Tag Archives: chemo

You Can’t Go Home Again

The Me I New

           THE ME I ONCE WAS

As hard as I try, I can’t go back to who I was. There’s nothing like a bad haircut to remind me of that.

I’ve had short hair since chemo ended, now four years ago. My body rebelled after being doused for months in that chemical wash. My nails and hair particularly made their dissatisfaction known, splitting and breaking and refusing to grow. I tried nail hardener and special shampoos, but the only thing that helped was time. My nails at least have started to grow again and have stopped splitting. My hair, though, remains fine and limp and every so often I panic, sure I have a bald spot. It’s no longer the lush locks I had.

I gave up bangs I’d worn since kindergarten for a side-swept pixie cut when my hair finally started to grow back after chemo.  It looked cute and was a departure from the curly, salt and pepper mane that replaced the long, golden hair I’d lost.

Over time, I let it grow in a bit thicker, going for the Robin Wright look in House of Cards. It suited me, even though I never quite felt I recognized the woman looking back from the mirror.

For the first half of this year, I let my hair grow.  I found a haircut that looked something like my old look, albeit a shorter version. And it had the bangs I’d forsaken. I was sure it would be the perfect cut for growing it long again.


         THE ME I THOUGHT                        I COULD BECOME

So today, I went to my hair stylist – who rescued my wigs from over-washing-frizz-out as I cried and talked me in off the ledge of vulnerability during my baldness – and showed her the picture of the new look I wanted.  She sized it up, told me I’d need to go a bit shorter in the back, but agreed it could be done.

Except it couldn’t. My bangs no longer sit right on my forehead and the shag layers are flat, making my hair look more like a helmet than tresses. I came home, threw water on it and parted it back on the side, giving it the pixie look I started with four years ago.

Back then, it made me happy. Today, it makes me feel stuck, like the movie Groundhog Day. Every time I think I’m ready to move forward, life takes me back to where I was to start all over again. Whether it’s a cancer recurrence or a starting a new drug treatment or a bad haircut. It’s like a merry-go-round I can’t get off of and there’s no brass ring to grab.

So here I am, back to being a woman I don’t recognize, but no longer having a meltdown over it. Sometimes you walk through a time warp and there’s just no going back. I’m living in such a time.




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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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