THE BLOG

There Goes the Hair

04/14/2014 02:26 pm ET | Updated Jun 14, 2014

I was blessed with a head of thick, dark, copious hair right from the get go. If there was a quick, low-maintenance way to wear it, I did, from loosely-combed braids to tethered in a bun with a chopstick. I never really thought much about my hair beyond appreciating that it was nearly black, crazy shiny and seemed to go just right with my face. In fact, in my 40s, as eager strands of silvery gray wisped into my hairline, I welcomed it, a perfect proportion of salt and pepper!

So this past few months, post-breast cancer diagnosis and facing the reality that the chemotherapy I'd be taking would loosen my hair follicles to the point they could no longer hold on to hair, I decided to have some fun with it. First, I got my annual bob, just to tidy things up and enjoy a few weeks of my springy professional look.

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Then I went for the short pixie do, cum French aristocrat look, which by all accounts quite missed the mark.

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And when my hair began to fall in earnest, three weeks after my first chemo cocktail, I hightailed myself into the local barber shop and asked for a number three buzz cut. Being married to a man and having raised three kids who have a collective veritable profusion of hair, and in particular relationship to my sons, I am familiar with the buzz cut.

But how could I have known that in fact my head is well-shaped, not too big, not too small, no distracting lumps or bumps, scars or curious protuberances. How could I have known how delightful the buzz was to touch? Though I have never actually petted a chinchilla, I kept thinking, goodness, this feels like a chinchilla! (Writing that made me go look up chinchillas -- this diminutive little South American mammal apparently can sprout up to 60 hairs per hair follicle!) And how could I know that people I ran into, both friends and strangers would feel compelled to ask if they could rub my head? And an interesting reality was also uncovered: Without design or intentionality, I had passed my hairline, my head shape, my very profile, onto one of my beautiful sons.

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As my treatments ensue, this lovely buzz too will fall out, so I have put aside time this week to go in for a full shave of my head. Like many cancer patients before me, I did purchase a lovely wig to have on hand, but honestly, it looks like a wig, has none of the bounce or luster of my own hair and well, when I put it on, I feel like a fake! Not to mention it's a bit itchy and snug and not all that comfortable as the weather warms up here in the northeast. I purchased another half wig if you will, worn under any number of choices from a springtime selection of haberdashery, and this I seem a bit better able to pull off. I am more likely to want to wear that when I will not be among friends, family or the communities where I am known. In a group of strangers I do not feel the desire to turn heads or have people wonder why my hair has fallen. Among those I love, everyone knows my current story, so I feel good going free. Like many trials with cancer, each of us patients has only to do what feels right at the time, no questions asked!

As a naturopathic doctor, I had heard through my own patients and about the idea of using the cold cap to prevent hair loss during chemotherapy. As a physician who likes approaches that are nontoxic and which have limited side effects, I was intrigued. With this process, during chemo, a snug hat, similar to a shower cap is filled with very cold gel. The concept is that the iciness causes vasoconstriction to the scalp so that chemotherapeutic agents do not reach the hair follicles. Cold cap treatment is currently in human trials and is more commonly used overseas. You can read more about cold cap treatments here. It does not work for everyone, depends on a number of factors like which chemotherapeutic agents are being used, the number of treatments, etc. But for many patients hair loss seems to be one of the most challenging aspects to treatment, so it may well be a good option to explore.

With regard to the buzz cut, and I imagine this is even more true for a woman choosing this style, it is bit jarring at first. But now, I now rather like it. It's bold, it's brave, it's paradoxically liberating. All I can say is, if you ever think to do it, during treatment for cancer, to support a friend going through cancer therapies, or strictly for a stylistic change up, here's my advice: Once you have the buzz, you walk into any room you are going into with your mojo on, with excellent good posture and a big smile. Of all things, it is empowering; there is no artifice whatsoever, you are exposed and raw and very real. Not a bad place to be.