A few days ago I went to what they call a pre-assessment at the chemotherapy unit. I was given a tour of the unit and shown where I would go and told what would happen. There were other folk already there, sitting in chairs, plugged into IVs and watching telly. A couple of women were hooked up to a scalp cooling cap that essentially freezes the hair follicles in your scalp in order to save some of your hair. I didn’t know if scalp cooling would be available and hadn’t really considered it. I was offered it though so that was a something else to think about.
Later that day I had an appointment at the hairdressers to have my hair cut into a crop. Even if I choose the scalp cooling it would probably need to be short. My hair is very thick so I doubt the scalp cooling would get through the mass of curls. I then took myself off to the wig shop and came home with a lovely dark, glossy bob reminiscent of Cabaret or Chicago.
I ummed and ahhed over the scalp cooling and decided against it. It isn’t guaranteed to work, it is really bloody cold, can be quite painful and adds almost 3 hours to each chemo session. I am not too worried about hair loss so I have opted to lose my hair gracefully instead. Then I dyed my pixie crop bright pink. I figure if I am going to lose my hair then I may as well let it go out with a bang.
What with blood tests and visits to the chemo unit and getting all the things everyone says you need (hand cream, antiseptic, pineapple ice lollies, green tea, manuka honey etc etc, the list is huge) there hasn’t really been time to think about what’s happening. Today everyone else has gone back to school and work and I am home alone. Tomorrow is the last day that I am technically on annual leave and then my chemo starts on Wednesday. That’s when I phone in sick. That’s when I become officially ill.
It’s difficult to admit this but cancer has taught me that I was prejudice about sickness. When I learned I had cancer I thought “But I am not a sick person. I am not the sort of person that is signed off on long term sick. That’s not who I am.” As though there were a kind of person who is sick. As though it is some kind of lifestyle choice. I know that it’s nonsense but in my deepest, most honest, most prejudiced self I felt like that. I am not proud of it.
I realised that when I go bald, it is not my hair I will grieve. I will grieve my image as a healthy person. I never had a strong image of healthiness. I drink beer. I used to smoke. I don’t do running or jumping. I never thought of myself as sickly before though. It’s vain and judgmental and ludicrous I know but there it is.
Seeing the other folk in the chemo unit, some with hair, some without, some with wigs, some with scarves, some with walking sticks, some looking very poorly, some looking quite well, it was hard for me to accept that I belong there. It is hard for me to accept that I am THIS poorly. Particular as I feel quite well physically. I suppose the chemo will put paid to that.
My daughter and I were talking about my future hair loss today and being the bright, sophisticated, alarmingly wise 14 year old that she is she told me that she was upset about me losing my hair not because my hair will be gone but that because it will be a visual reminder that I am poorly. Once my hair has gone then it won’t be possible to forget,however briefly, anymore.
To reassure her I told her that baldness isn’t an outward sign of the illness, it’s an outward sign of me being treated so that I might get better. I look and feel fine right now. I will soon get ill, lose my hair, be tired all the time and feel really poorly just so that I can get better.