The first time I did my rounds of chemo pre transplant #1, I went to a salon about a week prior to when my nurses told me my hair would start falling out in clumps, and had it all shaved off. I decided that I would dictate when my hair would come out, not the chemo. It was oddly empowering in a way. My mom sobbed when the stylist shaved it all off. I was numb. I walked out wearing a wig that my friend and fellow cancer survivor, Linda, gave me. It wasn't too bad looking. However, I did not let my children ever see me with my bald head. I either wore the wigs everywhere I went or, if I took it off, I wore a beany cap, even to sleep in. I was extremely self conscious about anyone seeing me without my wigs because then people would know I was doing chemo and very few people knew the true nature of my illness. I didn't want their pity. I didn't want to see the look in their eyes. I wanted none of it. I was going to beat my disease and I didn't need anyone to rattle my resolve. After transplant (and more chemo), not only did I have no hair on my head, but I lost my eyelashes and eyebrows, too. Now that sucked even worse than losing the hair on my head. There's a reason we have eyelashes. And without them, my eyes were irritated, things were always getting in my eyes, and I looked like a complete freak. I'd post a photo of it here but I didn't take any photos. It was definitely not something that I wanted to save for the memories. I wore huge enormous sunglasses everywhere I went. I purchased fake eyelashes that I wore in emergencies but they were so incredibly uncomfortable. They were heavy and made my eyes itch. I hated them. I bought fake eyebrows, too, but I ended up looking like Groucho Marx. So I drew them in with an eyebrow pencil but in the heat of the summer, they often melted off. Oh my gosh, I was miserable. Thankfully, my eyelashes and brows grew back quickly. Within six weeks or so, my eyelashes were longer and thicker than they've ever been in my entire life and my brows were back to normal. Between transplants 1 and 2, my hair started growing back but then when I started more chemo for transplant #2, I would wake up with hair all over my pillows. It was gross. One night around 2:00 AM I woke up, went into the bathroom, and shaved it all off. I was back to being a baldy. The worse part about the wigs was just the prison aspect of it. If someone stopped by the house unannounced, I had to run downstairs and put my wig on. And it got so old. At least I started not caring if my children saw me hairless. It was very weird for them (and me) at first. Talk about feeling naked! When Siena saw me without a cap or wig on the first time, it freaked her out. But everyone (me included) got used to it. In January, my hair had grown back enough that it finally covered my scalp. And one day I went to yoga without a wig on. Guess what? No one gaped at me and I didn't care anyway. When the children and I went to Long Beach over MLK weekend, I went out with just a baseball cap on. Hey, this was huge progress for me-- getting comfortable in my own scalp. When the children and I went to Denver over Spring break, I only wore my wig once and that was to church. The first time I felt the wind blow through my short hair, it felt really super cool. Who knew? But there is just one problem: my hair grew back in super curly and I hate it. And when it's really curly like that, it sticks straight up and I look like Carol Burnett. I finally found my saving grace. There is a great beauty school near my house and Kelsey does my hair twice per week. For $10 she shampoos and straightens it. For $12 I get a full scalp massage to stimulate hair growth (oh my gosh it feels amazing!), shampoo, and style. So guess what? I pitched my wig! I am free and it feels fabulous! Not too long ago, I had just enough hair to get hair extensions. So, actually, I have mid length hair these days. Progress. I can't say I'm entirely comfortable with my new look but, hey, it feels good and that's worth something.
about the author
Lizzy Smith was diagnosed with myeloma in 2012 at age 44. Within days, she left her job, ended her marriage, moved, and entered treatment. "To the extent I'm able, I want to prove that despite life's biggest challenges, it is possible to survive and come out stronger than ever," she says.