At Least the Hair I

At Least the Hair I’m Losing Is (Mostly) Grey

After nearly three years of chemotherapy for my stage IV lung cancer, I still had a full head of hair. I’m not so certain that it is going to survive the approach of middle age. As the calendar inches closer to my fiftieth birthday, I’ve noticed a sudden increase in hair loss. There is little doubt that my latest treatment plays a role in this change, but there is something to be grateful for in the mix as well.

“A few months ago, I noticed something different in the mirror.”

Chemo may have aged me early in some ways, but switching to a targeted therapy had the unexpected side-effect of restoring color to my hair. I was a fairly blonde kid, and the older I got, the darker my hair became. I also began to grey a little, mostly just at the edges, when I was just in my thirties. It gave me a distinctive, professorial appearance that I enjoyed, but in some ways I grew less and less familiar with the fellow in my old photographs.

A few months ago, I noticed something different in the mirror. A section of my hair that had been decidedly grey was now blonde. And not just a dirty blonde that would have blended unobtrusively with my grey and mottled brown, but it was blonde in the way I was as a teenager. It might have been the result of the steroid solution I was using on my scalp to mitigate an intolerable scalp itch; the pattern of blonde appeared in the driest and itchiest spots first, but then it began to spread.

The itch was largely brought under control by treating the symptoms, but the dry scalp continued. My targeted therapy causes an all-over rash and incredibly dry skin, for which I use lotion several times a day, but the scalp has been a tough place to treat. As such, I often appear like a character in a commercial for dandruff shampoo. And the texture of my hair has changed somewhat with the dryness, with the greyer hairs especially feeling strangely stiffer. Not so much the blonde hairs, however, which remain oddly soft and manageable.

“Maybe I am just looking for a much-needed silver lining.”

At some point, I began to take note of the increasing number of hairs in my comb and near the drain, and especially on the shoulders of a black sweater I am fond of wearing. Then on the headrest of my car. And on the back of my office chair. And my pillow, my rug, even the sandwich I just made. I am still not used to shedding so much. But I have noticed something specific about the hair I have lost.

It is almost entirely grey.

While the blonde hair that has come in recently is perhaps thinner than the hair it has replaced, there is little doubt that my old, thicker grey hairs are selectively falling out. It may just be me trying to read something into the situation, but it feels like this treatment is trying to remind me of my youth, to give me this moment when I look in the mirror of feeling younger, however briefly. Maybe this is helping to make the side effects of my treatment more tolerable. Maybe I am just looking for a much-needed silver lining. But some days, I admit, I will take a silver lining where I can get it.

Now, if I can only do something about those wrinkles…

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