Hair, Another Kind of “Journey”

After flinging myself smack into the middle of the “Boobies War” last week, I decided it was time for a change in direction. This post is about another hot topic; actually something quite unimportant, but yet at certain moments in time, terribly important.

Of course, this topic is hair.

The other day I heard the oldies song “Hair” on the radio and it reminded me of well, hair, and how a person’s hair seems to represent a journey in itself. I vaguely remember (I was really young by the way, merely elementary school age!) when the controversial Broadway show “Hair” came out as well as all the “hoopla” that followed. “Hair” raised a lot of eyebrows. It was so radical, almost scandalous at the time with its shocking depiction of drug use, nudity, sexuality and long hair. I have never seen it, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be all that shocking by today’s standards. Hearing that song kind of inspired this post, so… 

I am happy to report my hair is returning. It is returning slowly, at what I would call a reluctant snail’s pace, but still it is returning. “I think I moved up a notch,” I told my husband the other day. “Maybe.”

Bald heads exude sympathetic glances and I do mean glances, because no one dares to look too long. I mean that would be too obvious. Bald heads scream cancer and chemotherapy (unless you’re a man).  Bald heads generate thoughts of the unspoken and spoken kind; thoughts like “oh you poor thing.”

Now my hair screams “old.” My hair is coming back gray. I know I used to color it, so it’s not like it wasn’t gray before, but now it’s almost all gray. Chemo stripped away all remaining color. What??

Why do some people get better hair when it comes back after chemotherapy? Why do some people get hair that is thicker or a totally new, even better color (and I don’t mean gray)? Why do some people get curls when they used to have straight hair? Or straight hair when it used to be curly? Why do some people get a new and improved version of their former hair? Why didn’t I?

And why does any of this matter anyway?

Of course, it doesn’t really, but yet it does. Our hair doesn’t define us, but yet it does, or maybe we just let it. I can’t begin to count the number of times I heard or read during chemo, “It’s only hair, it’ll grow back.” So true, so true; and yet…

Your hair represents a journey of sorts in itself.

If you think about it, when a new baby is born, after everyone learns the sex, weight, length, who it looks like and general health status, they generally next discuss its hair or lack thereof. A year or two later, parents proudly take their toddler in for that all important first haircut, (of course, only if the child has grown enough hair!) perhaps even saving some of those precious locks.

During early childhood, most kids don’t care all that much about their hair, or at least I didn’t. My sisters and I all had really really short hair, as did my brother, of course. My mother was way too busy to fiddle with styling the hair of three fidgety daughters, so we basically all looked the same. For a brief period in time, we could have passed as triplets. I have always had ridiculously unmanagable colics, think Dennis the Mennis, that’s who I looked like, except his hair was blond and actually longer. And my colics were (are) all over  my head.

Upon entering junior high and then high school things changed dramatically in the hair department. Suddenly you were no one unless you had long, preferably straight, hair. So, of course, like most girls I grew mine out. So did my sisters. Suddenly we were all transformed and had heads of hair that fell way past our shoulders. Most of my friends had long hair too. Everybody did it seemed. After all, it was the seventies!

And this fascination with long hair was not just for the girls, most boys also grew their hair out as well. I’m pretty sure there were many fights in households over the infrequency of haircuts.

The next dramatic turn in my hair journey was during the eighties. Suddenly curls were in vogue. My hair had no curl whatsoever; so therefore, perms were also in. Looking at family photos from the eighties, always gives us a hearty laugh. Ugh.

After successfully surviving the perm era, the next leg of the journey for me anyway, was deciding what to do when those first grays made their appearance. Like usual, I waited a while and then finally went the “Nice and Easy” Clairol route saying goodbye to gray and old at the same time, or so I thought.

Then along came cancer and chemotherapy. My predictable little hair journey was suddenly sabotaged and taken in an unexpected direction to say the least.

Like most women I was terrified about losing my hair. For some reason losing your hair makes you feel exposed, literally, but in other ways as well.

During chemo I decided not to shave my hair off like most women do, partially in defiance to a certain statement made by a certain chemo nurse. You can read about it if you so choose in an earlier post, Should A Chemo Patient Shave the Hair Off and If So When? No, I did not shave it off and as it turned out, it didn’t all fall out. I had a little bit that hung on and out from beneath my baseball cap perfectly. I felt a bit rebellious for successfully saving some (OK a smidgen) of my hair.

When chemo finally ended, my husband helped me shave off my last few strands of straggly hair and I still bawled my eyes out, even though they looked ridiculously silly. They were still MINE.

It was still my hair and it was gone; another thing cancer took.

Hence the bald era began (photos to come someday) and is now thankfully ending.

I have started “rewearing” my own hair. I even go out now without my wig. I still wear my baseball cap most of the time though. I wouldn’t have to, but I do. Perhaps I’m still too vain or lacking some (perhaps many) attributes.

I’m trying to become familiar with this new look on this “new person” I’ve become. I’m still not used to her. I don’t quite recognize her yet but …

Now all I have to do is pick out a new hair color.

Do you have a hair journey story?

Hair advice anyone?? I think I need some…


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22 thoughts to “Hair, Another Kind of “Journey””

  1. Nancy,

    I can so relate to this. I am not a particularly vain person. I don’t “do” my hair, but losing my hair was a blow to me.

    Now my hair is back and looks EXACTLY the same as it did before (no luck getting beautiful locks). I am still pretty taken by my hair that is almost shoulder length again. Sometimes I just like to flip it around and look at it in the mirror. 🙂


    1. Katie, Thank you for your comments. I don’t think of myself as vain either, but I sure have (still do) missed my hair a lot. You are so lucky to get back your same hair! I’m envious! Enjoy those “flipping” moments!

  2. Nancy,

    I went the defiant route and let my girls help me shave my head to 1/8 inch and then we let it fallout and I had sections that never did either. Now at 2 years and 10 months out I have hair halfway down my back again(although it was even longer when I choose to shave it). It did not come in the color I was used to, almost black and I had been blonde, so now I color, that was one thing I’m still not willing to give up!

    It did come back curly, which was quite a change from from straight as a board hair from before(your comment about perms and 80’s family pics made me giggle thinking of mine! )

    But…it took about 6 months for it to really start growing again too. So have hope, it will get longer soon and, your hair grows faster in warm weather so it should grow extra in the next few months:)

    Blessings in your journey.

    1. Kara, I’m glad you took time to comment, Kara. What a great way to cope, letting your girls get involved. Your long hair sounds wonderful. Thanks for the encouragment.

  3. Okay, when my hair started growing back I swear it was white! White?? What was that all about? It came in slightly curly/wavy, and then eventually gave way back to its former mousy brown color. It still isn’t bone straight, but just flips a little. Texture-same. Still thin, and I will always have a “bald” spot so I can’t have bangs, but I had that before, so who cares?! Not me; I’ve seen found that my hair (or loss thereof) did not and does not define me. I did LOVE not having to shave! Miss that….
    🙂 congrats on the new, good kind of growth!

    1. Lisa, Thank you for sharing your experience. Mine is actually more like white too, it’s kind of startling still to me, the change. It makes me wonder what chemo did on the inside, but I try not to think about that. It better have done its real job! That’s what really matters.

  4. I did a fashion show this fall with other survivors as models and we all chatted while having our hair & make-up done. Everyone said their hair grew back in different than it was before, and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there was a lot of grey. You’re right, hair is a big deal and not having it screams “cancer!” when most of us want to forget about being patients and focus on just being people. Great post.

    1. PinkUnderbelly, Thank you for commenting. Impressive you took part in that, I don’t think I would have been up for a fashion show, but come to think of it, I’ve never been fashion show material! ha.

  5. I love reading about your journey. That may be me someday, who knows! My mother had breast cancer, but a mastectomy removed all the cancer so that she didn’t have to have chemo.

    1. Sharon, Thank you, Sharon. I appreciate the time you take to read my blog. I hope you do not experience any of this stuff EVER! Having had your mom go through it is close enough.

  6. Nancy,

    I have heard how terribly traumatic hair loss is, and I know this is a huge issue with cancer patients.

    As you know, I was one of the lucky ones who did not lose her hair. I’m glad I didn’t, but people treated me as if I didn’t even have cancer. I’m the odd woman out in this discussion, but having my hair during treatment turned out to be a hinderance in dealing with ignorant people who thought because I didn’t look ill, I wasn’t ill. They couldn’t be more wrong.

    I’m glad your hair is growing back. BTW, Hair is such a wonderful play and movie. I highly recommend it.

    1. Beth, I’ve heard other people say that too. I guess many people are so visually oriented they think if you have hair, you aren’t that sick! I’m sorry your illness wasn’t taken seriously at times because of this. Even so, you are never the odd woman out in any discussion as far as I’m concerned!! Yes, the music in “Hair” is pretty great, I’d love to see it. Thanks for commenting, Beth.

  7. I don’t really have any hair advice, but I did get to see Hair, on Broadway in New York, and it was awesome. I had ‘And let the sunshine in’ stuck in my head for weeks after. Ace Young (from American Idol) was in it, and he kissed me on my head and cheeks like five or six times. And that’s my hair journey. 🙂

    1. Teri, So glad to read your comment, thanks for taking the time to share. I know what you mean about that song sticking… I like YOUR kind of hair journey, Teri!

    2. Back in the 80s I saw Hair hair performed live at a small theatre in Los Angeles, and Rain Pryor (Richard Pryor’s daughter) was one of the actors in it.

  8. I’ve lost my hair twice, through my two cancer treatments. Both times, my initial regrowth came in white or very light and then pigment seemed to come in after a bit of regrowth. I too have more grey than I’d hoped (colouring blinded me to how much grey I had before cancer) but I get compliments on the stylish silver strands all the time. Go figure.

    The first time, my hair came in thicker and slightly wavier than before cancer. The stuff that wasn’t silver came in very dark.

    This time, it’s quite curly (it’s still pretty short) and not quite as grey. I have dark and light brown strands – so I’m tri-coloured. I’m still trying to figure out how to style it!

    I was sad about the loss of the hair on my head, but not as traumatized as I thought I’d be. I hated losing my eyebrows and eyelashes. I LOVE losing my leg, armpit and bikini line hair.

    Regardless of the experience, hair loss allows us all to grow and learn more about ourselves.

    Good luck with the regrowth. Yes, it seems exceedingly slow at first. I’m also looking forward to some warmer weather, and quicker hair growth.

    1. Tina, Thanks for sharing about your hair loss, Tina. It sounds like your new hair growth has done a good job of keeping you guessing as to what it might be like. I think curls would be quite nice, so I’m a bit envious.

  9. Nancy, thanks for addressing this problem endured by so many cancer patients. I did have someone shave my head, but only because my husband and youngest son also shaved their heads in support. They were so sweet; how could I refuse? But I know where you are coming from on the rebellious side. Telling the patient that the hair will grow back in reminds me of my surgeon saying that I was only losing a breast; it wasn’t really important anyway. Not! I realize the breast will not grow in again as the hair will, but the cavalier attitude is what I despise. Like you, my hair did not come in nice and thick and curly: it came in white and thinner and straighter than before. Then once I got on Arimidex it thinned further. I’ve gotten used to my new-normal appearance (sort of), but always look with longing on people with thick hair. If only!
    Thanks for the great post!

    1. Jan, Thank you for sharing your experience here. One of my sons shaved his head also and it was really sweet. Actually he has shaved it three times! That indicates how slow my hair has been growing back! And I agree, the cavalier attitude is hurtful.

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