Before cancer I had very thick hair. To the point where at times I would complain about having to deal with it. One thing I learned about going through cancer and hair loss is to never complain about a bad hair day. Trust me, I would take a bad-hair day over a no-hair day, any day! 🙂
The Red Devil
I started chemotherapy at the end of January, 2005. When I first met with my oncologist to discuss my treatments, he said that I would be following a dose dense schedule, which meant chemo every other week, rather than the standard schedule of chemo once every 3 weeks. My treatments consisted on getting 3 chemo drugs through an IV: Adriamycin, Cytoxan, and Taxol. My oncologist felt confident that at my young age I would be strong enough to handle the side effects. Given that my cancer was a beast, we needed to go at it with the strongest ammunition. I said, bring it on.
My chemo nurses “lovingly” referred to Adriamycin as “the red devil”. I remember Darrell. The chemo nurse who would go out for smoke breaks during his shift. We would all tease him and say that some day he would end up in the chair if he didn’t give it up.
The side effects of this drug are as scary as the bottle looks.
Yes, the side effects are from hell, so the name red devil is quite fitting. This is also the strongest med they had (I believe even still today) against breast cancer. So much so, that they have scaled down in treating patients with Adriamycin these days unless cancers are very advanced. This is because research has shown that this medication can actually cause heart problems in 1 in 200 patients. Nice. So far my heart is fine, as far as I know. And I’m actually glad my cancer was treated with the red devil. I mean I’m still here. right? I think it worked. At least for me. The side effects, however were brutal.
Adriamycin together with Cytoxan is what caused the hair loss. You see, these meds are awesome at killing cancer cells, but unfortunately they also kill all the good cells in the process. I was told that typically hair loss would occur after the second treatment. So, I figured I had about 3 weeks before my hair fell out. I had cut my hair short to help with the transition.
My first treatment was rough. Before they even shot the red devil in my veins they gave me 3 other meds to “prep” my body. I can’t remember the name of these meds, but one in particular stands out in my mind. It was given to avoid allergic reactions. It had the weirdest side effect. The nurses would call it “ants in the pants”. Immediately after giving me that medication it felt like ants were crawling up my crotch. Super weird. It only lasted about 30 seconds to a minute, then it would go away.
Once my body was prepped I sat in a recliner while red devil dripped in my veins. There were others in the chemo room being treated for various types of cancers. Everyone was so nice. They could tell how scared I was and they all reassured me I would be OK. I received many comments from fellow patients about how young I was and how they couldn’t believe I had cancer. I got to know some of the patients well. I remember Mary, who was receiving treatment for advanced lung cancer. She passed away about half way through my treatments.
After I was finished with my first treatment I went home and waited for everything to hit me. The first thing I noticed was my red face. It was as if the red devil was coming through my cheeks. Apparently this was a normal side effect. I had red cheeks for a day or two after every treatment. The nausea came the next day as did the extreme fatigue. I was tired all the time. It was a different type of tired. Taking naps didn’t help. I had no appetite. Food didn’t sound good at all, but I would force myself to eat. It took about a week after my first treatment to feel somewhat normal. From that point on I planned everything on my “good weeks”.
A few days before my second treatment I was at work and a coworker picked a hair off my white lab coat. I didn’t think much of it. It was common to see my dark hairs everywhere. I had only had one treatment so I thought it couldn’t be the chemo. Not yet. Just to make certain I reached up and grabbed a chunk of hair with my hand. To my surprise, it came right off my head. My heart sank. I wasn’t ready. I was told it would fall out after my second treatment. I wasn’t expecting it.
Wanting to be in control I went home and told Duane, “you have to shave my head”. I could tell he didn’t want to. I mean, who would??? Next thing I know my head is hanging over the bathtub and Duane is shaving it. After he finished I stared at the bathtub full of hair, then I looked up at Duane. Both of us started to cry. We hugged for a long time. I knew then that he would have taken that burden away from me if he could. In hindsight, I should have had someone else shave my head. I underestimated how difficult that must have been for him.
I got in the shower and scrubbed until the last remaining hairs came off. I still remember getting out of the shower that night and looking in the mirror for the first time. It was surreal. I couldn’t believe it was me on the other side. I was completely bald and I was missing a breast. That was the first time I realized I looked like a cancer patient. Like the ones you see in commercials.
Cancer never made me sick, but the treatments did. Funny how that works. And yes, I looked awful, so I avoided cameras like the plague. I have very few pictures of that time in my life. This is the only picture I have of my bald head. The only reason I asked Duane to take it is because I wanted to send it to my mom. She said she never wanted to see me that way. So, naturally I emailed her this pic 🙂 My eyelashes and eyebrows hung on for quite a while.
I got my wig a few days after my hair was gone. I liked my wig at the time (hey it beats no hair!). It was pretty convenient. Especially when I could have my 14 year old do my hair while I was in the shower. I could be ready in no time 🙂 .
But I got sick of it after a while. I mostly wore it to work and to church. It was itchy and uncomfortable. At home, I mostly wore head wraps, bandanas, and soft hats. I even had a sleep hat to keep my head warm at night. This picture is of my son Dylan’s baptism. Yes, I was wearing a wig.
In my Own Words- Journal Entries
February 15, 2005
My hair is gone. It was a little more emotional than I thought. I wish hair didn’t matter so much. Mallory is not taking my hair loss very well. Last night, she said to me “mommy, I don’t like it, call the doctor”. I will try and keep my head covered as much as I can so they don’t have to see me that way. My mom is sending me some head covers too. The second treatment was the hardest so far. Maybe it’s because of the hair loss.
Funny side note: Mallory always asked me to put my wig on to drive her to school. She was in kindergarten! Little stinker.
February 23, 2005
My third treatment is tomorrow. It’s actually going fast but I’m dreading it. Just the thought of sitting on that chair makes me nauseated. The relief society came over last night and cleaned my house. It’s not easy to have strangers clean your house but I’m glad it’s done. I got my wig in the mail yesterday and it’s very cute. It looks a lot like my hair did. I’ll be wearing that for a long time.
March 20th, 2005
Half way through chemo! I’m having my 5th treatment this week. Not easy but I’m getting through it. Yesterday was a bad day because I was reading about a lady who had breast cancer and didn’t make it. It made me scared. I know that there is a possibility that I may die of breast cancer but the thought is very hard to grasp. I’m focusing more on reading my scriptures and praying so that I don’t get consumed by my fears. Duane reassures me every day that many years of life await me. He has given me blessings that have said so, but I guess sometimes my faith wavers. It was Mallory’s birthday last week. I can’t believe she is 6. Today she hugged me really tight (she does that all the time) and told me that she was glad Heavenly Father sent her to our family. Those are the moments that make everything worthwhile.
April 13th, 2005
Some day I hope there will be a time that I will write on this journal and not think or write about cancer. Two more treatments to go. I think my body is finally getting tired of this. Even during my good days, I think about how many more days until I have another treatment. I cry a lot. I hope that’s normal. I can’t remember what it’s like to feel good. Someone asked me if I had a cold today. I realized I was congested from crying so much. I’m near the end of my treatments. I have to be strong, but it’s hard. I feel so ugly. I really want my hair back. Reconstruction would be nice too. I think I will try writing again when I feel more positive.
May 6th, 2005
Today is my last chemo treatment. I’m ready to move on and pray that my Father in Heaven will allow me many more years on this earth. Today is also our 16th wedding anniversary. I guess we have two things to celebrate. After this, we do more tests and go on with life and have faith that the cancer will never return.
I ended up having 28 radiation treatments for “good measure”. They said I was borderline on fitting the category of needing radiation. The radiation oncologist said he recommended it, but left it up to me. I said, bring it on. Radiation was a breeze compared to chemo. My hair started growing back about 2 months after I was done with chemo. My hair is a little curlier now, and also thinner. I remember how excited I was to ditch the wig. I may have done it a little too soon though 🙂 I was so happy to have any hair. Once I had no bald spots I ditched the wig. I now realize how short my hair was! We went to Disneyland a couple of months after I finished radiation. It was time to celebrate.
Thanks for reading! 🙂