports Clips with everyone and their brother observing.

I had no idea how I would react, and this just isn’t the kind of thing where you want the peanut gallery watching. It’s emotional and intimate – I couldn’t bear the thought of having a bunch of onlookers spectating.

Another dear friend, Lauren, is a professional photographer in the area (local peeps, you’ve likely seen her work in Living Magazine – she’s crazy talented). Lauren has experienced cancer-related loss in her own life, and ministered to me in a beautiful way using her God-given photography skills. At several key points throughout active treatment, Lauren chronicled the moments, including the images I share in this post. She continues to bless me with her friendship, her life wisdom and her good heart.

The Walden boys of course wanted to show their support for soon to be bald me as well, so Rett and I reluctantly agreed to let our son get a mohawk (thankfully Rett just stuck with a head shave himself).

And so what could have been a really difficult afternoon instead turned out to be a celebration of sorts. It was like this all-out declaration that we were going to fight like hell the whole way through. Not only that, we were going to have each other’s backs, even when the going would get tough (we had no idea then just how tough).

I teared up a time or two during the head shave, but for the most part, I felt like an empowered and well-supported badass.

By the time I was 19 days out from the first chemo administration, the little hairs that had grown since my head shave were falling out. I’d wake up to find little brown fuzzies all over my pillow.

It affected me more than I thought it would, given that I had taken charge and proactively had my head shaved. While I wasn’t outright depressed (yet, more on that topic later), this was irrefutable confirmation that this is really real, and I could now expect to start losing hair everywhere.

Even still, if I had to do it all over again, I would 1000% repeat having my head shaved upfront. It will always be emotional, as it signals the loss that is taking place – and it drastically changes your appearance. As I read from a wise survivor the other day (wish I could l remember her name to give credit where it’s due), “Yes, it’s just hair but it’s my hair. Cancer-related hair loss is not the same as deciding to cut your hair short.”

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