Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Yes, that would be the top of my head. I really did not want to let go of my hair, but it was clearly starting to fall out so I bit the bullet and went for the buzz.
At sixteen, I was completely blind-sided by the hair loss. They told me 3 weeks, and it took a little less than a week. I also assumed the process would occur fairly slowly. Instead, my hair came out in clumps and even touching it would cause it to fall into my hands. It was the single most traumatic experience to come out of six months of cancer treatment.
(90s throwback: ever see The Craft? When one of the teen witches makes that girl's hair fall out? That's basically what happened. Yeah)
Taking control over my hair loss proved significantly less traumatic. But I can't lie and act as if this doesn't bother me.
It does. It makes me want to scream and cry and throw things across the room. Cancer has already stolen so much from me, and it seems patently and unnecessarily unfair that it steal my hair as well. Losing my hair robs me of confidence and a sense of femininity, as well as that ever so simple but incredibly important pleasure of feeling pretty.
With hair still attached, I could look to the rest of the world as if nothing was wrong. My scars are all hidden under clothing, and enough makeup can hide the pallor of my skin when I'm not feeling so well. But with my hair gone, I look like a cancer patient. And I really don't care that that's what I am. It's not something I want to own. I sure as hell don't want anyone, whether I know them or not, looking at me and thinking, "Oh, she must have cancer." It's not about being judged; it's about knowing all too well that when that happens all people can see or think of is cancer.
It's funny, because I started this post last week when I was feeling fairly perky enough to go out and about and thinking I was ready to get back to work. Losing my hair was my biggest frustration. Then, over the weekend, I was surprised to find myself taking a turn for the worse. Three migraines in three days, the pain at my incision site felt worse, I couldn't sleep, and I generally felt like curling up in a ball and being miserable. It was a relief to get the call on Monday after my vincristine dose and blood draw that my white blood cell count was extremely low. Suddenly everything made a lot more sense.
Since every person I've told this to has subsequently asked "What does that mean?" and "What can they do about that?" I'll try to answer those questions. White blood cells (which actually consistent of a few different cell types) are often very susceptible to chemo, and in leukemia, that's kind of the point, where in other cancers it's more of a nasty side effect. White blood cells do pretty much everything for your immune system, so not having very many of them means that I am susceptible to general feelings of crappiness, slowed healing, and a whole bunch of other fun things, the most serious of which is being one giant walking infection risk.
This leads to paranoid exchanges like the following with my father:
Me: Hey dad, I got a paper cut, do you think you could grab me a band-aid?
Dad: What? How did you do that??
Dad: Oh. Right.
As for what doctors can do about my low counts, right now, just wait for them to recover on their own. My monocyte (basically baby white blood cells) level is high, so they seem to be trying. If they don't recover next Monday, we'll have to delay chemo by a week. Then right after my next chemo they'll give me a drug which drives the division and maturation of white blood cells to help my body out. For now, I'll just have to wait it out -- and make everyone who comes to my house wear face masks for kicks.
Posted by Katie at 6:29 PM