My hair began falling out the 14th day after the first chemotherapy infusion. In preparation, I bought a wig, styled and colored the same as my real hair. Like a feral animal, it perched on its stand, awaiting an opportunity.
When I saw the first ungodly huge handful of fallen hair I was too stunned to cry. Instead, I mumbled, "F***," repeatedly, like a demented chicken.
It didn't fall out all at once. Each morning for a week, I'd step out of the shower holding gobs of hair in my hands to prevent clogging the drain. After blow-drying what was left on my head, I'd take a pair of manicure scissors, like a naughty three-year-old, and try to even it out and disguise the bald patches. When I no longer could, a coworker's husband shaved my head while she collected the locks, tying them into small bundles with blue satin ribbons.
As I write this post, some scientists are searching for ways to prevent male baldness through genetic manipulation. Others are conducting similar research to cure cancer. Is hair really as significant a part of our identity as we are sold to believe?
After a time, I stopped wearing the wig. I preferred to cover my baldness with a red bandana, pirate style.
It was summertime, and I was at downtown Portland's Pioneer Square, when a young man wearing a pirate's black hat, white blouse with buckskin laces, black britches, and boots approached me. He clutched an authentic-looking sword. This was years before Johnny Depp made pirates sexy. Despite fatigue and chemo brain, I understood: "Oh, no, this guy sees my bandana. Pirate guy thinks he's found pirate girl." There was no place to run.
He spoke to me. "Ahoy! Me beauty, how art thee this fine afternoon?"
"I art fine, thanks," I replied. "Why are you dressed like a pirate? Is that sword real?"
He belonged to a society of people who dress like pirates and act out sword fights. I puzzled over what he wanted until he reached into his blouse and pulled up a goddess pendant dangling from a leather thong around his neck. He brought the goddess to his lips, kissed it, and then pointed to the carved turquoise goddess I had worn on a silver chain since my diagnosis.
"My fair Muse hails from Hungary, where she symbolized the female spirit of war and led her people to victory. I see you wear the Goddess yourself." Doffing his hat, he bowed before swaggering back into the crowd.
He had approached because of the necklace, not the bandana. He hadn't noticed that I was bald -- or had he? Did I just have an encounter with an eccentric or a very kind man dressed as a pirate offering encouragement?
He left me smiling. There is more to each of us than what we look like.
In what creative ways have your patients (or you) dealt with alopecia?