Chemotherapy fits the adage, “The treatment is worse than the disease.”
I researched my chemo drug regimen of adriamycin, cytotoxin, and taxol in Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book. I never knew so much could be written about the breast. The book is encyclopedic.
Adriamycin, in particular, was scary. It can cause heart problems and a blood disorder leading to leukemia. (If you recall, Robin Roberts wound up with a blood disorder a few years after she finished her breast cancer treatment; and she ended up having a bone marrow transplant and chemo again. I’m not certain, but it may have been a latent side effect of her first chemo treatment.)
The possibility of “chemo brain” terrified me. My livelihood depends on my brain power, and I did not want “decreased cognitive function,” as Dr. Susan Love described it. Chemo brain could be a temporary or long-term condition.
I was also concerned that chemo could stress my heart and liver. My chiropractor, Dr. Six, recommended CoQ10 (ubiquinol form) for heart health and milk thistle for liver health. As for my “chemo brain” concerns, I simply prayed and hoped my plan to fortify my body would work.
My surgeon assured me I would lose my hair. Many Black women have an attachment to long hair, and I had loved mine: thick, easy to style, naturally black, and never-been-dyed. My sister, Cheryl, often described my hair as being “strong as cast iron,” yet it was about to become a casualty to chemo. I prepared myself.
My last chemical “touchup” to straighten my new hair growth was in mid-January, before I was diagnosed. Instead of getting the “touchup,” I had my hair styled in “goddess braids” instead — thick cornrows with extensions — so I could grow out my natural hair. After six weeks, the virgin hair had grown long enough for “The Big Chop” — my way of transitioning from having tresses to being bald. I was contemplative about the coming transformation and preparing myself to let go.
In late April, I drove to a barber shop and took the braids out in the parking lot. On my way in, I threw the hair extensions in a garbage can. I told the barber I was doing “The Big Chop” in preparation for chemo. He didn’t seem to care about the reason. He ruthlessly mowed my hair down to a tiny afro, collected my money, swept up my locks, and pitched them in the trash.
It was the first time I’d seen the shape of my head unframed by thick, long-ish hair. It was the first time I’d felt my natural texture since I was 14. I also discovered I have my father’s receding hairline. Hmm…I didn’t see that coming!
Considering all the things about cancer and chemo that could go from bad to worse, having a bald head was an increasingly superficial concern.