It's only hair. It's just hair. It's no big deal. Vanilla Ice used to have swooshes and slashes and shapes shaved into his head. Now he looks like a normal guy. It's no big deal. Madonna was a blonde, then a brunette, then a redhead, then black haired, and then I lost track. I think Gwen Stefani had green hair. Who cares? Even I'm guilty. In high school I had frosted tips, a super-cool hair-style in the 90's where you dye the ends of your hair blonde and then spike it. Looked good at the time. Looks silly now. It's only hair. It's just hair. So why did it make us feel so bad?
This morning started like all the other days did this week, with Mal charging full speed into the radiation treatment center. The receptionist smiled. The elderly couple in the corner waved. Mal didn't notice. She changed course and veered to the kids area of the waiting room. When we were called to the patient area for the nurse to get her vitals, Mal sat on Rachel's lap. And then it happened. Rachel noticed a group of hair that had fallen out into the hood of Mal's sweatshirt. As a bystander to the vital signs routine, I saw it all go down. Rachel's eyes widened, then they started to well with tears as she looked up to me. I gave Rachel a stern look, like a teacher scolding a misguided pupil, and bobbed my head towards the nurse. Rach locked the tears up and focused on the nurse. Mal didn't notice.
Once Mal was anesthetized for the day, Rachel and I shared a hug and then walked back into the waiting room to wait for Mal to finish her treatment. As we broke the threshold of the doors, Rachel was unable to keep her composure. Out in the waiting room, a wonderful man named Greg, who is getting treatment for a sarcoma on his leg, and a woman named Michelle, whose husband is being treated for brain cancer, saw Rachel come through the doors ahead of me and knew something was wrong. They did a great job of sharing a prayer and words of comfort with Rachel and me about Mal's hair loss. "It's only hair," they said. "It's just hair. It's no big deal."
Mal left a good portion of her hair on the hospital stretcher upon which she wakes up from her treatments. Her hair continued to fall out on her bed during nap, and into her hoodie throughout the day. By bath time, her hair had thinned in back to about a third of what is was 24 hours ago. When Rachel brushed it after bath time, more fell out. Mal didn't notice. It's only hair. It's just hair. It's no big deal.
Except that it is a big deal. For the past three-plus weeks, outside of the few hours per day that we spend at the hospital (and the occasional PICC Line scare) Mal has seemed like a normal girl. She maintained her energy, kept up her joy for life, and faced cancer with a smile on her face even when we could not. It was a great illusion. Even when we knew in our mind that Mal was fighting brain cancer, we could allow ourselves a few moments each day to pretend that she was fine. She looked fine. She acted fine. But now, the bruises are settling in under her eyes, and her hair is falling out by the handful. Our illusion is gone. Our baby girl is a cancer patient in our hearts, minds and eyes.
No matter how much you prepare yourself for something like your kids hair falling out, it doesn't work. The sheer shock and sadness is overwhelming. Both Rachel and I spent today in various states of grief, mourning the loss of Mal's hard-earned auburn locks. We swept it up behind her. We washed it down the drain. We debated what to do with the remaining hair. Mal didn't notice.
But I kept coming back to what our friends said in the wiating room. It's only hair. It's just hair. The fact that it fell out means the radiation treatment is working and we are killing the fast-growing cells and eliminating any left over ependymoma. Her hair will grow back. Our hearts will mend. Mal will get better, and bigger, and forget about being bald again. And one day Rachel will do Mal's hair for the Homecoming dance. And some night I will run my hands through her hair while we snuggle and watch a movie. That day is coming soon, and on those days I will not remember the way I feel tonight. Hair grows back just like we change our moods; only hair takes a little bit longer. It's only hair. It's just hair. It's no big deal.
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