Following the successful stem cell collection and a few days of much-needed quiet recovery, I had planned a weekend trip down to London for a family party and to Sissinghurst in Kent for pure pleasure.
Although I normally moult quite a lot – the joys of long curly hair! – on the Wednesday and Thursday, I had noticed an increase in the amount of hair falling onto my shoulders. I thought it was probably due to the chemotherapy I had two weeks ago, but didn’t think much more about it.
I had been told that I will definitely lose my hair – possibly all over – when I have the high dose of chemotherapy and stem cell transplant next month, but that following this earlier blast of chemo, it could go either way. Everyone reacts differently to chemotherapy, so they can’t say for sure what will happen. I think I had it in my head that I would probably not lose my hair at this point, maybe because I’d had no noticeable reaction to the oral chemotherapy I was taking for the initial treatment and this was the same drug, just at a higher dose.
On Friday morning, I washed my hair in preparation for the weekend and could not help but notice the huge amounts of hair that came out in my hands as I shampooed and conditioned. Apart from finding the amount of hair remarkable – worthy of photographing – I thought no more about it.
It was only when I was in the car that I noticed that every time I touched my hair, my hands came away with long and numerous strands of hair.
I looked in the mirror and was horrified to see that where my hair parted was looking very thin and patchy. How could I see so much hair in my bath tub and not think it would have an impact on the amount still left on my head?
I tried not to, but every time I touched my hair, it came out in my hands like there was no tomorrow. I found it very upsetting… It was just such bad timing! I was away from home, away from clippers, hats, scarves or even a tiara and on my way to my 50th birthday party.
I avoided wetting my hair in the shower the following morning, gladly making use of the free shower cap provided by the B&B. Nonetheless, hair was everywhere… the bath tub, bathroom floor, bedroom carpet, pillows, every item of clothing…
It’s funny, no matter how many times I’ve heard or read about it, when it happened to me, it was still such a surprise, somehow not at all happening how I thought it would, even though everything I’d heard or read was absolutely accurate.
I think that while I can say “hair was everywhere, all over clothes, pillows, chairs, etc.”, when the reality actually hit me, my emotional reaction had such a strong impact that’s hard to put into words. Although people had spoken of where the hair WAS (all over everything), that had not translated in my head to where the hair WAS NOT any longer… on the head… visibly!
My main concern wasn’t so much the hair loss per se, but more the lack of control over it. The fact that it had come upon me unawares in a way, despite being fully forewarned, aware and even with a plan to pre-empt it. The fact that I had not been able to shave my head before it happened, as I had hoped (see post: Let’s Talk about Hair). The unattractiveness – vanity strikes again! The blatant evidence of having cancer that thinning patchy hair signals. And the fact that I was going to a family party that evening, where my rapidly balding, but not fully brazenly bald head would be so visible. But perhaps there is some learning in there about letting go and not needing to control everything…?
Once breakfasted, we went off to visit the world-famous gardens, which are quite lovely. The white garden is particularly renowned, but I liked best the vibrant mix of reds, oranges, purples, yellows and bright pinks in one of the other gardens, this one clearly designed to be a riot of colour. I took more photos than might be considered necessary and even pinched a couple of poppy seed heads… naughty!
In the afternoon we drove to London, allowing enough time for a rest in our hotel before getting ready to go out. Again, I covered my head with a shower cap, but still the hair kept falling every time I looked at it. It was really on a roll now…
Wearing it parted, as I have done over the past few months, really wasn’t a good look, so I pulled it back softly into a ponytail, held up by a hair clip. Not brilliant, but not too obvious. My friend made reassuring comments, but I felt very self-conscious and despite feeling I looked good in my clothes, I was hyper-aware of my patchy head and embarked on the evening with a sense of trepidation and feeling a bit glum. “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” came to mind.
Some of my family live as far away as New York and Israel, as well as scattered around England, so we don’t all manage to get together too often – most recently at weddings. But with no more weddings or bar mitzvahs on the horizon, my cousin Gaye and I had planned this joint party to celebrate our 50th birthdays (only three weeks apart) as much as anything to have a family gathering.
The only people who weren’t able to make it were a cousin who lives in Israel and my brother, with wife and baby in New York. A few days before the party Dan emailed saying he could come after all, which was great news. But that made it more disappointing that Adam, Cammie and baby Zeke wouldn’t be there. I’d not yet met my nephew; when they came over last December, I was too ill to travel to see them.
My friend and I, along with my mum and her partner were the last to arrive at the Chinese restaurant in Central London. The rest of the family were already there, so as we walked in there was a lot of happy hugging, greeting and taking of photos.
In the midst of the happy chaos my aunt said “Jet, Lilian, look over here!” Over here was a baby carrier. How odd, I thought, that my cousin would bring his baby daughter with him, when he’d already mentioned a babysitter and his three year old son was nowhere in sight.
We took a peek… the infant looked quite familiar, but was definitely not either of my cousin, Mike’s children. In fact, it quickly dawned on me, he looked exactly like my nephew, who I’ve seen on Skype a few times and in numerous photos. I began to get an idea what was going on, but it took my mum a few minutes more to work it out…
Somehow, my brother and his wife had actually made it over for the weekend… and kept it a secret from us! Once we solved the ridde, they popped out grinning from ear to ear and the hugging, kissing, greeting and photo-taking recommenced with much hilarity. Everyone else had been in on the ruse and enjoyed seeing us first so bewildered, then so thrilled.
All in all, it was a really lovely weekend, despite the hair loss. And there were long moments when I totally forgot about it altogether.