I read a short story several months ago that I thought was dumb but I still remember it. It was about a Jewish woman with alopecia (hair loss) who became Orthodox partly so that she could wear a wig and not feel self-conscious. But she felt restive within the community's confines. Or at least that's how I remember it. It's an intriguing idea: one's body leading to a new identity. My colleague H's sister has lost her hair from chemo. He says she looks like a little monk. Shall I become a Buddhist monk? A Hare Krishna?
I know the analogy is not perfect. The woman in the story had alopecia her whole life.
I am still with hair.* With thick, curly hair. The chemo nurse said I would begin to shed on Day 16. Today is Day 15. I've heard your scalp starts tingling before the hair falls out. I have been tooling around on the Internet and found information about a cold cap. Basically, you wear a freezing cap during chemo and the cold keeps the hair follicles from being affected. This is apparently practiced in Europe, but there have been no definitive studies. I called the third-year oncology-hematology Fellow yesterday to ask him about the cap and about antioxidants. He called right back. I called him because he talked to us (the committee: L, my mother and me)before the Real Oncologist came in and he seemed knowledgable. Unlike most doctors I've seen, he'd read my chart and knew all about my high platelet count. He seemed very comfortable and confident and lives in my neighborhood. Was I intimidated by the Real Onc? Do I feel I don't deserve to talk to the Expert? That's he's busy doing Important Things? Like what? Meeting with patients like me? Anway, the Fellow said he hadn't heard of the caps but then was looking them up online as we spoke. He said I could get one if I wanted. He said he remembered my curly hair and that it would probably grow back curly. He reiterated what he'd said in person, that people can be devastated by getting up in the morning and looking in the mirror at their baldness and being reminded of their cancer and treatment. I told him I was planning for baldness and that I was going to have an anti-war slogan written on my head in henna. He laughed and said something about it being seen from the air. Then I asked about antioxidants. (My cancer-sister in Marin County was told by her onc not to eat soy.) The Fellow said not to take supplements like Vitamin E but that I could eat soy and drink tea normally. Like once or twice a week? Yes, he said. I remember I'd asked the onc about this and he'd said green tea and soy was OK. At least I wrote this down. I don't really remember anything he said. I rely on L to remind me.
The problem with antioxidants is they can protect the cancer cells.
Is my scalp tingling?
Also, I must admit, the Fellow seemed Jewish. He had an Israeli name and a very slight accent. So I was going tribal, feeling more comfortable with one of my own. (I just looked around on the Internet and see, according to a Tribune article, that our Fellow, like us, eats in Chinatown on Christmas. We go to Lao Sze Chuan every Christmas Eve. Sometimes with rabbis. And he is Israeli. My mother thought so, too. We have highly developed Jew-dar. Or else it was obvious.)
As for the cold cap, I read some more and found out that it's possible that the cap will protect the follicles so well that the chemo won't kill any escaped cancer that's hiding out in the scalp.
My friend P's mother had chemo for thyroid cancer. She wrote notes because she had trouble speaking. P has this note from her: "They are going to wrap my head in cold ice packs to help preserve the hair." P doesn't remember the ice packs, but maybe she wasn't there at the time, she says.
Is it tingling? Is it? I'm apprehensive about losing my hair, afraid I'll look terrible but still so curious. Excited, even. Amazed that this thing could happen that has never happened to me before. (I suppose you could say the same thing about death. I don't think I'd feel the same way about death, though.)
*Caveat: The following is personal. I took a bath today and lost a lot of pubic hair. It collected in the hair trap in the drain. It looked like a swarm of ants. I looked up "pubic hair" and "chemo" online and found a silly video about a pubic hair fashion show. I didn't watch much of it, but the filmmakers would have you believe that pubic hair can grow down to your knees. I didn't want to spend too much time there for fear that I would get on some porno list. The reason the video came up when I Googled those words was because someone had written in the comments section that the models should donate the hair to chemo patients. Let's not ponder that too seriously.