Hair UPdate

Because it’s been, what, a whole month since I posted about my hair?

Just thought you should know that I have some serious hair at this point. That shit has grown back with a curly vengeance.

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And those curls have a name, dear reader: chemo curls.

It’s common knowledge that many people grow curly hair after chemo. A Google search of the term brings up 178,000 results. But I could never have imagined just how curly my hair would become. After all these years, I have real empathy for my curly-haired friends’ endless search for the right product.

It’s heartening, I suppose, to see that many other people struggle to figure out what to do with their chemo curls, too. There are gobs of online forums about chemo curls, and even a good number of YouTube videos offering coaching on how to manage your Shirley Temple look. Even though I’m not a big fan of her technique, this video is one of my favorites, because the woman is delightfully, straightfacedly self-deprecating throughout. Solid cancer humor. This one offers a Millennial’s perspective on the whole ordeal. Also funny, but in a different way. And holy cow, does she ever have A LOT of ideas for how to manage her chemo curls. That’s the benefit of being in your early 20s, I guess: a greater willingness to spend time making yourself look beautiful. I’d prefer to complain.

My hair has always been wavy, but not curly, in spite of the best –and repeated–attempts of every hairdresser I’ve ever had to “bring out my curls.”

Now, those of you who’ve known me most of my life might chuckle at my insistence on this point, since you may recall my spiral perms in the ’80s. Those hairs were pretty darn curly. But only by way of plenty of stinky chemicals and hours with my hair in a plastic bag.

No, I inherited my mom’s thick, wavy dark brown hair, rather than my dad’s (also thick) curly, black hair.

Chemotherapy seems to have kicked in the paternal genes. In addition to some intensely curly hair, it’s now decidedly salt and pepper, just like Dad’s was for many years. Still, in spite of any genetic predispositions, it’s safe to say that this change is driven mostly by the chemo. This time it was the bags of chemicals injected into my veins that did it, instead of the bottles of chemicals squeezed on top of my head.

The thing that amazes me about chemo curls is that scientists don’t understand the underlying physiology that makes this happen.

I can see why the biochemistry of chemo curls would be low on the totem pole of cancer research. But I’m so curious! Here’s an interesting read by another person who tried to get to the bottom of this curious pattern. Alas, even this Nancy Drew couldn’t solve The Mystery of the Curly Coiffure.

or The Clue of the Terrible Tresses.

or The Message in the Ridiculous Ringlets.

or The Quest for the Frizzy Grail.

You know I could go on for a long time with this, right?


Hair UPdate

File Under: Are You F’ing Kidding Me?

It’s no picnic to be in menopause.

There are some distinct advantages, of course, not least being the absence of worry about the status of your feminine hygiene stockpile in every purse, backpack, car, coat pocket and desk.

However, the decline of estrogen production plays havoc with many aspects of a woman’s body and her mind. In the case of someone who needs to eliminate every last molecule of estrogen from their system to avoid feeding cancer, there is, shall we say, a little more urgency to this transition.

So imagine my (not) delight upon reading this op-ed in The New York Times today.

The upshot: “The latest research, including [Dr. Mosconi’s] own work, indicates that estrogen serves to protect the female brain from aging. It stimulates neural activity and may help prevent the build up of plaques that are connected to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. When estrogen levels decline, the female brain becomes much more vulnerable.”

The researchers used PET scans to “measure neural activity and the presence of Alzheimer’s plaques. The tests revealed that the women who were postmenopausal had less brain activity and more Alzheimer’s plaques than premenopausal women. More surprising, this was also the case for perimenopausal women — those who were just starting to experience symptoms of menopause. And both groups’ brains showed even more drastic differences when compared with those of healthy men of the same age.”


Ladies of a certain age, take note. At least Dr. Mosconi offers some suggestions for preventative measures.

“Many foods naturally boost estrogen production, including soy, flax seeds, chickpeas, garlic and fruit like apricots. Women in particular also need antioxidant nutrients like vitamin C and vitamin E, found in berries, citrus fruits, almonds, raw cacao, Brazil nuts and many leafy green vegetables.”

The nutritionists at DF have given me similar advice, though it’s a fine line when you have to watch your estrogen intake. Vitamins, fruits, leafy green vegetables are good, but you have to take soy in small, occasional doses.

I do appreciate the very unusual props for Brazil nuts, though. No one ever talks about Brazil nuts apart from Brazilians, in my experience. Viva Brasil! (Current political mess notwithstanding.)

File Under: Are You F’ing Kidding Me?

Hopped Up on Angst

Waiting for the doc to come in to see you on CT scan-result days is horrible. I feel a mix of intense boredom and an inability to do anything (read, write, listen to music, talk, etc.) because I’m too hopped up on angst about my results.

I stare ahead at the hospital accoutrements, most of which are never used in these check-ups. I feel stifled by this setting, jittery, steeling myself for the possibility of bad news. The occasional ping of messages coming through on the computer in this room annoys me. The people walking by in the hallway having normal conversations annoy me. The hum of the fluorescent lights overhead annoys me. The dirty, partly peeled-off manufacturer’s sticker on the base of the hospital bed annoys me.

All of this because I’m so nervous to get the results.

And then, finally, Dr. M walks in, quickly, with an air of expediency. Does this mean he’s anxious about my results? Or is he just running late and trying to make up time in his overloaded schedule?

“Your scan looks great,” he says, before he’s even crossed the tiny room.

I feel like a an overfilled balloon that is finally relieved of some of its gaseous burden. Pheeeeeeeewwww.

(I often feel a literal gaseous burden, to be honest, but let’s just go with this metaphor for now.)


Today was my last appointment with Dr. M.


He’s leaving DF for another practice. He told me this on our last visit, when he had only begun to share the news. But it’s real now. Friday is his last day here.

This is the second time I’ve had to say goodbye to a medical oncologist. It’s no fun, let me tell you. It’s even worse this time, since Dr. M was such an integral aspect of my care for breast cancer, and he stepped up in a huge way when I had my recurrence last year. Losing a doctor whose decisive treatment decisions made a big difference in my health outcomes is like losing a family member. It’s hard to describe these feelings. It’s not love, exactly, but there’s an intense feeling of dependence on this person.


I’ll tell you about my new cancer sister, A, soon.

Hopped Up on Angst