Hair-y Details

Jun 20

People keep asking the same questions about my hair, so I’ll try to answer them here.

It was after my second chemo treatment that I shaved my head.  When I pulled on a lock of hair, twenty or so hairs would come loose.  I still had a full head of hair when the wind blew it away.  Actually, I didn’t shave my own head, we had our friend come over.  A brilliant friend, who learned to cut his own hair in high school, brought his clippers to college, and charged four dollars a cut to every kid in his dorm room every month.  (Do the math; I’m so teaching my girls to cut hair before they go to college!)  Anyway, after that day, I was left with a super short (one millimeter) buzz cut.  I don’t regret buzzing my hair this way: that day, that experience, was one of my favorite cancer moments so far.  I had been worried about it (mostly Maren being traumatized), and, instead, it was fun.

As my hair continued to fall out,  I would lose the little hairs.  After about one month, my head got really itchy.  Within a day or two, two different women came up to  me and said, “Duct tape.”

Blank stare from me, “Excuse me?”

Her, nodding solemnly, “For the hair when it won’t fall out.  Trust me.  Use duct tape.”

So I did.  Actually, Brad did.  We got the duct tape from his work bench, and brought it up to our bathroom.  We taped my head (sticky side down, obviously) and pulled it off.  Sure enough, the itchy little hairs came off with the duct tape.  It didn’t hurt at all.  We repeated it and did it all over my head.  We laughed while we did it.  Who would have thought my amazing husband would ever, ever be duct-taping my head?  That’s another fun cancer memory, and also one of the best cancer tips I can pass along.

I still have to shave my legs.  In my opinion, cancer totally dropped the ball on this one.  So. Annoying.

My eyebrows and eyelashes are holding on for dear life, but they are much thinner.  Probably thirty percent of what they used to be.  As a strawberry-blonde, I have always described my lashes and brows as “clear”.  They are white/blond/invisible.  I’ve used brow pencils since high school for definition, so I’m better than most chemo patients at drawing them in.  Symmetry, especially mirror symmetry, is really hard.

I never lost every single hair.  If I hadn’t buzzed it, I would now have the worst combover (combaround?) ever.  I’m glad I buzzed it.

My dad asked me yesterday if my was growing back, and I immediately answered, “No, I don’t think so.”  I’m getting my chemo drug every week, so I’m not expecting to have hair any time soon.

However, upon closer scrutiny in the bathroom mirror, it does appear as though a downy layer of hair may be growing.  I also have quite a few odd random hairs that are a centimeter long; I’m not sure when that happened.  Essentially, I look like a baby eagle when peering in the mirror from six inches away.  Obviously, I’m going to wait several more months before I do that again.

The worst part about being bald at thirty-two is that it is a reminder when I look in the mirror that I have cancer.  Instead of having that thought, I had to make the mental shift that the baldness is a symbol of the chemo, not the cancer.  And the chemo is awesome: the chemo is killing the cancer.  I love chemo; I love the bald head chemo gives me.  This is the closest I have ever been to being a drug addict; give me more chemo!

Easily, the best part about being bald is the efficiency.  Less time in the shower, and less time after the shower.  It is amazing.  I sort of wish I had a job to go to every day so that I could fully appreciate the extra sleep I would get in the early mornings.

I am saving money on hair products.  Unfortunately, the cost savings here does not make up for other cancer-related expenses.

When I first shaved my head, I felt the cool of the freezer on my head.  It didn’t register on my face (I’m used to that), but my brain definitely registered the cold air on the top of my head.  It was startling.

People don’t recognize me when they see me out of context.  Hair is a critical part of my appearance, or, I imagine, of anyone’s appearance.  When I bump in to people and say hello, it takes them a second to identify me.  It’s weird to watch someone you know trying to place you.

I am getting a ton of use out of my scarves and hats.  I have no regrets about not getting a wig.  Since it is summer, I go bald most of the time when I am indoors.  Maren still peels hats and scarves off my head saying she prefers me bald.  Occasionally, she comments that she wishes I had hair.  I tell her it will grow back after chemo is over.  I am careful not to assign dates or make promises.  My doctors don’t give me false promises, and I’m certainly not going to do that to Maren.

As you can imagine, I see lots of variety in head coverings in the chemo room.  Lots of cool hats.  Many bandanas.  Old ladies in turbans.  Wigs that are better-than-what-I’d-imagined.  I surprise even my nurses and Dr. Wonderful when I walk around with a bare head.  I find this odd–am I really the only person who exposes her bald head?  What am I missing here?

And last, laying my bald head on a cool pillowcase in the summer is quite delicious.


  1. Super-short hair in summer sounds like a fantastic treat! I love how you always look for the positive pieces in everyday living.

    PS: You continue to be in my prayers.

  2. Karen Kendrick /

    Oh, yes, yes to the bald head on a cool pillow, and hanging out the car window. Here is a most delicious tip: Have Brad kiss the back of your head, right in the soft spot at the base of your skull. Your eyes will roll back in your head. I almost didn’t let that patch grow back in 🙂 Delete this if you need to, but make sure you try it!

  3. Karen Kendrick /

    And a RESOUNDING YES – all the symptoms are from the medicine, not the cancer. The bald head, the shortness of breath going up a flight of stairs, the day or two when everything tastes gray except for fresh fruit and mint leaves – all of this if from the medicine, and it all gets better! I spent so much yearning, wondering what color and texture my hair would be as it grew back in. I so badly wanted a buzz cut, short hair that stood at attention. No on told me that it would be soft and flat like a baby. Then came the glorious, rolling curls. I will never get another perm, even though they eventually gave way to my normal, fine, mostly straight texture again. Natural curls or none at all, thank you.

    Enjoy your days, my friend. Live them well, and relish the many good things. Use your newfound perspective, and delight in every minute.

  4. When you snuggle in your chair today, know that we are loving you. As a baby, you were noticeable by your baldness, Same beautiful child, just older.

    • Bonniebj /

      Totally agreed Roz, and who wouldn’t recognize those beautiful clear eyes??

  5. Marjorie Lauer /

    I found a dust brush on the vacuum vleaner was great for pulling out hair! And I’m having a hard time still (after 3 months) getting used to seeing myself bald.

  6. Jessica N /

    Hi. I read your blog every day-got turned on to it by “Momastery”. I just wanted to encourage you that what you write everyday encourages me and I am not a cancer patient. I am amazed by your positive spin on things and as a chronic pessimist it is a breath of fresh air. Even though I do not know you I find myself thinking about your words as I go through out my day and get frustrated for what is, truthfully, nothing! Thank you for writing and letting us into your world as you survive this with your family. You are a blessing! You rock that bald head!!!

  7. Bonniebj /

    Have a wonderful day Jen- another day in the fight, another day of the Lord loving you and fighting with you, another day of your family & friends fighting/praying for you, another day of hope. Hiking alongside you and your Mom!!!!!

  8. I love your positive outlook and I think it’s great that you are fully enjoying all the benefits. Hey how about this? I’m jealous even! Being bald in the heat of summer sounds awesome!! I think you have the right idea!! God bless you

  9. Amanda /

    I have one week of chemo down so I cut off about three to four inches of hair last night. I didn’t cry when she cut it but did when she wouldn’t take payment. What can I say, the kindness around me brings me to tears sometimes. Thanks for the duct tape information, may need that in a few weeks!

  10. /

    Hey Jen,
    When told I’d loose my hair -I thought finally I might get some red hair and curls like you and Eloise – instead I got back the same. Therefore hair in my opinion is over-rated go bald and beautiful with your inner light shining through. love you, we pray for you, Neecie

  11. Marsha Vonderwish /

    One hint I learned was to massage my head everyday. It will keep the blood circulating and help when it’s time for your hair to grow back. I wish someone had told me this early on. I went without a wig most of the time, I felt I was displaying my badge of honor.
    Keeping you and Roz in my prayers.

  12. Tina Mathie /

    You are amazing! Much love my dear! XoXoX