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Facing Hair Loss

Tonia was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) in August 2021, and instantly turned her life upside down. Since then, she’s been in constant rounds of treatment including aggressive chemotherapies, craniospinal radiation, and an allogeneic stem cell transplant. Overall, she gives these spa treatments 0 stars. Pre-cancer, Tonia did her best to make the world awesome through her work as a user experience researcher, self-care and wellness coach, and volunteering. A wanderlust, she could often be found exploring all the PNW had to offer, both on hikes and in the city. That is, when she wasn’t at karaoke. Tonia resides in Seattle, Washington with her partner and her cat, Sharpie. She currently enjoys neighborhood walks, snarky cancer humor, catching up on true crime documentaries, and cannot wait until the day she can eat sushi again.

This is a story about love and finding humor during an onslaught of cancer treatments.

After two rounds of chemo, my hair was finally starting to come back, and I was very excited. Shortly after, I learned I would have to undergo radiation, which would also make me lose my hair (again), and I was distraught. I am a natural redhead, and my hair has always been a major part of my identity.

As it started to fall out, I asked my partner to shave it off so as to not go through that trauma again. I noticed that there was still a small patch of hair in the back, and they explained it was what radiation didn’t seem to get rid of, so they left it as my love patch. It seemed minor, and I had bigger things to worry about.

Fast forward a couple months, my hair is still gone, and I am admitted to the hospital to start the stem cell transplant process. A couple days in, one of the nursing assistants comes in for rounds and just stares at me. I started to panic and asked her what was wrong. She asked if I’d seen the back of my head. When I mentioned that my partner left a tiny love patch after radiation, she wanted to know if I minded if she took a photo to show me.

I was floored when I realized that I had a HUGE PATCH of very obvious hair on the back of my head. For months, no one told me how bad it actually was. For months I had been visiting doctors, going to infusions, and had family visiting to help with care. It was baffling to me that no one in all that time had bothered to say anything. And all I could do was laugh. After all, that’s likely what everyone else was doing.

After sharing the photo with a few close friends of mine, one said it reminded her of a mustache and photoshopped googly eyes and a nose on the back of my head. And in my mind, that’s how it remained forever, until it finally fell out as a result of transplant conditioning. To this day, I cannot get this image out of my mind. And after all the bad news and months of treatments, a little laughter is quite enjoyable.

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