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Earning Your Stripes - One Hair at a Time

Michelle lives in Northern California and is a single mom of two almost adult kiddos. She was diagnosed with Stage 2N Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) triple positive at 52 in July 2020 and is still in active treatment. She finished six rounds of Taxotere/Carboplatin with Herceptin and Perjeta. She had a DMX in September 2020 with expanders. She went from a 36DDD (really a G) to a 36D, what a weight off her shoulders, literally.

Most of us know that sweet talking, hopeless romantic skunk looking for love. He is handsome with an awful odor, but with a gorgeous stripe of white through the jet black main of fur. Yes, I am Pepe Le Pew when I am not dying my hair every three weeks.

Well hello cancer, you want to take my voluptuous breasts (a good quality I thought) and now you want me to lose all my hair? OR perhaps there is a way for me to keep my jet-black hair? Introducing cold capping. For those who don’t know about cold capping it is a modern-day torture device we set upon our heads and freeze our heads to -30 degrees, while receiving the cancer killing chemo. Read more here about cold capping.

When researching about cold capping you get all sorts of mixed information, it does not work, it does work. Your hair falls out anyway, which they call shedding over time, so it is it worth it? Other cancer warriors will say it was so cold they had to be knocked out to just bare the sub-freezing temperatures. Oh, and by the way if you are cold capping, you may also be doing a newly studied treatment of cold therapy. This is where you ice your hands and feet, while cold capping through the chemo portion of treatment. So, yes you are a complete popsicle. Thank goodness for heating blankets and extra warm blankets from the infusion center.

So how does one decide to cold cap? First of course I talked to friends and family, who completely supported me losing all my hair. Most of them said, it’s normal and it will grow back, so don’t worry. But I am kind of a stubborn rebel and decided to do more digging. So, I did what most of us do these days, I took to social media. And thank goodness for social media! I found Facebook groups, followed hashtags on Instagram and found many many women experiencing the same thing I was, this desire not to lose their har. This brought me such a sense of relief. Maybe I could keep my hair. But why?

Here’s why my fellow breast cancer sisters and brothers: I thought if I could keep my hair I might not feel “sick.” I might feel like I did not have cancer. If I could just “look” like myself with hair, I could be more “me.” Well, I’m now at the end of my chemo journey and I have about 40 percent of my hair. Do I feel like myself? Heck no, my body is battered and beaten from the chemo. All sorts of chemo-related things no one talks about have happened. Kind of like childbirth, no one talks abouts about hemorrhoids, constipation, diarrhea, constant nausea, weakened muscles, mental challenges that reach deep into your soul.

But I have hair. I have Pepé Le Pew hair, which I cover up with a hat every day. I continue to lose hair on a daily basis. I guess when I look in the mirror and see Michelle with hair, yes, I feel a bit better. But I have learned it is not the appearance on the outside of that makes me a cancer badass, it’s what’s on the inside.

I’ve found ways to make light of my new perky expanders, which will be great in the summer. I can do off the shoulder tops, which I’ve not done since the tube top days, yes that’s the 70s. I have a new appreciation for how good food used to taste. I can’t wait to taste an In and Out Burger!

I still have 25 rounds of radiation to endure, with burning and some other crazy stuff they tell me, like my cancer side will be perky and firmer than the non-cancer side. Which is just great, I’ll have a 20-year-old foob on one side and the other will be like 30? Can’t a girl catch a break.

My hope is that my future Pepé Le Pew, whether we match in our grey-striped hair, won’t care much or he can decide which side he likes better on which day?

(Photo credit: Warner Brothers - Looney Tunes)

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