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Naked Scalps and Other People

Posted Feb 21 2009 11:37pm
DAY 52

I wake up in the middle of the night composing eloquent blog entries in my mind, only to forget the topic and language upon waking up the next day. Frustrating to say the least.

Since I was discharged from this last round of chemo, my nausea has remained at a constant level. Chris and I have been vigilant about my nausea medicine, but sometimes it isn't enough. My body is now trained to let me know when I have to have it. For example, I stayed up well past my usual bedtime to watch a movie last night--Stranger than Fiction; I highly recommend it. It was past 2am before I went to bed. I woke up at 7am, exactly the time for my medicine. This happens everyday now, regardless of when I went to bed, or what time it is. Heartburn is also a constant companion. I got it after round one and I expected it again. It makes eating a chore and there are times that I just don't want to eat, because I don't want to deal with the reflux and pain. I'm on prescription strength pepcid twice a day and it helps, but it doesn't eliminate it. The doctors have also told me that all of the anti-biotics that I have to take contribute to the problem, as well. This is the price you pay to try and stay well, I suppose.

When I am out in public, I tend to cover my head. I do this for several reasons, one of which is that the chemo drugs make your skin especially sensitive to sunlight and sunburns are a constant danger, regardless of how much you limit your exposure. When I first shaved my head, I had a hard time regulating my body temperature and I found that hats helped. Now that I am used to having a naked scalp, I don't have quite as hard a time. When I am in the hospital, I leave my hat on, since I've noticed that most other people have a strange reaction to bald women. A problem with keeping my head covered is that when I am feeling nauseated and on the verge of vomiting, I begin to get very hot and clammy, especially on my scalp. When this sensation creeps up on me, I find that there is nothing that I can do to stop myself from throwing up. I don't know why it took me two months to figure it out, but the other day, when I was feeling particularly bad at the clinic, I decided to take my hat off to cool down. I felt better immediately.

I left my hat off for the rest of the day and didn't think anything of it. When you are a cancer patient, in a cancer research facility, you tend to think that you look like 50% percent of the population, i.e., sick, bald, and trying your best to be comfortable amongst it all. There are people who will sit next to you and perform any number of bodily functions that would be absolutely unacceptable in any normal social setting, but you won't bat an eye, because you know why they have to do it and they absolutely cannot help it. I have no vanity about being bald. It just didn't occur to me that I wouldn't be when this all started. I thought, well, I'll fit in with all of the other patients. I've since learned that there are any number of personalities that do not share my insouciance. Men walk around bald, patient or not. Women wear scarves, hats, or wigs. I have only encountered one other woman without head covering. She is much younger than the average patient--maybe early twenties.

The day I left my hat off, I got more stares for being a bald woman than I have since starting treatment. I made a point of staring back and had many people avert their eyes. Some people made a point of approaching me and commenting on the shape of my head. Some people made a point of singling me out in waiting rooms just to chat, even though I either had my eyes closed, or my head bent over a magazine. It was like a strange mania. People felt compelled to connect. This generally doesn't happen. I find it strange that in a facility filled with people who are to some degree going through a similar physical experience and who in some capacity resemble one another in the sense that cancer treatment does make your hair fall out, are arrested by the sight of a woman with a bald head. Trust me, I know that I do not look like the former Miss Universe in the first Star Trek movie. I look like a bald, puffy faced me. Small children do not run away in horror at the sight of me. I do not think that there is a vacancy under a bridge with my name on it. In fact, I have a very well developed self image, if I do say so myself. I enjoy not having to plug in a blow dryer. It takes me less than 5 seconds to dry my head. It is a luxury that I will probably miss when I do get my hair back. We'll see.

I have decided that I will continue to leave off my hat when I am inside. I am more comfortable, and that is what is most important to me.
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