Friday, January 27, 2012

It's No Big Deal

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.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


  1. You know the tears you recently told me that RacheI was sheddng so you wrote me for both of you. It's my turn now. Yes,it's only hair, Yes, it grows back. Yes, you can wear pretty wigs, funny wigs, and some silly and some soft chemo caps. But, there's no denying it, is sad and hurts when it happens to your baby girl. Thank God we know it's because the radiation is working. And thank God Mal didn't notice. And Thank God Rachel will do Mal's hair for Homecoming, Prom, Sweetheart, JA, and the many other formal dances she'll go to. (You'll have lot to learn about the number of formal events there are, Billy :-) ) And Thank God Billy will spend alot of time running his fingers through her hair while you snuggle and watch the latest justin Bieber movie! People say nice things, but this one is actually true. Mal is now, and will still be beautiful! Thank you for your WONDERFUL card today! It's already up on the wall with the other one. We love you all sooooo much!
    Fighting the duck!!

  2. I kept my son's hair in a small baggie. B/c it wasn't just hair. I wanted to remember the cost b/c I believed in the reward to come. Still praying for your precious family.

  3. i'm speechless at the moment, but wanted you to know i'm reading. we all love you so much.

  4. I am so sorry. You are right- it is just hair, but as parents watching the hair fall out- you do realize that your child has cancer. Luke was looking at pictures him in treatment the other day - he looked at me very seriously and said "Mommy, it must have been really hard to tell the difference between Drew and I since we both didn't have hair" (Drew as 8 months at the time). I laughed, wiped away my years, and agreed that it was a bit difficult.
    Mal may never know- Luke didn't- one time he was outside with his eyes closed and I asked him what he was doing- "Mommy I am feeling my hair blow in the wind". He was completely bald.
    I LOVE Mal's hat- she looks so pretty. There is a store on etsy- BriarClaire that does great hats- and I know they have helped out little girls in Mal's shoes which I think makes the hats even prettier:)
    You and Rachel are doing a great job.
    -Ben and Megs Anderson

  5. I went to school with a couple of girls whose family had a tradition of shaving a baby's head when she was about six months old. They claimed it made the hair grow back thicker and stronger.

    It is only hair. It is going away today, but the hair, and Malorie, will come back stronger.

  6. I was sitting in an IHOP waiting for our favorite post-treatment breakfast to be served when I first noticed Sydney's hair falling out. I had the same reaction as Rachel, but the other restaurant patrons weren't nearly as understanding. It was HARD. Much harder for me than for Sydney. For her, it was all the way around from the top of one ear to the top of the other in a straight line -- just smooth bald skin below the line, but the rest of her hair covered it nicely. It took 6-8 months after radiation was over, but it has all grown back in beautifully. If not for the scar snaking it's way up her neck, you'd never know she ever lost any hair. This will all be a distant memory soon.

    Sydney had her port out on Monday. Everyone tells me that is a very positive step, but it feels scary and wrong. Weird, I know.

    We're still praying for you guys, and will continue to.

  7. Mary Helen, thanks for chiming in with your story, and congratulations on Sydney getting her port removed. We have been praying for your family nightly. Mal's hair on the top of her head seems to be covering her bald patch nicely as well. Her hair has completely fallen out below the ears all the way around her head, just as you described.

    Thanks to all for the kind words.