Ryan Hamner is a four-time survivor of Hodgkin lymphoma, a musician, and an award-winning author. In 2011, he wrote and recorded, "Where Hope Lives" for the American Cancer Society and the song for survivors, "Survivors Survive" used in 2015 for #WorldCancerDay. Recently, he published his book, This is Remission: A Four-Time Cancer Survivor's Memories of Treatment, Struggle, and Life, available on Amazon. His website is www.ryanhamner.com
One quirky trick to cut down on hair loss from chemo made me detest refrigerators for life!
It’s true, your refrigerator makes me sick. It’s not just your refrigerator though. It’s everybody’s.
Here’s how it all started. Back around 1983, when I was a very small human, I was receiving chemotherapy in Atlanta. As the saying goes, “getting violently ill sucks, but getting violently ill and being bald really sucks,”—wait, that’s not really a saying. However, an independent study conducted by me found this to be a very accurate statement for kids undergoing treatment for cancer.
When I was younger, the nausea and vomiting that came with my chemotherapy has brutal. They didn’t have the same anti-nausea medicine in the 80s that they gave me later in the 90s, when I had my last bout with cancer.
In the 80s the drill was: get chemo, get depressed, get sick, rinse (literally) and repeat. I knew all about getting sick. There was no mystery in that—but the hair falling out stuff was a little scary for some reason. It was truly mysterious to me. I always wondered how it would happen. Would I be sitting there watching cartoons one Saturday morning and then, boom! — hair is all of the sudden everywhere but on my head — or would it be more of a gradual thing? Like me waking up every morning a few hundred hairs less than the day before. Then there was always that chance that overnight I would end up looking like that one uncle of mine with a little hair only behind the ears. I just didn’t know. The "boom" theory was the real stressor for me, though. It seems ridiculous and absurd I know, but keep in mind, I was at the age where my friends and I would literally try to dig to China in my backyard. My Transformers were my actual friends of mine and my dog was named Muffit after the robotic dog on Battlestar Galactica. So in other words, the fear of my hair spontaneously discharging from my head wasn’t exactly out of the realm of possibilities in my world.
After talking to my doctors about my fear of losing hair, or more like, “how” I would lose my hair, they suggested I try “the ice cap.” Yep, it’s just what it sounds like, I guess—but it was not as cool as it initially sounded. The ice cap is a helmet that is frozen and placed on the head in an effort to prevent losing hair while undergoing chemotherapy. Here’s just what it felt like though: It was a large cold object strapped onto my head. It was kind of like wearing an Igloo cooler and made my head wobble more than usual. It smelled like the refrigerator at home (minus the deli meat) and no matter where in the clinic I went, I could not escape the smell. The same smell of when I would open the freezer to get a Jell-o Pudding Pop at home. In a nutshell, I felt like I was about to throw up inside of a refrigerator while wearing an Army helmet.
Soon I started to associate the ice cap smell with my refrigerator at home, or any refrigerator for that matter. At home I would go to get a drink and as soon as that door opened and the cool air hit my face, I thought I was about to become a multicolored organic fountain.
To this day, every time I open the refrigerator, I’m reminded of spontaneous hair explosions—but I’m also reminded of how I didn’t lose my hair, which is very cool.