Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Vanity Run Amok?

It is pertinent to the subject of today's blog to say that I grew up with a mother who was constantly worried about what other people thought. Moreover, she passed that charming trait down to my older brother, who, at 61, still lives his life without the ability to say, "I don't give a fuck" about what others think of him. Now I can get on with the matter at hand.

There is no disputing that Farrah Fawcett had the best head of hair of anyone in her generation. Almost every girl and woman in the mid-1970s wanted that hair. I was more in the Dorothy Hamill camp; she is a former figure skater who birthed a short hair trend that was better suited to my hair type. Alas, I was not born with locks that could in any way support Farrah's look, but that didn't stop me from buying hers and Dorothy's haircare products. Anyone who is around my age will remember them.

So, what are my mother, my brother, and Farrah's hair doing on my blog? A Facebook friend posted this article on my timeline, and I couldn't resist offering my take on the latest "fad" being used in the name of vanity while you undergo chemotherapy. It seems that now you can keep most of your locks from falling off your head during chemo by freezing your scalp. You heard me.

According to the article, many European women have been utilizing this frozen cap treatment for a while now. Several hospitals here in the U.S. recently completed a clinical trial involving 120 chemo patients to test the efficacy and safety of these caps, which are sold under the names Penguin Cold Cap and DigniCap. The first one sounds like one of those cylindrical rubber thingies you wrap around a beer can, and the second one sounds like something you would use to hide a colostomy bag.

Researchers are hoping to gain F.D.A. approval soon, so more people will have access to them, at a cost of about $600 per month. If needed, "cappers" can be hired to assist patients with the placement of these devices, a service which can cost anywhere from $300 to $750 per day.

A doctor at the University of California San Francisco commented that losing your hair is a "declaration to the world" that you are a cancer patient, and that although hats are "fine and good", there's no denying that you're sick. I don't know Dr. Hope Rugo, the director of breast oncology at U.C.S.F. from a hole in the wall, but what she said sounds an awful lot like something my mother would have said if she were still around.

From the tone of my words, you can tell that I think this frozen cap business is a bunch of malarkey. Going through chemo comes with enough discomfort in the effort to rid your body of cancer cells. From personal experience, I would not have wanted to sit there with a freezing head while the poison was being pumped into my body. It was a given that I was going to lose my hair, and I managed to make peace with that. I knew from the onset that I wanted nothing to do with wigs, and would wear hats for the duration. And so far, no one has ever given me the "Oh, you've got cancer" look. If anyone did, I wouldn't care. That's my brother's bag, and my mother sacrificed many a relationship by employing that attitude.

I've maintained since the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer, that none of this is about vanity. I lopped off my breasts, my hair fell out, and in a few months time, my ovaries will likely be cast off, too. And let's not forget about the hot flashes I could easily mitigate with a daily dose of Paxil.

I'll never have hair like Farrah did, and I'm not going to sweat it (pardon the pun). I want to be as healthy as I can be, and live my life with as few regrets as possible. I don't begrudge women the right to wear a DigniCap to preserve their hair, or pay someone to buckle up their Louboutins because they work up a sweat trying to accomplish that feat themselves. I just want everyone to realize that life changes the second you hear those awful words. It stops being about how you look and what other people think. It's about how much you value your life and what you, yourself are willing to do to save it.



  1. This reminds me of when I first noticed my symptoms of Alopecia. I was 22 years old and noticed a quarter sized bald patch near the nape of my neck. The two dermatologists I saw suggested cortisone shots to perhaps stimulate hair growth. I tried it twice with scant results. At that point in my life I had a six month trip overseas planned, this presented me with a choice, cancel the trip and get painful shots in my head once a month with no guarantee of success or buy a wig and hit the road.
    I bought the wig and hit the road. (I ditched the hot, itchy thing just two weeks into the trip) I had learned that it was what's inside that counts and I had no desire to go to such lengths just to look like everyone else or what their "ideal" of what I should look like was.

  2. I think yours is the attitude that would serve us well, Nava and pigeonmom. But, in fact, I go through a lot of trouble to have my weaves redone once a month. I'm not sick, but I am a woman with male pattern baldness for no reason that any endocrinologist has been able to figure out. I was thought for many years to have polycystic ovaries, but it turns out that I do not.

    Why do I do it? People did not treat me well as a bald woman. No one asked me about cancer, or looked at me pityingly. However, no one asked me for a date or ever gave me any indication that I was an acceptable human being. I'd be happy to dispense with the trouble I go through if I had a stable, loving relationship and a decent, stable job, but I have neither. Men already think I'm invisible due to being middle-aged and fat. I totally agree that it makes sense to let the hair go rather than causing yourself additional suffering during chemo, but, as a long-term strategy, it would only make my life harder. I'll try to make the world a better, more tolerant place in other ways, so that someday maybe people won't have the shitty experience I have had.
    Also, btw, if you have enough strong hair follicles in the right places on your head, weaves are an option, and they breathe better than wigs.

  3. Hair loss from an autoimmune disorder or other condition is a tough road to travel on. When you get chemo, you know it's coming, and in my opinion, it's the least of your worries.

    I admire you both for your attitudes, and for what you have to contend with. The world isn't a very kind place to those of us who look and/or act differently than what's expected. I hope I can live long enough to see that change.