Blog: Hair, Glorious Hair

CURE, Spring 2011, Volume 10, Issue 1

A blog by Kathy LaTour, breast cancer survivor, on how hair loss affected her after cancer.

As a child I recall my mother telling me I needed to brush my hair 100 strokes a night to keep it beautiful. Hair is a woman's crowning glory, she would say as I diligently brushed away. When I finished I looked at my limp, fine, thin dishwater blonde hair and wondered who got my crown.

You can't know how connected you are to your hair until you lose it. We look at it every day in the mirror as it frames our face. We cut, dye, brush, grow and usually dislike what God gave us, wishing it was straight when curly or curly when straight or blonde when brown or red when blonde.

Then we learn we will lose it and, for many of us, it means losing a part of who we are when it goes.

I had terrible side effects from chemotherapy after my diagnosis in 1986 at age 37. This was before anti-emetics, and I vomited until they thought they would have to hospitalize me. I had the worst case of oral mucoscitis (mouth sores) they had ever seen and, in general, felt like I was dying for about a week between treatments. I felt better just in time to get blasted again. Because I had such bad side effects, I was sure the universe would spare me hair loss. But it was not to be.

Shaving my head had to be one of the worst days of my life. First, the wigs back then were really bad, and I hated wearing one. It itched. I am also one of those who likes to scratch, run fingers and in other ways use my hair as a prop when writing. I considered just going bald, but there was no way being bald was in any way cool in 1986. And I learned the hard way that ripping the wig off in the car may have felt good but caused lots of consternation among fellow travelers as they swerved and honked at my bald head.

One friend in my support group wore scarves tied in the most fashionable ways. She was a buyer for a major department store and found a way to be stylish without a wig. But if you don't have that little indent at the back of your skull, there is no way to keep a scarf from sliding off, as I learned after spending a fortune on scarves.

Mostly I hated the wig because it was a constant reminder that I had cancer. Every time I passed a mirror and jumped at the stranger in the reflection, I was reminded.

I stopped wearing my wig when my hair was about 1/8th of an inch long. I was still bald, but had stopped caring at that point. Summer was coming and there was no way I was wearing a wig in Texas in the summer.

I have to admit I was surprised to learn that some women are so attached to their hair that they refuse treatment. I wonder if those women are like my friend Ann. She had a bad cancer, was treated and grew back her long, thick, dark hair. When the cancer came back she decided against treatment, in part because she didn't want to lose her hair again. It made her feel not herself to be without her hair. We tried to talk her out of it, but she had also been told that the few options she had didn't promise much hope for a second remission. Still, I wish she had tried. No head of hair is worth your life if there is even the smallest chance.

You can read and comment on Kathy LaTour's blog "Hair, Glorious Hair" at www.curetoday.com/blog/kathylatour.