Gilpin winds blow hair right off woman’s head

Cancer will do that

By Lynn Volkens

I stepped outside last Thursday afternoon to get a couple of logs from the woodpile. A gust of wind met me full on, lifting my hair away from my face – and blowing it clean off my head. I watched, through squinted eyes, as my light-brown-turning-grey bangs disappeared, spiraling almost in a piece, high above the house and then disintegrating like a particle explosion; individual strands were whisked away in all directions. It made me think of settler women who cut their menfolks’ hair each spring, then loosed the winter’s trimmings to the wind in hopes the soft bedding material would encourage songbirds to nest nearby. It also struck me funny.

Admittedly, I have an irreverent, borderline “dark” sense of humor, ala “the Darwin awards” (Google it). So, rather than curse the incessant wind, I decided to put it to use and have some good cleaning fun in the process  On Friday morning, as Gilpin’s gales continued to blow heartily up the valley, pummeling the edifice of my home, I stepped out onto the stoop, hatless, bearing a large-toothed comb. Turning my back to the wind, I tucked the comb beneath my hair, and drew it straight up from the nape of my neck. With the completion of each stroke, Gilpin’s wind gusts huff ‘n puffed my hair away right before my very eyes. It was absurd – and it felt great. I laughed at the silliness of it. Who says cancer isn’t funny?  (Remember, I warned you about my sense of humor.)

It was two weeks to the day, following my first session of chemotherapy, (chemo) that my hair follicles broke for freedom. For several days prior to that, my scalp had become increasingly, migratorily, tender to the touch; first at the crown, then behind my right ear, then my right temple. And so it went, as each cellular section of follicles gave up the ghost. I’m sure they encouraged each other to “let go, let go” for their en masse demise followed quickly. Soon I was wearing my hair just about everywhere but on my head.

Bald is cancer’s billboard. I’d taken efforts, since November, when I was first diagnosed with stage two breast cancer, to keep my illness quiet, private. I told only family members, close friends and a select few colleagues. Several Weekly RegisterCall readers took notice when I missed some work in December. I was recovering from the lumpectomy surgery that removed the tumor and tracked the cancer’s invasion to my lymph nodes and beyond. Its escape from the in situ tumor is the reason I’m doing chemo – followed by radiation, a full seven months of treatments if I want the best chance of beating the disease. I knew chemo meant I’d lose my hair, and yep, here I am, bald as a speckled pastel pink cue ball. There’s certainly no hiding my cancer now.

So, standing outside my house, releasing my locks to the 50 mph “winds of change,” I reflected on what this depilatory devastation was going to mean to me. It was refreshing, in a way –  renewing. Chemo drugs identify cancer cells by their rapid reproduction. Like heat-seeking missiles, they hone in on those exponential multipliers and kill them. Hair cells, by way of also being rapid reproducers, become collateral damage. As goes my hair, so go those nasty cancer cells. That’s a reassuring thought. When my new hair grows in (by next fall, I might be “fuzzy”) it will signify completion of what I hope will be a successful cancer-cleansing, and a literal renewal of life. Meanwhile, I’m adjusting to the process.

One thing I realized right away – having no hair meant my head was going to be cold. I recalled a funny pre-Christmas conversation with Roy Stewart at the Last Shot, (who is himself follicle-impaired), in which he opined about the high-altitude perils of unprotected pate exposure. His were words for the wise. In other words, words that I frequently use in my reporting for this newspaper, adjusting to the process brought with it “unanticipated financial impact.” (I’ve spent the past couple of months looking at a lot of governmental budgets.) In that lingo, I translated Roy’s cautionary tale to mean that I needed a supplemental appropriation to my general operating fund under the line item, “Hats.” Well, actually, I’ll have to create that line item, first. Ditto, the line item, “Sunscreen.” (To offset costs, I’ll just decrease the line item amounts for “Shampoo” and “Haircuts,”). Non-governmental translation: “I get to go shopping.”

For those occasions when I want to appear “normal” (as normal as can be for a person who always carries the latest in portable oxygen tank, with coordinating canula), I concluded I should wear a wig. I’m thinking I could have some fun with that. It will also be fun digging out all those scarves I used to wear in the ‘80’s (yes, I still have them – my daughter finds them invaluable accessories for her “retro” wardrobe). And I’m going to need new earrings – big bold, outrageous earrings, the likes of which I never wore when my hair just hid them anyway. Over the years, I’ve leaned more and more toward a no-fuss “wash and wear” hair style. For most of 2013, I won’t have to worry about any (nada) “bad hair” days; in fact these “no hair” days represent the lowest low-maintenance “do” I’ve ever had. (I had all of the remaining hangers-on buzzed off, once I was done playing outside.)

I doubt too many passers-by actually saw me casting my hairs to the wind last week. (Too bad it was Friday – I missed the school bus. Think about that, and if you aren’t smiling, you have no sense of humor, dark, irreverent or otherwise.) If there were folks who caught me in the act, they must have done a double-take, seeing the hair fly, as it were. It is a ridiculous visual. I think the re-telling would make a pretty funny story, too, so I hope any spectators appreciate my thoughtfulness in providing it. I also hope the mountain bluebirds will find some of my wind-shorn strands to cushion their nesting boxes. (According to the groundhog, the “blues” should be arriving fairly soon.) And, once my oncologist stops playing hair-dresser, I don’t mind saying that I’m hoping my hair grows back with a natural curl and an auburn hue. Cancer involves all kinds of hope, after all, so why not go for broke?

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