Chemotherapy and my New Look(s)


During a “Chemo Teach” session, meant to prepare me for my first infusion, I asked my nurse practitioner if I should just shave my head before I got started—or wait until I saw a hag in the mirror. As a perimenopausal woman, I’m already down to a lot less hair. I never had thick tresses to begin with.

My friend Pam, who has been supporting me through my treatments, actually suggested a hair shaving party. She thought I could invite a few friends over and come up with some kind of ceremony before bringing out the electric razor. The remainder of the event could be devoted to a modeling session, giving me an opportunity to choose a few good scarves and hats. She’s a former oncology nurse, so she’s in the know about stuff like this. While I could see the appeal, I nixed the idea, telling her I’d already given my hairdresser a heads up. I was just waffling over when to make the appointment. I knew this question paled in comparison to questions like, “When do I take the steroids necessary for my first infusion?” Still, I was letting this one get to me. Secretly, I wanted to get it over with.

Instead of a party, I was thinking I could show off my new wig (compliments of the American Cancer Society) during my last – happy – dinner out with friends. I’d been warned not to eat anything I loved during the first few days following an infusion, as I might always associate this fare with the nausea sure to come on afterwards.

I was happy about the free wig. Three months of chemotherapy did not seem to warrant an expensive hairpiece. I knew I wasn’t likely to wear a wig when my cancer treatment was over (unless not enough hair grew back). Besides, I didn’t hate the idea of scarves, hats, or for that matter, a bald head. Yet I noticed the Cancer Patient and Family Resource Center at UCSD Medical was offering wigs and head coverings to cancer patients. While the selection wasn’t great, I found one that would do in a pinch. I thought, “Why not?” This would leave me with a choice of four new looks to play with over the next six months: bald as a monk, wrapped in an edgy scarf, dapper with a hat, or displaying a wig in a new style (for me).

In confidence, I don’t think I’ll make a good baldie. Some people with no hair do look elegant or cool. Some enjoy accessorizing with a “Who cares what you think? attitude. I could try to “practice” with no hair in the way a monk does, work on being less attached to vanity (I am a Zen student). I could adopt that same attitude with the scarf look. I find hats stylish, a fun option. The wig “will do.” Right now I have longer hair, but I’ve sported shorter hairstyles before. I suspect I won’t care about any of these looks, because I probably won’t want to leave the house very often. Though on good days, I do want to feel I can spend time in public.

My nurse practitioner wasn’t wild about the idea of shaving my head before it was necessary. She thought it would be too extreme—that I needed to ease into this, as I’d be dealing with a number of other shocks during the early weeks of chemo. “Your head will get cold,” she added. Thus the question was settled. I don’t have to go through my last good weekend exhibiting one of four new looks. I’ve got a little more time to be myself before accepting the tether of cancer treatment. It will probably change me for good.

Special thanks to the American Cancer Society and the Patient and Family Resource Center at Moores Cancer Center.

My appreciation to folks in the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District for the new hat and turban.