Dealing with Hair Loss (Part 3) –
Less than a week after my consultation with the wigmaker, I returned to have my hair cut, which would trigger the 24-hour timeline for the creation and delivery of my new wig.
I made a late afternoon appointment on a Thursday. The wigmaker’s studio was not far from my office, so my plan was to work a full day on Thursday, then work from home on Friday as I waited for my wig.
Although my confidence level for my hair plan was high, it did not extend to going out in public with a buzz cut prior to receiving my wig.
As the wigmaker cut my hair, I was surprisingly relaxed. I was fascinated with the process. With each cut I watched my appearance transform. Not since the late 1970s, when my sister Sharon and I sported matching Dorothy Hamill haircuts, had I ever worn short hair.
When the wigmaker finished, I had a quarter inch of hair left all around my head. While the cut was incredibly short, it was not the traumatic transformation that I had prepared for, proving once again that my fear and imagination always conjured up something worse than what reality would ultimately manifest.
I pulled a knit hat onto my head and walked out into the cool February evening. I thought to myself that the winter season was the perfect time to go through this process. A good hat is a great partner to a wig, especially when a wig isn’t available.
As promised, when I returned the next day, my wig was waiting for me.
I am so excited!
Here comes the wigmaker!
He has my wig!
I will be honest – the first few moments of being reunited with my hair were a bit disappointing.
When I met the wigmaker for the first time, I had this major epiphany that I would have “my hair” through chemotherapy. And this was true, to a point.
It was my hair, but not exactly. Rather than coming out of my head, my hair was now sitting in my lap. It was shorter and the shape of the cut was a bit different.
In the midst of my disappointment, I had an ah-ha moment – it was still a wig.
As someone with a tendency to barrel through emotions in order to quickly get to the other side, I realized that I needed a moment to mourn the fact that I was going to lose my hair.
Fortunately, my wigmaker was now my therapist.
He reminded me that my hair would grow back. This was familiar commentary, as several people had pointed this out to me in recent weeks. I typically responded with a strained smile and a deep suppression of the urge to say, “Thank you, Captain Obvious.”
But this was different.
I knew the wigmaker understood exactly what I was going through. I could feel the experiences of the many women who had once occupied the chair in which I was sitting, through the deeply authentic empathy I was receiving from the wigmaker.
After a few more minutes of conversation, the wigmaker gently nudged me to try on the wig.
His prompt brought my consciousness back into the room, as I knew that getting some practice runs with putting on the wig was really important.
The interior of the wig did not have elastic, therefore, I would use clips and tape to keep the wig in place. Once my hair had completely fallen out, I would use tape exclusively until my hair started to grow back.
As I started to get comfortable with the wig, my initial disappointment faded away. The fact that the wig was made from my hair was a miracle. It was going to make interacting with the world and maintaining boundaries with my diagnosis so much easier.
Things were going really well, when Type A Christine reappeared. The wigmaker had just handed me a roll of adhesive tape to use on my wig. I asked, Exactly how strong is this adhesive tape?
It’s very strong, the wigmaker replied.
Really? I interjected. Because it doesn’t feel that strong.
Sensing correctly that I spent my childhood watching reruns of I Love Lucy and The Carol Burnett Show, the wigmaker smiled and said, If you are thinking of comedy routines where wigs are easily pulled off someone’s head, this will not happen with your wig. But if you would like to try some stronger adhesive tape, we can do that.
We tried a couple of tapes, each with increasing adhesive strength.
I still wasn’t convinced.
Do you have anything stronger? I asked.
Amazingly, the wigmaker still had his patience intact when he said, The next level of adhesive tape is industrial grade. I would not encourage you to use this tape on your scalp. It could cause damage to your skin.
Industrial grade adhesive. I was intrigued.
When you say “damage,” like, how much damage really could the tape cause? I asked.
Fortunately, my wigmaker/therapist was able to talk me down from my crazy. We settled on the adhesive tape one level below industrial grade. My wig was going nowhere.
One Week Later…..
By the time my second chemotherapy appointment arrived, two thirds of my hair had fallen out. I realized that having stages on the path to losing my hair was very helpful. Since my wigmaker cut my hair so short, I was spared waking up in the morning to see long strands of hair on my pillow. Most of the hair that I had post-cut easily came out while washing my hair. It was a gentle transition.
When I arrived at my oncologist’s office the day before chemotherapy to review my blood work, I was met with curious glances. As I was led to the exam room, I felt a weird energy – as though people were looking at me, but afraid to tell me that I had a zipper unzipped or a piece of food stuck between my teeth.
The nurse, who normally greeted me with a warm smile, looked somewhat concerned when she walked into the exam room.
How are you? she asked tentatively.
I’m ok, I replied.
So….um….you had your first treatment, um….did you lose your hair? the nurse asked.
I was confused, but responded, Yes, I did lose my hair.
That’s a wig! the nurse said incredulously.
I smiled, as I now realized what was going on.
Yes, it’s a wig made of my own hair.
That is amazing, the nurse exclaimed. When we all saw you walk in we thought you were one of the rare 1% of patients who don’t lose their hair during chemo.
I wasn’t that lucky.
But I was definitely lucky.
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