Thursday, February 9, 2017

Do I Love My Chemo Curls?

The short answer to that question is "Maybe." It's growing on me.😉

Every time I pass by a mirror these days, I'm startled because I look foreign to myself. All my life, I've had thick healthy hair with good body and just a bit of wave. (My mother is forgiven for the Toni perm she gave me when I was 8.) I've had more cowlicks than I'd like but I've always liked my own hair.

When I learned I needed to have chemo for my breast cancer, like most people, I immediately thought of my hair. Losing one's hair is the most obvious side effect of chemotherapy. Most people do lose their hair -- and not just on your head! -- and most often it happens soon after the second treatment.

My hair started to come out in clumps right on schedule. Instead of waiting for it all to come out, I went to my hairdresser, Bobbi, who shaved my head.  She was kind enough to meet me at her shop after her regular hours. I didn't ask Mr. Rosemary to come with me, even though I'm sure he would have. I went alone. Looking back, I think I was afraid. Afraid of what I'd look like, afraid I'd cry. And I always wanted to appear brave, even if I wasn't.

Getting my head shaved wasn't nearly as traumatic as I'd feared. In fact, Bobbi made it fun. She had me laughing and thinking about what fun we'd have styling my hair when it grew back. (I'm lucky my hairdresser has also become a good friend.)

It is, after all, just hair and it would grow back.

Until it did, I was determined to make the most of it.

I have always loved hats, but often felt conspicuous in them. I once wore a great black picture hat to my niece's wedding (pre-cancer) and a couple of my nephews were reminded of a line from the movie "The Wedding Crashers" -- "Don't waste your time on girls with hats. They tend to be very proper."

Still, I wore hats a lot last summer . . . .

Chemo patients are well advised to stay away from the sun. Another great excuse to wear hats.

I did get a wig, a couple in fact. But I rarely wore them . . . . too hot, too uncomfortable for me. I felt like I was in costume.

I loved playing with scarves, and have built quite a nice wardrobe of them, but the best investment I made was buying a set of bangs. The bangs are on a Velcro strip, so I could attach them to any hat, any scarf.  Made me feel, and look, more like myself.

When I went to bed, I wore a little cap. My head got cold! (Sorry folks, no picture of that.)

Although all these pictures show me smiling, I surely didn't smile all the time. I think I was lucky going through chemo during spring and summer; I know if I was going though all that now, in the doldrums of a gray winter, I might not have been smiling as much.

Good friends throughout my treatment were very uplifting . . . .

Dick and Mary Lou are just two of our friends who made me laugh. I took this group selfie at our neighbor Dude's annual fish fry. Every year on the first day of trout season in April, he hosts a great neighborhood party. He and his brother and friends deep fry walleye, fresh french fries and chicken wings. More buddies play good old-fashioned sing-along music.  The combination of great weather, good food, music and friends -- and plenty of beer flowing -- is unbeatable.  (Dude doesn't go fishing, by the way, not on opening day. He'll wait til the crowds go away.)

I finished my chemo at the end of June, my radiation in September and, yes, my hair started to come back. Mr. Rosemary told me he didn't think I needed to wear hats and scarves anymore. He liked my fuzz; he called me "Peaches" so I had to call him Herb.

A friend who also went through chemo at the same treatment center I did told me about another patient, a very outgoing woman who had terminal cancer, who admonished her for wearing hats and scarves:  "Lose the rag! Be proud of your beautiful head!"

As my hair started to return, I sent a couple pictures to my Florida daughter who told me I looked "distinguished." Her boyfriend said "presidential." Another daughter told me, "Now you really do look like Isabella Rosellini!" (An older Isabella, you understand, not in her super model days!)

My first big "coming out" without a scarf was at my sister Anne's 80th birthday party. It was the first time several family members had seen me and their compliments were plentiful -- and sincere.

I've been back to Bobbi three times for haircuts since October.  I'm not used to managing these curls. All I can do is wash it and slather on some gel . .  and go.  Very freeing.

Will the curls stay? Don't know.  Many people have different experiences. Some people who've had curly hair say it comes in back straight. A lot of people see more gray. (Me, too.) Many of those who get the "chemo curls" say they fade after several months.  We shall see.  In the meantime, I'm just enjoying this wash and go.  And getting back to normal, even if it is a new normal.

Speaking of getting back to normal, I want to apologize to my faithful readers and followers for being absent for a few months. I immersed myself in getting back to normal -- buying and making Christmas presents, organizing closets and drawers, plain old cleaning, all things I wasn't able to do well for months.

But in the midst of getting ready for the holidays, I got another scare -- I needed to get a follow-up diagnostic mammogram after my routine annual screening. There was a "suspicious" area on the other breast, giving me several days of anxiety, even though I tried to talk myself out of it.  But I still couldn't help wondering:  Would I have to go through this again? Turns out there was not a serious problem, so I'm good for another six months.

I continued to be bothered by a herniated disc, too. I got three steroid shots over a period of a two months. The shots helped tremendously, but I continue to experience some pain, especially in the morning. With continued stretching and walking the herniation should continue to shrink. And the Naproset helps a lot. I really don't want more surgery. 

And I missed blogging. I've still been cooking. Even taken several pictures. Have a couple blog posts in draft stages. But mixing blogging about food and cancer in the same post started to seem a bit contrived to me, even though I wanted to do both. (I even thought about sharing a recipe about spiralizing, making "zoodles," along with this chemo curl diatribe! Aren't you lucky.)

I've also been plagued by procrastination. Yesterday, for example, I was bound and determined to finish this post finally. But -- wouldn't you know it? -- our internet service was down for the day.

So, today, I was going to finish for sure. After I cleaned up the kitchen and made the beds and started laundry and paid bills, etc., etc. After I made a broccoli salad for dinner, but, what the heck, why don't I make broccoli soup for lunch? And while I'm at it, why don't I brown some beef for enchiladas later? Of course, then I had to clean up the kitchen again, fold the laundry I started.

It's 2 o'clock and I'm finally sitting down and re-reading what I wrote. I better hit "publish" before I chicken out again. No recipe today . . . and no more pictures of me, either!