Monthly Archives: June 2013

How to make your hair grow back after chemo

It’s one of those regular check-ups nearly a year out from chemo and your oncologist looks at you earnestly and asks if you have any concerns and you say “Yeah, why isn’t my hair growing back? It’s been a year since my last treatment and my hair is only 4 inches long. It should be 6 inches by now.”
He looks at you quizzically before launching into an explanation about how some people’s hair take longer to grow than others – but certainly not owning any part that he or the drugs may have played in the process – which isn’t what you want to hear, so you interrupt him and say “and my nails keep breaking and chipping. What’s that about?” which makes him look down at your chart, then up at you and admit “sometimes that happens” which isn’t the answer you were looking for either, but you realize your vanity isn’t his concern, so you decide instead to ask one of the nurses.
But none are around when you leave, so rather you bring it up at a cancer support group, where all five women in attendance chime in about how disappointed they are with their own hair growth, but none has any answers and the conversation gets derailed somehow to what’s the best way to make kale edible.
A few days later you run into a friend, a long-time cancer survivor, who comments on how long your hair is getting, until you tell her that it’s been a year since chemo ended and even she has to admit that it really isn’t that long after all.
So you go to one of those online forums and type in “It’s been a year since my last chemo treatment and my hair is only 4 inches long. How do I make it grow?” When you check back a few days later, there’s a host of responses:
Eat more protein. Take vitamins. Drink green tea. Get it cut (sounds counterintuitive to you). Find a way to make kale edible. All of which you’ve tried (even though you may not admit it) and none have worked.
You look in the mirror each morning and wonder who it is staring back at you, because it isn’t anyone you recognize and you aren’t real sure you want to know her either, because her hair is too short and curly and unkempt and her skin is crepe-like where it used to be smooth and even though she smiles at you reassuringly, you’re still skeptical.
To make yourself feel better, when you get out of the shower one day you take all those short, thin hairs and mash them back off your head into the tiniest ponytail and search the bathroom for a hairband to keep them in, only to find that it’s the hairband that’s making up the ponytail and not the hair.
Still, none of it answers the question of how to make your hair grow back after chemo, which really is representative of the larger question, how do you get your life back after cancer, that you’re still struggling with as you move into a new body with muscles and lymphatic veins painfully stretching in whole new ways to compensate for the losses you’ve sustained to win this battle or whose rhythm has slowed dramatically to quell those fast-growing, party-romping cancer cells, leaving you fatigued, lethargic, with chipped nails and too short hair.
And then it occurs to you that perhaps part of being “cured” is being OK not ever knowing the answer to certain questions, like “What now?” “How do I know it won’t come back?” “How do I make my hair grow back after chemo?” and “How do you make kale edible?”

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