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A Hair-Razing Experience

My Encounter with Lymphoma

by Katy Huth Jones

Inspiration image

My pride has always been my long, wavy hair. It’s a huge part of what defines me. Then at 47, I learned I had fast-growing lymphoma. Chemo had to begin right away.

“But,” I say to the oncologist, “my son graduates from college in May. I have to be there.”

“I’ll get you there,” she says, writing the date in my chart, “but you’ll be bald.” Bald. That sounds more naked than “hair loss.”

I ask my friend Cheryl if she would color my brown hair red. “Just for fun,” I say.

“But, Mom,” asks my youngest son, “what if it comes out purple or something?” I’d never colored my hair before.

“It won’t matter,” I tell him. “It’ll fall out anyway.”

“But what if it doesn’t fall out?”

“Then I’ll have purple hair!”

People tell me I look “cute” with short hair. “But it’s not me!” I want to shout. I’ve always had long hair.

It starts falling out just days after my first round of chemo. Hair litters the house, the car, everything. I ask Cheryl to cut my hair short. “To lessen the mess,” I say.

People tell me I look “cute” with short hair. “But it’s not me!” I want to shout. I’ve always had long hair. So I order a wig. Long, curly, my natural shade (not purply-red).

I keep shedding. Growing bare patches peek through the thinning hair. I even stop washing it since that seems to speed up the process.

The morning of my second round of chemo, I can no longer stand my itchy scalp. I turn the shower on low and gently massage what’s left of my hair with mild shampoo. The hair pours off my head. I stare at the tub filled with soapy clumps of hair. I cry; I can’t help it.

When I get out and look in the mirror, a stranger looks back at me. My head is big and shiny. There are two stubborn strands clinging to each side of my head. I have my husband, Keith, shave them off so I can pretend that bald was my choice.

Keith has bought several hats and scarves for me. I wear a pink floppy one to the cancer center that morning. My head still itches, and whenever I take off the hat to scratch, there is a draft!

My wig finally comes in. It’s itchy, too, but it helps me feel like I have hair, at least to the extremely near-sighted casual observer. Later I buy a short, sassy red wig for those especially bad days when I needed an attitude to match. I kind of like being a redhead.

When the treatments are done and the battle won, I expect the hair to grow back at least as fast as it does on my legs. The brows and lashes return right away, but the hair on my scalp creeps out so slowly that I worry I’ll look like a Marine recruit for the rest of my life.

It does finally start growing. Within three months, it’s half an inch long, and by six months, I have thick, tight curls. “Your hair is so cute,” friends say. I’m glad to have hair, but it still doesn’t look like me. I figure the curls will “relax” as the hair grows longer, but they spring longer and longer. I look like Shirley Temple.

Now four years later, my hair is long again. After two trims, it still has coiled springs and is almost waist-length, or would be if it were straight. It’s thicker than before, with less gray. I ask my oncologist, “Did you put fertilizer in my chemo?” She just laughs and touches one of the curls, admiring how thick it had become.

Not fertilizer, I decided. Miracle Grow. After all, I beat cancer AND I have long hair again.

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This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2009.