Day Seventeen

by | Oct 31, 2021

“That’s when it gets real.” The doctor was explaining the side effects of chemotherapy and we got to the question of losing hair. 

As if the numerous, brutal and unrelenting  effects that chemo inflicts on your body and mind hasn’t made it real yet. Chemo is about the worst thing you can do to a body and the effects are heavy and its impact severe. Going into it I knew it would suck thorns, you can’t know how it would feel and what the impact really would be. 

Opinions of when hair loss starts differ across a range of days, even from professionals who work with it daily. Ten days said one, about two weeks from another. But most said day 17 is when it kicks in. 

This morning I sat up in bed and looked at the sheet… there it was, unmistakable. All over the bed, the first signs of entry to the world of glabrousness. 

But seeing it hasn’t made that much of an impression on my feelings around  it. It’s still abstract, not pronounced enough. The hair on me still far outnumbers the scatterings on the bed. 

But yes, day 17 certainly is a thing. I haven’t sought out opinion in internet lore as to why it would be the 17th day, but I’m guessing it would have to do with hair growth cycles and such. 

I love information and hoover up anything interesting but the explanation for this hasn’t elicited much arresting fascination. That it’s happening is of more interest than why it does.

Scientifically the explanation is clear, the cytotoxic chemicals go after fast growing cells and hair producing sells are sitting ducks. 

Philosophically the complete loss of hair – or at this stage potential complete loss, a man is still allowed  hope for the small things too – has more to do with what we think about it, what societal connotations are. One can mitigate the effects for a time, and for men it’s less noticeable and less of a dilemma, but a point will be reached where it’s unmistakable. And then the news I’ve been guarding with a shield of privacy, withheld from the wider world, will be out. So obvious that it can’t be hidden anymore. 

I’m not concerned by how I will look or how it looks to the world, I’m not bothered by what people think, it doesn’t matter. There isn’t any vanity to move the needle.  

What does plague me in a small way is that people change towards you when they know you’re ill. And I don’t want that, I want things to remain normal, for others to go about their everyday lives and not fuss. Yes, those close to me who see me in the immediate days following chemo will fuss and I will let them. It’s part of my own growth to allow people to help, not something I have done easily but I’m learning and obliging. But the wider world making a fuss just slows things down, we can’t get on with it. And they have questions, and you have to explain things, and repeat things and help them deal with what you have long processed and accepted. 

Now, more than a week after the hair loss first started I am feeling a bit different about it. On day 20 shower time was monopolised by an avalanche, hair falling out in droves. It was sobering and unsettling, and looking at myself in the mirror was unnerving. Bare patches and bits of fluff holding on against the inevitable. It has settled down now, evened out and even slowed down. My beard on the other hand is losing the battle, I’ve put off shaving it off since it is a matter of days before that’s all gone. 

I do have feelings of self-consciousness now and I will continue to hide my head under beanies and bandanas. Not for the sake of some vanity but to spare others having to look at it. Like covering a wound, don’t make it uncomfortable for others to be with you. 

I’m looking forward to when it comes back.