Awaiting Autumn

I’ve been thinking a lot about autumn. It’s my favorite season, but that’s not why it’s on my mind.

My next PET scan will be around September 27. I wonder what my lungs are up to these days. I’ve barely thought of them since starting whole brain radiation (WBR) two weeks ago.

The end of September… By then the short-term WBR side effects should be wearing off. I certainly won’t have any hair; that won’t grow back until December (if I had to guess).

And frankly, I’m tired of waiting for it to fall out. I know I’m going to lose it, so let’s just get this over with already. Let me go through the grieving process. Let me be mad and upset and stomp and cry and scream. No amount of logical reasoning will prepare me for the emotional storm that’s coming. I’m sure my friends and family are sick of my bellyaching on the subject, too. But this is a very personal and traumatic event. No one can cushion that blow.

I have ten treatments down and five to go. It’s falling out slowly, and I’m noticing that the bald spots from CyberKnife have expanded into small patches. These were all underneath the top layer of hair and thus relatively camouflaged. The patches aren’t noticeable to others yet, and I’m not going to shave it until I can’t stand looking at the radiation-poisoned me in the mirror.

I’m not even sure where in the house I’ll do it. Or if I want Seth’s help or not. I know I don’t want to go to a barber shop or salon; it’s much too personal a process to share with a stranger.

I suppose I will need to cut the bulk of it with scissors before buzzing the rest with a short guide on the blade. Will I feel empowered or will I bawl through the entire process? I’d like to say I’ll be brave, but I think I know how this is going to play out.

Many people lose their hair after ten treatments. Of course, I’m receiving more, smaller fractions of radiation over a longer period of time than is standard. But who knows. I guess it could take another two weeks to fall out. Your guess is as good as mine. At this point, the sooner I lose it, the sooner it can grow back.

And now that I feel like I can “pull off” shorter hair, that’s even less time until I will consider it “acceptable” again. (I’m really trying to find anything positive here.)

It’s not that I’m overly vain, either. I’m really not too concerned if people stare. I’ll make funny faces in return!

No, this is about how I see and feel about myself. I’ve always had very low self-esteem and a poor body image to boot. Honestly, I’ve felt for many years that my hair is the only thing that’s made me a palatable member of the human race.

It’s also what makes me feel feminine. I’ve never worn makeup and jewelry by habit, and I know that will need to change if I want to be readily recognized as a woman.

There’s another thing, too, which I think many healthy people don’t get. Like every other treatment I’ve had, WBR is a palliative therapy. But unlike some others, this has really felt like a step towards the eventual end. I won’t be pulled back together as a healthy person when this is “all over.” That makes a world of difference and is why when most other female “survivors” tell me they went through it, I just can’t identify with them. Many of them grew back hair and continued on living their lives. Without being too dramatic, I’m just hoping to have the time to regrow a thick, full head of medium-length hair.

On a lighter note, I’m on the lookout for cute hats. I don’t see myself as a wig person, but I do hope to amass a small collection of hats (no chemo caps needed) for autumn and winter. If you see something online, send me the link! And if you need my address for anything (I look forward to getting the mail these days!), please drop me a line at stageiv (at)

Hair today, but certainly not gone tomorrow,

11 responses to “Awaiting Autumn

  • Sharon Wierwille

    Just a thought – when mine started to fall out, I went ahead and had someone remove it. I took a friend with me and we made a party out of it. Did a mohawk, and took pictures in stages. Instead of being sad, it was fun. You might want to try it. Pick out a wig first. I got a pink one along with a regular wig, just for more fun. It was not at all traumatic.

    Good luck, Sharon

    • Jessica

      Hi Sharon, yes that’s indeed the plan, to shave it myself. I don’t feel like doing the wig thing at this point. We’ll see if I change my mind as time goes on.

  • Nora DePalma (@noradepalma)

    Every one of your posts is so amazing. I read this one a few times because every woman can so identify with it. Thank you for sharing all this. I hope you find some really cute hats.

    • Jessica

      Thanks, Nora. The funny thing is that as time goes on I think I become more and more critical of my own writing. I would have told you that this post was a C+ at best. I’m delighted you felt different!

  • Wayne G.

    I think with this hat, no one will notice much else. Sure, you might have trouble with revolving doors, but I know you can pull it off 🙂

  • Sabina

    Hi Jessica,

    I totally sympathize with your attachment to your hair as a way of expressing your femininity. However, the side effects of your treatment is forcing you to re-evaluate things that most women don’t have to think about until they are well into old age.

    Of course how you manage your hair loss is completely up to you but if it was me, I’d get a buzz cut NOW rather than watch my hair slowly disappear strand by strand. I wouldn’t try and do the buzz cut myself because I know I would do a poor job which would have to tidied up by a professional anyway. I would find a sympathetic hairdresser who would take me as a last appointment of the day, or one who makes home visits.

    I’d also drop broad hints to my friends that I need big, bold, costume jewellery earrings (there is something so striking about big earrings that are not buried under a curtain of hair), cute close-fitting caps (e.g. cloches from the 1920s a la ‘The Great Gatsby’), stylish hats and French berets, and gorgeously printed silk/satin scarves large enough to be worn as a turban.

    You have beautiful eyebrows as well as lovely eyes. Yes do you. With a buzz cut, they will stand out even more. I know you don’t normally wear make up (neither do I) but whenever I’ve had my hair cut really short (1/2 inch all over) a few times in my life, I have been drawn to using a little makeup simply to see the effect. And since there is very little hair to distract from the face, the results can be quite amazing. It is not a matter of hiding behind make-up so much as playing with it.

    Here is link to some images showing the cloche hats I mentioned. See if any of them inspire you.

    As for wigs, you are lucky to be living in a time when many attractive women wear glamour wigs like any other accessory. Nobody worries about whether the wig looks “real” or not. That attitude belongs to grandma. If it’s bright blue or pink – of course it’s fake! Don’t take the wig thing too seriously.

  • stage5cancerblog

    I am doing a Brain MRI in two weeks to see where I stand. Thinking of you often…

  • Patrick

    thank you for sharing … you write so passionately … had to chuckle about loss of hair after 10 WBR treatments … the very next morning after my 10th treatment I awoke to a pillow full of hair … why did the cat shed all over my pillow was my first thought 🙂

  • Heather

    will be thinking about you Tues! Hope those lungs are doing well!

  • Heather

    duh- that’s Sept 27th…well, I’ll think about you Tues anyway when I go over to punch Kelly in the arm for ya!

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