The Lizard Chronicles

Some of this is true. Some of this is better. –Too Much Joy

A Year Later (Another Post About My Hair…Plus Some Other Stuff) December 2, 2018

Filed under: cancer,Life tales — lizardesque @ 5:38 pm
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Today marks the anniversary of the day I underwent the big chop, that is, when I had my hair cut short before starting chemotherapy for breast cancer. A few weeks from now, it will have been a year since my hair started falling out and I shaved the rest of it off. It’s been a long, difficult year, and there were times when I thought it would never end. Five months of chemo felt more like five years. There were days when I was so fatigued that simply sitting upright was a struggle. For a while, I had blisters on my hands and feet, which made it painful to walk or do pretty much anything with my hands. I had frequent nose bleeds. My sense of taste was dulled, but not enough for me to shake the weird chlorine-like flavor that took up residence in my mouth. For 12 of my chemo sessions, I endured the considerable discomfort of having ice packs on my hands and feet in an effort to prevent neuropathy. Despite that, I lost some sensation in my fingers (most of which has returned, although I still have some lingering effects). Since finishing chemo, I’ve had surgery and radiation therapy, and I’ve begun what’s likely to be 5 to 10 years of anti-hormone therapy.

On the bright side, during all of this, I was on the receiving end of an outpouring of love and support from family members and friends. My husband took me to and sat with me during every chemo session without complaint. While I could not drink because of chemo, he concocted special mocktails for me. He took up the slack when I just couldn’t do some of my usual household chores. He was patient, loving, and dependable. Other family members and friends reached out in so many ways to let me know they were thinking of me. They visited. They sent flowers, cards, and gifts. They brought over frozen meals and offered to help in any way they could. So, even though the last year has been no picnic, I do realize I’m very lucky in so many ways. I’m on the other side of the hardest part of treatment now. I responded well, and odds are good that I’ll be just fine in the long run. And I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who helped me through it.

But I’m still pissed about my hair.

If I had to choose a single thing about what I’ve been through during the past year that has had the biggest effect on me, it would be losing my hair. Sometimes that seems absurd. It’s just hair. It grows back. It is growing back (although not nearly fast enough for my taste). It’s also something that’s been practically impossible for me to ignore. From having it cut short to having it fall out, from shaving it off and muddling through the hassles and rather large learning curve involved in dealing with a wig to coping with the awkward phases of hair regrowth–my hair has been on my mind every single day. I’ve tried to make the most of it. I have worn (and continue to wear) lots of fun hats. I’ve dyed my hair a variety of fun colors as it’s been growing back. I’ve smiled and thanked people who’ve told me I look good with short hair. I’ve acknowledged milestones like first post-chemo haircut and first use of a hair dryer.

I’ve tried to remind myself how incredibly lucky I am, but on this one particular front, it’s been really hard.

At times, I wonder what it says about me that, a year later, I still haven’t adjusted particularly well to this change. I fear that my sustained reaction to the situation has wandered into petulant child territory. I’ve had recurrent dreams that my hair has somehow returned to its former length overnight, and I wake up from those dreams crestfallen. I’ve cried about my hair on multiple occasions. I look at old pictures, and I’m insanely jealous of myself. Did Past Liz with her long, wavy red locks have any idea how good she had it? I don’t think so. I sometimes look in the mirror, half expecting to see Past Liz instead of my current reflection, and then I’m surprised and disappointed when I don’t. It’s not even that I think my current reflection is bad. It’s just that it doesn’t look like me. In many ways, my life has gotten back to normal, but I still don’t feel like me.

I know I’m more than my hair, but that doesn’t mean I won’t miss my long locks every single day until I have them back. I just want to feel like myself again.

Hair1

The waiting is the hardest part.

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I am not my hair (or fuck you, cancer) December 5, 2017

Filed under: cancer,Life tales — lizardesque @ 9:04 am
Tags: , , ,

Being a redhead has always been a big part of my identity. Even when I was a little kid and this way in which I was different was called to my attention a bit more than I would have liked, it was undeniable that it was a part of who I was. When I was a little older, I appreciated my red hair much more, and I was especially happy about it when my granny told me that redheads don’t go grey. Eventually, I learned this is not true across the board, and I developed a kind of existential dread around my hair, fretting about the day it would fade into a stawberry-tinged white (or until I had to do lots of maintenance to have it dyed back to something approaching its former glory).

I had short hair for most of the first couple decades of my life. I tried to grow it out a few times, but I was never able to get past the awkward in-between stage before I broke down and got it cut short again. But beginning when I was around 23, finishing grad school and moving a number of times (combined with a bit of laziness) meant not having a go-to stylist for a while. Next thing I knew, I’d neglected to get my hair cut (aside from the sometimes unfortunate bang trims I’d do myself) for more than 18 months, and it was long. Once I did find a stylist I liked, got my tresses trimmed and shaped, and learned to work with my long hair, it became an even larger part of my identity.

After my hair had been long for a while, I couldn’t imagine going back to a short cut. I could dream about it, though, and the dreams were nightmarish. I don’t recall exactly when, but some time along the line, I began to have dreams in which my hair was cut short against my will. The circumstances varied, but they were always the sorts of situations that make sense in the midst of dreaming but would not be plausible in real life. In these dreams, I would cry. In fact, I would cry so hard, I’d actually start to sob and wake up a blubbering mess. I calmed down once I realized my hair was still intact, but the uneasy feelings from the dream always stuck with me for a while.

I knew there were various possible reasons my hair could be taken from me without my consent—accidents, diseases, hair-fixated stalkers—but none of those were especially high on my list of worries. Instead, I returned to fretting about the increasing frequency with which grey hairs popped up and began to quietly threaten to overtake my scalp. My stylist insisted I was probably the only one who noticed them but still helped me cover them and make it look natural. So, my worries were largely kept at bay.

Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Losing my hair was not my biggest concern, but it certainly was high on the list, along with losing my life and much of my independence (if only temporarily), pain and potential side effects of surgery, as well as many of the other non-hair related ravages of chemotherapy. At first I held onto hope that maybe my particular kind of chemo would not lead to hair loss. Acquaintances told me of cold caps that allowed some people to minimize their hair loss during treatment. As I went through a barrage of tests and got more information about my particular type of cancer and treatment options, my mind was set at ease in learning that my prognosis was quite good. However, there was no getting around it—the chemo was going to make me lose my hair.

I tried to look on the bright side. I love hats and scarves (and have a lot of both). My hair would grow back. I could get a wig. Getting ready to go out wouldn’t take so long. These offered some consolation, but dread, panic, and tears still welled up whenever I imagined my locks coming out in clumps.

So, like many women who have been in similar situations, I decided to exert what little control I had over the situation. I made an appointment to get my hair cut very short. I figured that would give me time to ease into things and would make for less trauma when my hair began to fall out.

Two days before I started chemo, I went from hair to the middle of my back to pixie cut. I’m not going to claim that wasn’t a bit traumatic in and of itself. In fact, I still have a whole stew of emotions about it simmering. I really do like the new cut a lot, but I hate why I had to do it. I also know that my remaining hair will only be around for a few more weeks. I’ve got a wig on order, but that’s never going to be the same. The hair will grow back, but I’ve got a long and difficult road of both hair-related and non-hair–related tribulations ahead of me before that.

For now, I just keep repeating a few things to myself:

  • I loved my hair, and I miss my hair, but I am NOT my hair (no offense, Lady Gaga)
  • Fuck you, cancer—I’m going to beat you
Aug12

Oh, those carefree, long-hair twirly days!

Hair_during

Off to find a new home

Hair

Feeling empowered to kick cancer’s ass

 

Ruadh Gu Brath (Redheads Forever) May 21, 2012

Filed under: Life tales — lizardesque @ 10:41 pm
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I’m a redhead. Neener neener!

“Redheads don’t go grey,” my granny always insisted. To her, it was a fact that could not be argued, never mind any evidence to the contrary. By the end of her life, she had lost her sight, but if she had been able to see, she would have had her assertions confirmed—at least as far as her own hair was concerned. It wasn’t what it once had been, of course. It had thinned considerably and had changed from the bright red of her younger days to a darker, more muted auburn, but there was nary a grey on her head. It was almost as if believing that her hair would never fade to grey had made it so. Perhaps she had done the same thing with her skin, which was still smooth and creamy into her eighties, perhaps slightly more translucent as she grew older and her health failed, but wrinkles? Hardly a one. Maybe she was blessed with good genes or had been especially vigilant about staying out of the sun. Or maybe she had willed her skin to look young too.

As my mother’s hair has begun to fade, it’s not so much grey as a lighter version of the brilliant red that it used to be. “Redheads aren’t suppose to go grey,” she says with a frown and makes a mental note that it’s time to make an appointment with her colorist.

“Redheads don’t go grey,” people often say to me. “You’re so lucky.”

“Redheads don’t go grey,” I tell myself as I stand before the mirror, tweezers in hand, ready to pluck out the wiry white stray beasts. “Not this one, anyway.”