Most of the hair on my head fell out a couple of weeks after starting chemotherapy. There was a short, thin swath down the middle that stubbornly held on. Otherwise, it was gone. And it was during the coldest time of the year, too. I never fully realized just how much even a short haircut kept my head warm.
My last chemo treatment was January 25th. About six weeks later, the first sprouts of peach fuzz appeared on the bare part of my once thickly-covered scalp. Around that time, I shaved again for the first time in three months. Life was reappearing on my face and head, though tentative and tender.
The weeks passed and I concentrated on regaining lost weight and strength. My appetite returned, clearing the way for more energy and stamina. All the while, the hair on my head slowly and quietly increased. It was barely noticeable for several days.
When it finally grew long enough to really feel it, I discovered my hair was softer than I could remember it ever being before. Gradually, it grew longer and thicker, but stayed just as soft.
Friends who hadn’t seen me in several weeks remarked on it. “Your hair is back!”“It sure is. And feel that.” I then removed the ball cap I wear most of the time and bowed my head, offering my newly-carpeted dome for inspection. Normally, I don’t much like people touching my hair, even though it’s too short to mess up. Now, it was a trophy of my survival. It not only hadn’t grown in dark and coarse (as other cancer survivors had warned me it would), it was like velvet. At first, a little lighter in color than before, but quickly it returned to the shade of light brown it has been for the last ten years or so.
For the past several years, I’ve kept my hair short—in a “buzz cut” or crew cut. I bought some electric clippers with different sized guards and started cutting my own hair. At that short length, even a visually impaired guy can get it right. Part of my choice of hairstyle is that I have a problem a lot of men (and some women) would love to have. I have too much hair on my head. If I don’t keep it short, it’s hard to keep my scalp clean or rinse out all the shampoo. I’ve got a whole bunch of hair. My recent temporary hair loss was a rare opportunity for me to see how the “other half” lives. I came away from the experience with a better understanding of what it’s like for guys who lose their hair from natural causes.
I’ve put off cutting my hair again as long as possible out of concern that the fresh, post-cancer hair which bravely repopulated my head was a one-time shot. If I cut it, would those baby-soft locks be history? After trying to ignore the hair tickling the tops of my ears as long as I could, I broke down and cut it today.
What’s left isn’t any softer than what I had last year. I looked at the soft tufts of hair in the sink and felt sentimental. Realizing I’ll only have that velvety post-chemo hair once (I hope), I scooped up some of it and put it in a small plastic container. Maybe it sounds weird to anyone who hasn’t had cancer—and maybe it sounds weird to some who have. Or maybe it’s a “blind thing.” But, I want a tactile reminder of those early days in the recovery, when my body gradually returned to normal. That tender hair was as tender as my body and my overall health were. When I put my hand on it and felt how soft it was, it seemed to be saying, “Hey, I’m back! And I’m even better than before.”
That’s exactly how I feel about every aspect of my life since the cancer: even better than before. And just in case I forget, I have a little reminder I can run my fingers through.