Head Shed

The average human has 100,000-150,000 hairs on his or her head:  blondes with a little more, redheads fewer, and brunettes somewhere in between.  We lose perhaps 50-100 every day, entangling in our hair brushes, collecting on the bathroom floor, or disappearing quickly down the shower drain.  Of those 50-100 hairs, I noticed perhaps 15 of my own jumping ship yesterday, permanently sailing to destinations unknown.  The remaining 35-85 undoubtedly also departed, however unnoticed and unrecorded.

Since early this morning, by contrast, I have counted not 15, not 25, and not 35.  There were 5 on my pillow, 10 wafting down as I changed into workout clothes, 10 beckoning from the porch floor just below my stationary bicycle, another 15 liberated after a cold rinse in the shower and gentle combing, and perhaps 5 more resting on my sweater, all before lunch.  With 45 so far that’s a 200% increase over yesterday, and today, Day 12 since the start of chemo, is not yet done.

Penguin Cold Caps and other similar scalp chilling methods do not claim to be able to protect all of the hair.  I will be satisfied by the end of chemo and a few months out if I can still retain most of the original mass. To my advantage, I have started with fairly thick tresses, and although an expected 30% loss distributed well across my scalp would certainly mean thinner hair, it would still leave cosmetically acceptable coverage.

Seventy percent retention is a loss of 30,000 hairs, a rather dramatic change if experienced within a few days (as for typical chemo patients) or a less distressing loss if spread out over the next several months.  The older hair bulbs are likely casualties and are the beginning of a follicular exodus that has been brewing ever since my first Taxol infusion.  How will I know whether the Cold Caps are working to protect the younger follicles?  From what I’ve heard from the infusion clinic nurses and read from other patients’ testimonials, if I still have the majority of my hair by Day 21, signs are good that the Cold Caps will be effective.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, the hair loss has a single bright side.  Due to the relative lack of side effects thus far, I have collected only meager and collectively unconvincing evidence the chemo is affecting changes to my body.  Because I felt fine, I must be fine, but if I was ok, then whatever remaining cancer cells might be surviving, too.  So message received, hair, and thanks for letting me know!  Just don’t too many more of you leave …

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