Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What's in a Haircut? A Reality Check...

When Timothy was about a year old, I took him for his first haircut. As the barber trimmed his curls and gave him a "big boy" shape, I watched our baby disappear before my eyes - and a toddler appeared in his place.  I used to take my grandmother for her weekly visits to the hairdresser, and I laughed at the contrast - the "straight-across-the-forehead" bangs of a one-year old vs. the softly teased white curls of someone in their late 90s.

But an experience last week was a total "first" for that I did not expect.  I drove my mother to the beauty shop for a haircut to trim her hair to a one-inch length all over. This was in anticipation that any day, she would lose her hair completely as a result of chemo.  The trepidation felt by both our then-one-year-old Timothy and my 76-year-old mother was palpable...obviously, for very different reasons.  One did not understand what the man was doing to his hair...the other was probably asking herself, "How did this happen to me?"

I thought Mother's new haircut looked cute. We took "before and after" photos, and the hairdresser and I teased that she should use some gel and spike it up and "go wild!"  Mom barely laughed and said she would NOT be doing that!  A day or so later, she returned to the hairdresser with a wig that she had purchased but was not totally convinced she liked...and the hairdresser cut and styled it for her. 

Mom posted a picture of her new "do" on Facebook, and many commented how beautiful she looked - and how nice her hair was.  I think that was the only day she actually wore the wig.  She said since she mostly just lies around the house, there was no sense in putting it on for that.

Yesterday morning, I received an e-mail from my mom saying that her hair was coming out in clumps...and that her hairdresser would buzz her head for her - but not until the next day.  The hairdresser was busy and could not work this yesterday.  I "buzz" Greg's head every week.  We have clippers, and I know how to use them.  So I offered to come and buzz my mother's head.  She responded almost immediately and said yes...this would be a great help to her.

So I gathered the clippers and a bed sheet and drove to my mother's house.  We "set up shop" on her sun porch, and I clipped her already-short hair down to a fine "fuzz" all over her head.  She's not slick-bald yet...but she probably will be soon.  Once we were finished, Mother got up and tied on her little cotton turban.  "Aren't you going to look in the mirror?" I asked.  "No!" she emphatically responded.  And several hours later, she told my sister that she still had not looked at herself in the mirror.

I didn't think Mom looked that bad without her hair.  I don't know what I expected...and maybe it's because I do buzz my husband's head every week with the clippers. I am used to that "look".  But I did have the sense as it was happening, "What am I doing?"  And then I remembered...Mom's hair is falling out in clumps anyway.

We are only one treatment into this journey, and so far, my mother has pretty much had one "normal" day in the last three weeks where she felt "good" all day long.  And she made the most of it, with a trip out for lunch and to the Dollar Tree. She stuffed Halloween treat bags for the children.  She worked on her blog posts and answered e-mail.  Many days, she has been able to do small tasks for a few hours...but ultimately, she has ended up back in bed - or on her couch...drained...spent...totally exhausted.  

We are told that the treatments have a cumulative effect.  We're also told that some people start to feel "normal" just in time for the next treatment.  It's so early that we still don't really know what to expect.  This Thursday, Mom will get her "port"...and then she will have a 3-hour chemo treatment, as well as blood work and a visit with her oncologist.  Maybe we will know more about what lies ahead after all of that.

Mom's surgeon explained to her that her chemotherapy drugs attack cells that are dividing...and cancer cells divide.  So do the cells that make up hair follicles...hence, the hair loss.  It's daunting to think that the poison that can kill cancer cells - and cause you to lose your hair - could also be healing you at the same time. 

I told Timothy that his hair would grow back...and it has, over and over again.  We've made numerous trips to the barber shop...and in recent months, Timothy's Granny (my mother) had taken on that task.  Hopefully, in time, HER hair will grow back...and maybe they can once again make these trips together.  For now, we'll all step in to do what must be done and pray that the drugs are working...and that we are headed in the right direction.  After all, it IS just hair...right?

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