Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Autumn Leaves – or – Hair Today Gone Tomorrow

If – and that’s one big honkin’ rhetorical IF – there were a honeymoon phase to this little soirée, it is officially over. Of course, there have been a rough past couple of feverish days, then there’s the body re-boot, and now that the first round of medical bills is showing. My new reality of not being able to really work like I had hoped has made long-term disability a necessity. Please bear in mind, I am not sending out pity party invitations or asking anyone for anything, but I include it in my discussion because when life becomes overshadowed by a long-term illness, nothing escapes unscathed. While I went into this with both eyes open, actually walking through it is another thing entirely.

My hematologist was so sincere and sympathetic as she put her hand on my arm as I began chemotherapy. She said, “You know, you will lose your hair.” I smiled and said back in an equally sincere tone, “Yes, I know. I’ve seen the movie.” Everyone here knows me well enough now to expect me to be forever cracking jokes. Humor is how I’m coping. We’ve all seen the movies, the traumatic clumps of hair in the brush, the horrified looks, and so on. What those movies don’t tell you is that it’s not just the hair on your head – it’s EVERY hair on your body and it’s anyone’s guess where it starts or if it’s even in an area at all.

I had an inkling it was beginning now a good three weeks into this gig. I figured when I ran out of shampoo, I’d run out of hair and I think that’s going to hold true. It’s not like you feel it come out and since I keep my hair cut short, I haven’t actually used a comb since 2009. Not using a comb or brush hasn’t encouraged the deforestation of my mane, but I did notice the suds in the shower drain grating had a darker, grittier look to it today and sure enough, it’s a happenin’, boys and girls. Suffice it to say, today’s shower was an adventure into body image and a farewell (albeit temporary) to the stuff that science uses as a criteria for us being mammals.  Adding to that, since my normal temperature has been running 94° to 96°, maybe I’m a different sort of life form altogether! Suffice it to say, I’m not reveling in how much money I’ll be saving now that I won’t be needing my monthly haircuts and all the accoutrement into mane-tenance! Yeah, there’ll be time for all that again soon enough. It does grow back.
I have a couple of the beanie / skull caps, a handful of ball caps, and a number of cycling caps, but as I’ve generally worn caps for function rather than for appearance, I’m not sure which route I want to take as I maintain my own persona but functionally keep my head warm. Granted, it’s very common nowadays to see men with intentionally shaved heads, but there’s a distinct look to someone who has lost his hair to cancer – no stubble and likely no facial hair. So, while I’m no fashionista, I’m neither trying to call attention to the baldness nor am I trying to totally hide it.  Basically, I’m trying to find the best way to roll with it and essentially make it mine for the time I’m holding this poorly-dealt hand. And the other thing I’m trying to navigate is other peoples’ reactions. I empathize with the discomfort that cancer evokes in discussion; but in person, it can be multiplied. 

Part of me wants to make light of it by becoming a caricature of sorts like Kojak with the fedora and tootsie pop. Maybe I could sport one of those nifty English driving hats…but in reality, I just want to be comfortable in my own skin and more to the point, I want that skin on my head to be comfortable while there’s no hair to shield it from the sun…and I would be dishonest if I didn’t attribute a little vanity there as well. It’s an abrupt, unwelcome change, so while there are a number of things I’m working through internally, this one is right out there and in my face, literally. That ‘man in the mirror’ has a familiar look to him, but wow, he looks like he has taken a real licking! … but, yes, still ticking.

I have to wear these wonderful little yellow masks any time
I leave my room.  I want to use a Sharpie and write something
on my masks to make people smile. Note the last time I will
be sporting a full head of hair for quite some time!
The steady stream of white coats today found I was a boring subject as I had no pain they could question, no fever they could investigate, and no infection they could study under microscope. Their consensus: boring is good! I would tend to agree with their pronouncement as it relates medically. Now one particular item that was anything but boring came about this afternoon as my run with my buddy Flo was over and I was free of infusion lines (I’ve named my IV pole after the waitress with the “kiss my grits” attitude on the sitcom Alice – double entendre intentional). My daughter, Dassi, has been in town to help out, so this afternoon, along with my mom, sister, and niece, we all ventured beyond the confines of Building 1. For me, it was the first time outside since being admitted. Sharing laughs with the feel of sunshine and fresh air was more therapeutic than the pills and infusions. Yeah, I still had to wear the surgical mask, but it was a small price to pay for a little piece of happiness!

Be well, stay strong, much love to you all!