"Happiness is a good hair day."
"Life isn't perfect, but your hair can be."
"A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life." -Coco Chanel
"Red hair, Sir, in my opinion, is dangerous." -P.G. Wodehose
Do a google image search for hair, and you will find a deluge of hair memes and quotes. I gave up and stopped scrolling before I found any actual images of hair.
Hair is a multi-billion dollar industry, and a lot of us (this girl included) take a lot of pride in their hair.
But what if it starts falling out?
Okay, I know many men have been dealing with this for all of eternity, but it's not something most women even consider as a possibility until one of two things happens: You get cancer, or your hair starts falling out a lot in the shower...or, in my case, both.
Since chemo wasn't my primary form of treatment, I was told I probably wouldn't lose my hair, but it might thin. Well, I completed treatment, and my hair looked fine. A few weeks went by, and it was still fine, so I figured I wouldn't need to worry much about it. I got lucky.
And then it happened.
Before I go further, please understand that I KNOW a lot of people aren't as lucky as me, and I sat in a chemo center with cancer patients who had lost it all. I can't even imagine how I would have reacted or felt, but I can tell you my experience.
I was taking a shower and combing some conditioner through my hair with my fingers, and instead of the usual few strands that always come out, I was getting handfuls. It was a little disconcerting, and it kept happening. If I sneezed or looked at a hair brush, HAIR. Everywhere. Never in clumps, and I didn't develop bald patches, but I was losing a lot of hair. I got my hair cut, and even my stylist noticed a lot of hair falling when she shampooed it.
It got to the point where my scalp was noticeably wider, and I couldn't touch my head without hair coming out. As someone who has had pretty great hair since puberty, it was a pretty hard blow. If I knew it was all going to fall out, I would have been prepared, and probably shaved it all off when the first clump came out, but I was told thinning, and the thinning happened after treatment. The radiation wasn't even aimed at my head, and the hair all came off in the treatment area (you're welcome), so why was this happening?
Enter my good friend, Google. Now, the chemotherapy drug I was given is on the list of drugs that can cause damage to the cells that support hair growth, and while I didn't have an 8 hour daily dose, I did notice the hair under my arms was basically nonexistent, but that happened during treatment. If that happens, it can take 1-3 months to start to regrow. Well, that all applied to my underarm hair, but still didn't explain the hair on my head falling out.
And then it dawned on me: one of the side effects of pelvic radiation is infertility. My ovaries basically got nuked during radiation, so they've shut down at this point. That means menopause. So I googled.
"Menopause hair loss" + ENTER
There it was. After menopause, about 40% of women experience hair thinning.
During menopause, the ovaries decrease production of estrogen and progesterone, which help hair grow faster. The hormone imbalance causes hair to fall out, though usually more gradually than what I was experiencing. My ovaries shut down a lot faster than they would have in another 20 years, so my hair loss was expedited a bit.
Menopause at 34, and now I was going to be bald, too. Well, fuck that. I started googling even more frantically, but the treatments were basically "wait for it to come back and cross your fingers" or "spend all the money you'll make in the rest of your lifetime on some fancy scalp therapy shit that also may not work."
What hair I had left was growing back gray, which wasn't new, but meant that I needed a touch-up, and now I was scared to do anything chemically to my scalp. What if it got worse? I texted my stylist and she assured me that dying it wouldn't make the hair loss worse, and she also knew of a hair regrowth system. I love her.
I got my hair done, and she gave me the Nioxin system she thought would work best for me. Within 3 washes, my hair had almost completely stopped falling out. I was just getting a few strands here and there, like normal. When I got my hair cut a couple weeks ago, she noticed that I had some baby hairs coming in at my scalp. If you get up close and personal, you can see my hair is thicker at the scalp, and there are a bunch of little 3 inch hairs up there, blended in with the rest.
Full disclosure, Nioxin may not work for everyone, and you should only get it from a stylist. A lot of what you find on Amazon is potentially expired or questionable. If it's cheap, just don't buy it. The set I got was about $60 for shampoo, conditioner, and treatment spray. It's pricey, but fortunately(?) all the iron deficiency had left my hair pretty dry, and I didn't need to wash my hair more than twice a week, if that.
I can look back and be glad now, but at the time, I was in a bit of a panic. Cancer took a lot from me, and up until that point, I'd been a pretty good sport. Fertility. Well, I knew at my age, it wasn't a guarantee anyway, and I can foster or adopt. Freedom. I spent six months on the couch or in bed, exhausted from the anemia, chemo, radiation, and drugs. Now, I can't drive from here to Target without having to dash to the bathroom when I get there. I love road trips, and I have to hope I'll be able to drive again without taking a full bottle of Imodium. I lost my peace of mind. I'm going to dread every check up for the rest of my life. If it comes back, I'm in for some hard times. But, really, cancer? My hair, too? Can't I just keep my hair? Cancer is a dick, you guys. Seriously. My hair is the one thing I've been able to control (kind of) that always looks good, no matter how much weight I gain or lose, or if my skin breaks out, or if I just feel lazy and don't want to wear makeup, I can always count on my hair. When I started noticing the thinning, and my hairline started receding a little, I won't lie. I cried. Call me vain. I don't care.
At least it's coming back.