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Esophageal cancer patient: What I learned from losing my hair

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By Mary Ginley

What is it about hair?  Why would I dread getting my head shaved more than having chemo?

My husband Jerry and I were at MD Anderson for blood work bright and early one Monday morning before my chemotherapy for my esophageal cancer treatment.  I decided today would be THE day.  It was silly to hang onto the last few clumps of thin hair that graced my cute little head.  So immediately after I got poked for the millionth time (I'm exaggerating), Jerry and I headed to MD Anderson's Beauty and Barber Shop to get everything shaved off.

Visiting MD Anderson's Beauty and Barber Shop
Lin Munoz, the staff cosmetologist who cut my hair, was delightful. We took pictures before, during and after. Half way through, she said to me, "You probably won't ever have a chance to do this again.  Want to try a mohawk?"

"Sure," I said, "Why not?" 

So, while she shaved and sculpted some remaining hair into a fine little mohawk, Jerry took pictures. She swung me around to face the mirror and I hooted. It was pretty scary to look at.

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She completed the job  and I stared at my bald head. 

"You have such a nice head," she said. "You look good."

Bet she says that to all the girls. I mean, she couldn't say, "Oh my God, what a lumpy head.  I'm so sorry."

Anyway, no more hair. Jerry says I look great, but that man tells me every day how great I look and, believe me, I do NOT look great every day.  But I do know I look good enough.  Wigs, hats and scarves can do wonders for a woman's morale. 

Lessons learned during esophageal cancer treatment
Every experience can teach you something if you let it. I learned that losing your hair is not the end of the world. I learned that getting your head shaved does not have to be a terrible experience. I learned that the people who work in MD Anderson's Beauty and Barber shop will help you through this in ways you never imagined. 

Every step of way through my cancer treatment, I've told myself: if something needs to be done, find a way to make it OK. And that's my advice for my fellow patients. If you can, find a way to make it fun. Shave your hair into a mohawk, attend a Look Good, Feel Better workshop at MD Anderson. Find a wig that lets you have the hair you've always wanted, even if it's just a while. Buy a scarf that's a bit beyond your budget or a hat that makes you look amazing.

I won't lie.  It is hard to look at my bald head.  For me, it is the clearest reminder that I have cancer.  Funny, the bald head more than the chemo, more than the radiation, more than once a week blood work and doctor's meetings, shouts at me, "This is serious, Mary."  And that is not a terrible thing.  Cancer is serious.  And I am seriously determined to get well.

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