Waiting for Hair: The Toll of Chemotherapy and Cancer


For me, losing my hair wasn’t hard — waiting for it to grow back has been challenging.

My impatient husband is waiting for me to finish doing my hair. We’re meeting friends for dinner and already running late. This used to be a regular scene at my house on any given weekend night.

Now, I'm bald. I think about this as I sit at a coffee shop and look around at all the healthy people flaunting their hair — mocking me with curls, highlights, ponytails, bobby pins and headbands — while they run their fingers through their locks with no thought. I am green with envy and feel guilty for taking my beautiful hair for granted.

I acknowledge hair loss is a difficult and traumatic event for many during cancer treatment. For me, losing my hair wasn’t hard — waiting for it to grow back has been challenging. I finished my last chemotherapy treatment on Christmas Day and was irritated not to wake up December 26 with a full head of hair.

When I started chemotherapy, my doctor gave me three options of cocktails and explained the potential side effects. I asked her which one she thought would be best.

She gave her opinion and followed it up with, “It’ll give you crazy diarrhea and it’s the most toxic but you won’t lose your hair.”

Really? I was shocked my doctor thought I would rather endure weeks of diarrhea just for hair.

On my first day of chemo, the pharmacist and I reviewed the side effects again. I decided to go with a less toxic cocktail at the expense of my hair. Up to that point, I only thought "hair" only meant was on my head. It was then that I learned I could lose everything. Yes, everything.Two weeks after my first treatment, I ran my fingers through my hair and out came a handful. Within the hour, I called some friends to come over to shave my head. We made a celebration out of the event and created many styles. I had a mohawk over salad, a side shave over pizza and a nice patch in the front with a curl over dessert. No tears were shed, but there were a lot of laughs. Eventually, we shaved it down to a nice stubble and it felt great during that Nashville summer.

Even though I bought a wig and countless people sent me scarfs, I decided to be out and proud with my bald head. As if it were any consolation, I have a nicely shaped head without any Gorbachev birthmarks or funky lumps. I often forgot I was bald and people are pretty cool these days about not staring too much. A fellow survivor even bought me lunch once.

Much to my surprise, the stubble stayed and I never got Mr. Clean bald. Angry, I wondered if my shave was premature. Remembering everything, I stopped shaving my legs, until my husband said the hair was braidable. And even more annoying — that one hair growing from my chin. You ladies know what I’m talking about. I welcomed the loss of that little sucker. Nope, it never happened and I’m still plucking that rebel. Eyebrows, eyelashes and everything else remained in tact.

Halfway through my six rounds of chemotherapy, I got a two month break from chemotherapy for surgery. I was ecstatic when my hair started to grow back and continued to do so even after I resumed treatment. I thought that maybe I wouldn't lose my hair this time. Sure enough, the day after the thought existed in my brain, I woke up to a softball-sized bald spot on the back of my head. I resolved not to do a complete shave and just let it be.

Today, I'm almost a couple months from the end of treatment and my hair is the definition of a hot mess. Picture a combination of cradle cap, a modest mullet and that terrible men’s hairstyle that looks like a wall at the front hairline. I’ve been wearing hats and oozing with jealousy at everyone and anything who has hair. This includes my German Shepherd and cat who just shed it throughout the house. I take a picture of my head every day and even though I feel my hair growing back, it doesn’t look like it in the photos. A watched pot never boils.

Having a buzzcut for the last six months is starting to take it’s toll. I am so ready to run my fingers through my hair again. No matter how many times my husband tells me I’m pretty, I still do a double take when I pass a mirror. I feel less feminine and despise how my bald head screams cancer patient. I’m ready to move on.

Who knows when my hair will grow back to what I consider a respectable length. But what I do know is that I can’t wait for one of those weekend nights, when we’re already late and my husband’s waiting for me to finish doing my hair.

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Dr. Kelly Stratton
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Image of a woman with a brown hair tied into a bun.