Alopecia And The Pirate

As I write this post, some scientists are searching for ways to prevent male baldness through genetic manipulation. Others are conducting similar research to cure cancer. Is hair really as significant a part of our identity as we are sold to believe?

My hair began falling out the 14th day after the first chemotherapy infusion. In preparation, I bought a wig, styled and colored the same as my real hair. Like a feral animal, it perched on its stand, awaiting an opportunity.

When I saw the first ungodly huge handful of fallen hair I was too stunned to cry. Instead, I mumbled, “F***,” repeatedly, like a demented chicken.

It didn’t fall out all at once. Each morning for a week, I’d step out of the shower holding gobs of hair in my hands to prevent clogging the drain. After blow-drying what was left on my head, I’d take a pair of manicure scissors, like a naughty three-year-old, and try to even it out and disguise the bald patches. When I no longer could, a coworker’s husband shaved my head while she collected the locks, tying them into small bundles with blue satin ribbons. Image

After a time, I stopped wearing the wig. I preferred to cover my baldness with a red bandana, pirate style.

It was summertime, and I was at downtown Portland’s Pioneer Square, when a young man wearing a pirate’s black hat, white blouse with buckskin laces, black britches, and boots approached me. He clutched an authentic-looking sword. This was years before Johnny Depp made pirates sexy. Despite fatigue and chemo brain, I understood: “Oh, no, this guy sees my bandana. Pirate guy thinks he’s found pirate girl.” There was no place to run.

He spoke to me. “Ahoy! Me beauty, how art thee this fine afternoon?”

“I art fine, thanks,” I replied. “Why are you dressed like a pirate? Is that sword real?”

“Aye.”

He belonged to a club, of sorts, of people who dress like pirates and act out sword fights. I puzzled over what he wanted until he reached into his blouse and pulled up a goddess pendant dangling from a leather thong around his neck. He brought the goddess to his lips, kissed it, and then pointed to the carved turquoise goddess I had worn on a silver chain since my diagnosis.

“My fair Muse hails from Hungary, where she symbolized the female spirit of war and led her people to victory. I see you wear the Goddess yourself.” Doffing his hat, he bowed before swaggering back into the crowd.

He had approached because of the necklace, not the bandana. He hadn’t noticed that I was bald — or had he? Did I just have an encounter with an eccentric or a very kind man dressed as a pirate offering encouragement?

He left me smiling. There is more to each of us than what we look like.

This post was originally published by TheONC.

6 thoughts on “Alopecia And The Pirate

  1. Thank you Stephanie. I very much appreciate that you’ve taken a moment to comment, as nursing school allows so little time for much else.

    You must have done some clinical rotations in oncology if you have interest in it. I’m wondering what experiences have led you to believe it will turn into a losing battle? As a cancer survivor, and a nurse, I would answer, “Yes, the chemo was worth it.”

    I suspect the question you might really be asking is, “When should curative treatment be withheld or stopped?” and that is the big question in any nursing or medical specialty. I’m sure you are aware that some chemo, surgery, and radiation are done in order to control cancer symptoms, with good results, even when cure is not possible, and that is different.

    Doctors and nurses do not have crystal balls. The best we can do is listen to our patients, offer advice when asked, and respect the decisions they make. Nurses are patient advocates. We cannot control outcomes, only do our best for each. Every nurse must find a way to reconcile this.

  2. Love your blog!!! I am finishing up my RN degree and so want to go into oncology, but I fear that it will turn into nothing more than a loosing battle. A battle that I lose almost every day. Do you ever feel this way and do you ever wonder if the chemo is worth the pain your patients suffer through sometimes? I worry that if I administer chemo and they suffer through and and still die, that I have increased their pain. Does that make sense to you or am I just way off base? Thank you for putting your experience into words for all of us.

  3. Hair is definitely overrated. 🙂 It was a focal point of anxiety for me to begin with, but a very anti climatic part of the whole show. Thankfully.

  4. Excellent, I too am an oncology nurse and find hair a very difficult loss for females. I appreciate that story and will borrow it for that necessary time in my practice 🙂

  5. Wonderful story! It reminds me not to assume that I know what other people are thinking/feeling, about me or anything else. Thanks for sharing.

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