Part II – The No Hair Saga


I ought to have written this post at the start of July but I was so busy dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy and above all else pulling out tufts of hair, that I left it slip by the wayside. And now living with no hair has become so unimportant to me that I haven’t felt the need to write about it at all.

I’m like my sister’s third brother! I look in the mirror first thing in the morning and I remind myself of a Buddhist monk. All that’s missing are some long loose purple garments and I’d pass for same. The bloated effect on my face and upper body, caused by the steroids that I take with each chemotherapeutic dose, complete the male almost “hooligan” look. Hmmm, I am a pretty sight!

I was told it would take between 14 and 21 days for my hair to start falling out after the first chemotherapy session. And like a resistant dog, it held firm until day 20 just before my next round of chemotherapy. How much fun it was to deal with falling hair, nausea and acute fatigue all in the same week.

Washing my hair, it literally accumulated in my hands in tufts, clinging to every part of my body and bath as it fell down into the drain. As one woman in the hospital told me, when this happens, it’s time to shave the head. Unlike her, I didn’t find losing my hair emotional at all. As I’ve said before I don’t have such a sentimental attachment to my hair and it will grow back.

So out came my brother David’s shaver, newspaper on floor, me sitting intrigued to see the final look and off he mowed through my head. At that early stage, I still had more hair than completely bald patches so that lovely shiny head seen on those brave cancer-treated women, who decide to go “naked” (scarf- and wig-free) seemed to be a long way off.

Well I’m still waiting for that look. Most of the hair on my head hasn’t even begun falling out at all. I run a shaver through it once a week. To top off that inconvenience, all the unwanted hair that I thought I wouldn’t have to deal with this summer (and you know what I’m talking about girls) never bothered falling out either. Once again, the supergene of unwanted hair, created when Noel and Mary got together, has resisted the harshest of hair-attacking medicines, chemotherapy.

As my dear French friend Claire suggested, I could just let it grow and go patchy. It’s an idea but one that I think I’m too vain for. Or else just not brave enough. You see, as it is I wear a head scarf or a hat or else a combination of both. But I just can’t stand the stares from people, especially older people. They look, then they look again and then they keep staring. I feel like saying, “yes, that’s no hair  under the scarf”. Maybe people wouldn’t stare so much if I went out bald. I’m going to experiment tomorrow.

I imagine people are sympathising internally with me, thinking of loved ones or even themselves who have been through the same as me or else thinking, “there but for the grace of God go I,” or something to that effect in Spanish.

I call it both the “cancer effect” and the “scarf effect”. The cancer badge of having no hair evokes people to give up their seats, like being pregnant, disabled or elderly. It pushes you straight to the top of the queue when you go to the medical center with your child and not one person complains (and Spanish people really take their queuing in strict order seriously). And despite not seeing my hair, evidence of my treatment plan even saw Ryanair return over €500 for my summer flights booked to Ireland!!!  But I’m not recommending it all the same.

Cancer is really a big deal in our society and it’s taken seriously by everyone. I think, and it is also my hope, that the medical profession and researchers in this field want to make treatments less harsh on the body in the future. According to some professionals the need for chemotherapy to treat some cancer types will be a thing of the past in five years time. What a breakthrough that would be. And for those individuals not fortunate enough to have caught the disease in time, who are living with stage 4 metastatic cancer, the greater hope is to make the disease chronic with management of symptoms through diet and medication.

So it looks like I got my cancer too early in life to avoid chemotherapy and the hair loss. It will grow back as soon as I’m fully finished in November. Some women have reported that it could grow back a different colour and even a different texture. I’m praying to my lucky stars for the curly auburn locks look. That would make a welcome change. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.



  1. Ana

    Deirdre, I think it´s great you don´t dramatize your illness and take your look with mood. By the way, you are very beautiful with and without scarf. You are also more cool for summer, hehe…
    Usually, people have many prejudices with these issues and don´t want to talk about them naturally. It´s fantastic you take a photo of yourself and share it with us.
    When I feel and look myself bad, I don´t want anyone to see me, but reading your post you give me strength to feel and look myself better. Thanks!!!

    This is for you, because you are so “auténtica”…:

    “A bird perched on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking,
    because its confidence is not in the branch
    but on its own wings”

    Whit all my affection…XXX…Ana


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