When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, my hair was the longest it had been in years. I was growing it out to donate to Pantene Beautiful Lengths program, which makes donated hair into wigs for cancer patients. The irony was not lost on me.

Preemptively, I bought a few scarves and a head covering, as well as some do-rags, inspired by Bodie Broadus of The Wire. I also bought an electric razor of possible head-shaving, as well as for my legs. Since I’m more susceptible to infection, and I’m pretty clumsy, I figured making the switch to an electric razor would be better all-around.

A friend told me about cold cap therapy after my first treatment. I followed up with a representative, but apparently, it’s too late after you already start chemo. I was disappointed, but the MSKCC nurse I spoke to sounded skeptical anyway. I don’t know anyone who has tried it, so I’d like to hear if it actually works.

I read up on message boards about hair loss from ABVD chemotherapy and took this away: Everybody’s different. Hair loss, for most people, started after the second or third treatment. Some people experienced drastic loss and others kept a good portion of their hair. One woman preemptively shaved her head, then realized she wasn’t losing much of her hair at all.

Before my first treatment, I found out why you lose your hair during chemotherapy. I honestly hadn’t thought about the reasoning, since I was mostly worried about the results. Because the chemotherapy targets the fast-growing cancer cells, it also ends up destroying some of your other cells—your hair and cells in your digestive tract.

I started chemotherapy at the very end of April, and I started losing my hair in mid May. It’s now noticeably thinner, but I still haven’t taken the plunge and shaved it off. When it does fall out, if I hold up a strand to the light, I can see the chemotherapy effects on the end of the strand, as the hair gets thinner, then thicker, thinner. (This can be seen in the picture above.)

Right now, it’s a short bob, since I donated about 10 inches of hair in April. My oncologist says hair loss often levels off, so there’s a chance I may not need a wig at all.

That’s extremely good news for me, because my health insurance doesn’t cover hair prosthesis, ruling out a pricier real-hair wig. My boyfriend has suggested that I just go to St. Mark’s Place and get a rasta hat with built-in-dreads. I myself am leaning towards one of those yarn Cabbage Patch crocheted wigs I’ve been hearing so much about.

After browsing the American Cancer Society’s selection of wigs, I have to say, I realized that the majority of them would make me look like a Cold War-era spy. I was tempted to get something totally not me—like a spiky gray wig, but then I might as well go the rasta or yarn route. I chose the Beverly Johnson Mischa wig, which is sitting in a box until I figure out if I need it or not.

Losing my hair is something I focused on early because I knew it was a side effect I could deal with. But I also bought headcovers right away because I know that I won’t be one of those elegant bald women who can boldly pull off smooth dome. My head is shaped funny, flat near the top and punctuated with a freakish bump. My mom claims I was born with it. I’m not saying she’s a liar—I inherited my inability to successfully lie from her—but it really looks like someone dropped me. Like my extra rib, it’s a mystery.

I should note that I’ve never been bald, not even as a premature five-and-a-half-pound baby. I was born with a full head of thick brown hair. (And, according to my mom, that bump.)

I’m a swarthy lady. And it’s finally paying off.

I thought about this as I had my eyebrows and upper lip threaded. I used to go to a place on the Lower East Side near my favorite yoga studio, but since I’m on a hiatus from Bikram yoga for the time being, I go to a salon in my neighborhood, where the women’s gossip involves only men named Anthony or Frank. (I once counted referrals to at least four different Anthonys within one conversation.) I haven’t had to go as often for threading, but it’s the first time I’ve ever been grateful to have facial hair to remove.

I’d been unsure as to whether to bother to get my hair cut again since it’s falling out, but I finally got it trimmed yesterday. When my hair stylist told me she was going to Ohio for the Fourth of July, I was a little jealous, since I can’t travel. I love New York City, but I miss the lazy summer barbecue days of the Midwest. Four months ago, however, I was considering buying a festive American flag headcover for the Fourth, when I had no idea what was in store.

And I still really have no idea what ABVD and cancer have in store for me. Even on dark days, when my eye infection still won’t go away, or when I wonder if it’s finally time to shave my head, I know that if everything goes according to plan, I’ll be better by October. And does anyone know what the future holds? For right now, I hope it’s a good CT scan, eyes that aren’t itchy and some more time with my new chic ‘do. Oh, and a threading appointment to tame my-still rebellious brows.


  1. […] Also, I have another new side effect. My toenails are kind of falling off. The corners of my big toes turned black and blue, then parts of the nail bed turned funny colors and now they hurt. The doctor I saw this week said that sometimes that just happens. He explained that nails in general get chemo spots or rings in them, like a tree. (Or my hair.) […]

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