When I think back on my treatment days, I always think about my hair loss. It was one of the first questions I asked my oncologist when I was diagnosed, and it was a side effect of chemo that caused me the most stress, especially long term. When I take a step back, it amazes me that out of all the fear and pain caused by cancer treatment, hair loss was the focus of so much anxiety. I felt shallow for caring about it as much as I did.
My hair started to fall out about six weeks after I began chemo, and I was completely devastated – thirteen inches of straight hair that I actually kept as it fell out. Yes, I would collect the hair from my brushes and clothing and place it into a zip lock bag. I must still have that bag somewhere. I just could not bear to let it go. I had always loved my long hair.
Wig shopping wasn’t fun for me. I had a very difficult time finding a wig that looked anything like my natural hair. I did finally find one and it cost about $1,000. This outrageous price was eventually covered by my insurance, but it took many phone calls and explanations and I was very lucky. This wig was so heavy it was nearly un-wearable and so I had to find alternatives for every day. I eventually bought three more wigs (much more reasonably priced) and alternated between them.
I felt ridiculous commuting into work on the T wearing a different wig most days. I was so self-conscious that people knew I was wearing a wig. I work in a large office building and I imagined that everyone was looking at my hair all the time. The wigs were different lengths and styles, with slight color variations and I was just so embarrassed.
Then there was the comfort factor. The wigs were so hot, although this did come in handy in the winter, since it was a like wearing a hat. There was the wind factor, especially when walking from my office to the T station in Back Bay. Holy wind! Nothing like holding on to your hair like it’s going to come flying off to give you away. The wigs were pretty itchy too and when my hair started to grow back, they would shift on my head and become crooked. My now-husband is famous for readjusting my wigs inconspicuously in public. At least we can laugh about it now.
I wore those wigs for about eight months and I can honestly say that they felt like about eight years. But I survived it, hopefully gaining some humility along the way. The process of growing hair back was also more difficult than I anticipated. More on that next week.