One of the harder parts of having cancer are the changes it brings to your appearance. Not only are you dehumanized by all of the tests, exams, blood draws, your life reduced to a series of numbers on a page, but your appearance changes so much that when you look in the mirror you no longer recognize yourself. Yes, the hair on your head falls out, but a little known fact is that ALL of you hair falls out. It's pretty awesome to not have to shave for months, but not having any eyelashes or eyebrows makes you look like a lab rat. Chemotherapy can cause changes in your skin, either darker hyperpigmented portions or red rashes. GVHD causes the same skin changes. You lose and gain weight depending on your treatments. Some treatments even make your face break out. Steroids (yes, I am going to complain about steroids again) make you gain water weight and they redistribute the fat in your body, so you get a big belly, your collarbones disappear, and you get a huge moon face. You get scars from central lines and surgeries. You can feel as though you have completely lost the person you were before you got sick.
The first time my hair fell out from chemo I was so upset. I had cut it short in a kind of Beatles-esque style because I had been told that it's less messy. It starts with just a few extra hairs coming out in the shower for a few days, and then it starts coming out in clumps. I didn't realize that there were that many hairs on a head. I used to stand over the garbage can at night before bed, shaking out the hundreds of loose hairs and sobbing. I covered the mirror in my hospital room because I didn't want to look at myself. My nurse would tell me that it would grow back, trying to comfort me, but at the time it just made me angry because what good does that do me now? I want my hair now, I don't want to wait all those months for it to grow back!
Eventually though I realized that she was right - hair grows back. If I had to loose my hair for a few months in order to get better again, that was fine with me. And then I stopped worrying about it. It's just hair. Even though it was still hard to see all the commercials on TV for shampoo or hair dye, or to see all the ads in the magazines, or all the page space magazines devote to "Hot hair for the holiday season!" or "Best haircut for your face shape!" or "Quick and easy ways to get fabulous hair!" You never realize how many of these things there are until you don't have any hair to do anything with.
Baldness is easier to deal with because my dad has been bald for as long as I can remember and he's very funny about it, it doesn't bother him at all. I never felt compelled to buy a wig. They seem like a lot of work, and I hear they are itchy. Besides, you can always tell it's a wig (or maybe I just hang out with cancer patients too much). I just wear hats and scarves. It's kind of fun, another way to accessorize your outfit. Good thing I wear so many boring, solid colored shirts because that means I can wear fun, patterned scarves! The worst part isn't the baldness, it's after the hair has grown back enough to take off the headscarf. You still have to wait a long time before your hair gets back to the length it once was, and in the meantime you have some really vicious looking hairstyles. The growing out phase is really, really awkward.
The second time my hair fell out, a year later, I was totally over it. I knew my hair was going to fall out, I had already accepted that fact, and I just wanted it over with. My Marine friend came to the hospital to give me the official armed forces buzz cut. Even though I had cut my long hair short the first time, it was still long enough that it was a pain in the butt - hair all over my room, and it actually hurts when your hair comes out, your scalp gets really sore. I figured shorter must be better. And it was, it was so much easier because there was less mess and fuss about the whole hair falling out thing. Between that round of chemo and my first transplant my hair had grown back really short and butch, so I didn't have to do anything to cut it the third time I was bald.
The fourth time my hair fell out, starting in October when I was getting chemo, I decided that I wanted to keep and enjoy my hair as long as possible because it would be a good two years before it would grow back to the length it was (seriously, two years). It eventually got pretty thin so I wore it up in a ponytail all the time to cover up the bald spots. Then during my transplant when what was left started falling out I took a pair of scissors and hacked off the ponytail, then cut the rest as short as possible. This is probably my favorite way that I got rid of my hair because it was very empowering. I did it exactly as I wanted - I kept my hair as long as I could, and when I was done with it I hacked it off. Quick, painless, and I was totally in charge. Screw you chemo, I run this show.
I have a few friends who for whatever reason think that I should be dating, not necessarily right now but sooner rather than later. I usually try to stop them with a joke about having to find guys with a bald fetish if I want to date anyone. I mean really, the way I look right now, no way I could ever get a date. I have a big red flag that screams "CANCER!!!" flying over my bald head. I have this hairless, wide-eyed alien look without eyelashes and eyebrows. My cheeks are chipmunk-y from the steroids (not quite up to moon face status). No guy would touch me with a ten foot pole, no matter how many things we had in common or how funny and charming I was when we met. He would be totally blocked from thinking of me as anything because of my appearance.
But isn't that what we all want? Someone who will love us no matter what, no matter how ugly we are, because they care more about what's on the inside than on the outside? We are all searching for, and we all deserve, someone who cares more about what kind of person we are than what color hair we have, someone who cares more about what we have in common than about how much time we spend in the hospital, or even better, someone who makes time spent in the hospital something we have in common. Someone who will wipe away the vomit and sit in the waiting room with you for two hours because they love you and the person you are. Not someone who is put off by the ugliness and the baldness, not someone who doesn't want to hear about the bad times you've had, not someone who is only interested because they like your appearance. And ladies and gentlemen, we all know there are lots of people out there who are more interested in looks than in personality. Don't tell me you haven't met at least one person like this.
Unfortunately, it's pretty unrealistic to think that people don't take appearance into account at all when thinking about dating someone. No one can completely divorce mental attraction from physical attraction, it always plays in at least a little bit.
I can't see many people thinking I seem like an interesting person and wanting to get to know me, in any capacity, because of the way I look. In a few days I'll be at Day 100 and I will be able to go out and do things and make friends and meet people. But will they want to meet me? I feel like I would just scare them. I've never met people while still in treatment or still bald. I'm kind of nervous about how people will react to me.