Girlfriend’s Guide to Breast Cancer

Under the category of “shit nobody tells you”, let me tell you a couple of things…

Hair loss isn’t as easy as they make it out to be on TV. No, no, when you shave your head with clippers like Meredith did on the Office and Christine did on Parenthood, you don’t get a “smooth-as-a-babies’-ass” head. Far from it. You get a stubbly mess.

If you recall, Paul buzzed my hair using the 2 blade on his clippers. That got me a cute, fuzzy and soft buzz cut — which lasted for about a week.  Then clump upon clump upon clump started to fall out in the shower.  It was to the point where I couldn’t get myself clean because the longer I stayed in the shower, the more hair fell out and got stuck to my body.  I figured if I scrubbed my head with a washcloth — all of my hair would fall out. Nope, not the case at all.  Then, when I tried to dry off with a towel, I just spread all those little hairs around. Don’t even get me started on the waterfall of loose hair that fell out when I dried my head with a towel.  What a goddamn mess.

So, after two showers like this, I threw in the towel and asked Paul to just buzz it all off. So he went to town with just his clippers — no attachment — and shaved everything down.

Here’s what they don’t tell you — doing this does not get you the baby-butt head. And your hair doesn’t just all fall out one day. I clearly had patches that were “gone” but I had equally as many patches that were clearly still there and not budging. So, the back of my head was covered in a scratchy 5 o’clock shadow.  The stubble was getting caught on EVERYTHING, including the soft fleece hats Melissa Trousdale made me (PS – I wear those hats every single day around the house — I have the Bills one on as I write this!). I was so uncomfortable — it hurt to put my head on a pillow. It was a serious drag.

I don’t know, maybe I’m an idiot, nee glutton — but, on the assumption that one day all the stubble would just miraculously fall out (What? I watch the same misleading TV as you — so I truly believed this would happen!), I lived with that insanity for another whole week. I finally lost my shit altogether and walked into the bathroom, lathered up my scalp and took my lady razor to it. I was terrified. The thought of cutting my scalp and bleeding from the head was no bueno. Plus, shaving the back of your own head is not an easy task! But, I did it and I finally achieved that shiny, smooth TV bald head. Yay!

Now what? Do I moisturize my scalp? I mean, it’s winter and it’s cold. I would think I should put something on it. I dunno what the answer is. So I’ve been using my face moisturizer on my head (this could get expensive people!) so as not to clog my pores. Seems logical right?

Another weird oddity struck me yesterday when I was in the shower. I think some of my hair is actually still growing. I shaved it on Friday, and 3 days later I noticed it was more stubbly than it had been. Is this possible? Who knows — nobody talks about this part of it. We may just have to chalk this one up to my being partially insane! No, but seriously, I have chemo tomorrow, so I’ll ask my doctor about all of this and report back to you later…

Oh, and for those of you out there wondering, yes, I still have my eyebrows and arm hair. Apparently that hair is slower growing than your head hair. Also, I’ve noticed that my finger nails are becoming weaker — they are all breaking off.  I’m just going to let them be and forego manicures until chemo is all done. I don’t want to chance getting an infection from a manicure or from nail polish. Is this rational? Probably not, but then again, I’m not rational. So it all makes perfect sense to me!

This next part, people actually DO talk about — but every individual’s experience is different.

So far, for me at least, the very worst part about breast cancer has not been chemo, rather it’s been getting my spacers filled every couple of weeks. Not only does the actual process hurt (the needle the doctor shoves into each of my boobs is close to two inches long), but the after effects are horrible (For those of you who are lost, I had a bi-lateral mastectomy and during surgery, the plastic surgeon inserted a prosthetic (aka spacer) into each breast. The spacers get filled every couple of weeks and they stretch my skin and muscles, preparing them for a second surgery that I will have after chemo is all done. It will be at that second surgery that I get my permanent implants).

The day of the filling, and for about a week afterward, my chest and rib cage are so tight. I have a constant dull ache across my chest and back — and my boobs are ROCK hard. I mean it when I say that. I could seriously injure someone just by hugging them. The craziest thing is that I only have partial feeling/sensation in my chest (in other words, my chest is half numb — which is not uncommon after a mastectomy, and, no, I may never fully regain sensation), so sometimes I crash things into my boobs and don’t realize it until it’s too late — until my skin finally registers that something has gone awry and sends my brain the message to tell me that I should feel a shooting pain in my chest.  Like, for example, I have opened the fridge door and crashed it into my rock hard tits. Which, I felt a few seconds later and it killed.  Seriously? Is this my life now?

This past week I had my 4th fill. We are getting pretty close to full capacity at this point and so the latest lovely side effect, is that it feels like my surgical scars are going to tear open at any moment.  All of this will subside in about a week or two — but it truly, truly sucks right now.  Honestly, chemo is nothing compared to getting my spacers filled. Oy.

Well you know me, I can’t end things on a downer note so let me say this — the weird thing about blogging is that you all sort of hold me accountable to myself whether or not you know it. When I sit down to blog, if I’m having a shitty day in real life, just knowing that so many of you will be reading this, I have to force myself to reassess my feelings and put them into perspective. It’s a humbling and powerful exercise — but it is this exercise that has kept me positive throughout this whole ordeal — so I thank you.

Final thought of the day — and Paul is the one who told me this story is blog-worthy — so if you think it’s lame, blame him. I was at Safeway today and I got a catcall in the parking lot. Whoot whoot! I had a skull cap on, so the guys didn’t know they were hoottin’ and hollerin’ at a Baldy McBaldy over here. But it felt good to know I still got it! lol


6 thoughts on “Girlfriend’s Guide to Breast Cancer

  1. Totally get the entire blog today…I rubbed my head with a washcloth till it all came out….I was a freaked as you are..Get some good cuticle oil that is gentle and opi’s nail envy..that will help. sorry about the rock hard ooobies…I got implants right away..but I can relate to the sensory misfiring… don’t ever flick yourself to test for sensation..It hurts so bad you will cry..
    and WHOOO! you do look HOT! go with your McBaldy self! Rock it Girl! I’m thinking and praying for you! Keep up the good fight!

    • OMG I totally tried rubbing it all out with a washcloth too! For days — but to no avail. I am going to revise my post to add that bit — I totally forgot about it. And my hair is def. still growing — it’s getting stuck on my fleece hats again ;( boo….

  2. Hugs, Andrea. Sorry that you’re still having unpleasant surprises. I know that you tried to do as much research as you could to prepare yourself for everything, so it must be super frustrating when you encounter a hurdle you didn’t think would be there or that’s a lot higher than you’d expected. You did an awesome job preparing though, so give yourself a high five (that’d be a clap, huh?).

    I love that you’ve still got it!


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