For two weeks in August, 2015, I had whole brain radiation therapy. Ten days of being locked to a table for seven-minute sessions intended to slow or stop the growth of the metastatic cancer in my brain. During treatments I saw blue lights and smelled chlorine, neither of which were in the room, a testament to the power of the machine and the mysteries of the brain..
Although we didn't know at the time how effective the radiation would be in fighting the disease, I was told there was a 50% chance it would affect my memory recall, a 20% chance my verbal communication, and 100% chance I would lose my hair.
Clearly, losing my hair is small potatoes in this battle. But about five weeks later, when a single hair brush stroke took out a fist-sized clump of hair and the shower drain clogged the moment I stepped in, I felt vulnerable.
For the first time, my disease had come out. No longer hidden in my lungs or lymph nodes or brain, it was visible for anyone to see. I really do have this thing, don't I? Over the next few days my hair continued to leave me, eventually reduced to islands that refused to be bridged by comb-overs or other manipulations. I had the rest buzz cut and felt neater but the cold wind on my exposed scalp reminded me of my disease.
Despite the feelings of vulnerability, I felt a stronger sense of belonging on my next visit to Dana-Farber. Now wearing my disease openly, I felt a deeper kinship to my fellow warriors. A Band of Bald Brothers. And Sisters. And we exchanged elevator glances that confirmed our shared experiences.
It's now several months later and my hair seems to be coming back. No longer just a tail of striped brown and gray in the back, it's coming in above and around my ears, over the temples, and even a bit on top. Nothing yet worth brushing but it is providing at least some insulation from the Boston winter. It's no longer instantly dry after showering and the long back with the short top could possibly be mistaken for age-appropriate thinning or a hipster haircut.
I hope my friends at Dana-Farber will recognize me.