by Diane Tefft Young, MA, LICDC-CS
(Photo by George C. Anderson)
In late January 2015, I was diagnosed with uterine cancer – stage IIIC. My oncologist recommended a “sandwich” treatment plan. I would receive three 6-hour chemo infusions three weeks apart, followed by 28 daily radiation sessions. Treatment would end with two additional 6-hour chemo infusions four weeks apart.
As I was trying to take this all in, I posed a question: when will I lose my hair? The response was that my chin-length, fine gray hair would be completely gone following the second chemo infusion. Not wanting to be stuck wearing a tired-looking, yet well-fitting, Ohio State University baseball cap all summer long (and into the fall and winter), I scheduled an appointment at the women’s cancer accessories and wig shop.
Because I like to be well prepared, I brought along a picture torn from a year-old fashion magazine. It featured an attractive woman with short-cropped, light-blond hair. When I had ripped the photo from the magazine just days before, little did I imagine then how valuable the crumpled picture would become.
The picture was offered to the wig stylist, who confidently commented, “Oh, I can do that!” Photo in hand, the stylist was able to see the color and style I had in mind. I was told my short, blond wig would be available a few days after my first chemo infusion. Perfect timing.
The new wig was love and convenience wrapped together. It looked natural and real, and it complemented my olive skin tone perfectly. Friends who didn’t yet know about my cancer diagnosis commented that they liked my new haircut and seemed unaware I was wearing a wig until I told them. During the next ten months, I wore my blond wig often. It seemed to have magical powers.
I did everything known to woman to encourage my hair to grow.
There were days I’d look in the mirror and see a pale, gaunt, early-seventies woman who looked as if she were living in a prison – a prisoner of my cancer diagnosis. Then I would put on the blond wig and at once feel I’d come back to life. This $500 wig (thanks be to God for good health insurance) had the surprising gift of enabling me to feel pretty, even attractive, at times during this difficult year. When I wore the wig, I would sometimes forget the thing that compelled my wearing of it.
Because I loved being blond, my post-treatment plan was to have my hair stylist color my hair an almost white-blond. Much to my surprise, as my white-gray, post-chemo hair began to grow in, it was curly. I had curls all over my head!
I did everything known to woman to encourage my hair to grow. I used shampoo designed to thicken thin hair. I took the daily maximum dose of a well-known herb that stimulates healthy nails, skin, and hair growth. My wig stylist offered up three herbs that had helped another cancer survivor in her eighties grow lovely thick hair. I promptly drove to a local herbalist shop to purchase them. As women often do in times of crisis, the shop herbalists banded together to find me the perfect blend of these herbs and carrying oils. Now, each night before retiring to bed, I put three drops of the custom-blended oil into the palm of my hand and rub it into my scalp.
What’s next? I must confess that, as I am still not used to my curly locks, I have several hats from which to choose: a newly purchased wide-brimmed cloth one, a Panama hat inherited from my well-dressed mother, and, of course, the tired looking OSU baseball cap that still hangs from the doorknob of my bedroom closet.
Recently, when several women from my high school class gathered to have lunch and to view a Picasso exhibit at our local art museum, I was able – on the spur of the moment – to attend. One friend, who now lives in Chicago, commented, “I don’t remember you having such curly hair!”
My response? “It’s an unexpected gift from last year’s chemotherapy treatment.” How fortunate I am to be alive, cancer-free, and sporting my newly curly hair.
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Diane Young is a uterine cancer survivor living in Upper Arlington, OH.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2016.