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Growing Hurts! Comtemplations On Hair Or Lack Of It...





 
This blog may seem a bit strange but there is this phenomenon known as "chemo brain". It's not endorsed by the medical profession and it does sound a lot like an aging brain combined with stress. However, it could be true. Cancer patients and their caregivers, at least, do find some comfort in using the term to "chemo brain" to explain the somewhat bizarre behavior cancer survivors often exhibit. It suggests that the condition is temporary rather than permanent insanity. Of course, some of us (and our family members) conveniently choose to ignore the fact that we had chemo brain symptoms long before we ever had chemo. Is this true in my case? I'll take the 5th and let God be my judge.

Last Friday, before chemo, I glared at my oncologist. "You said my head wouldn't hurt when my hair fell out!" Dr. Rank gave me that beautiful benevolent smile of his. Oh...oh... I was going to have trouble staying angry. "That's right. I told you the truth. I told your head would not hurt when your hair fell out." I tried to fix my glare back into place. I shoved my notebook of questions under his nose and pointed to where I had written in big black letters one night when I couldn't sleep. Head Hurts! underscored multiple times. "Yes," he explained patiently, "your head hurts but it's not because you're losing your hair, it's because it's trying to grow back."

That took the wind out of my sails for a moment. "What do you mean growing back? I grabbed a bit of stubble and yanked. Well, actually I gave it a tiny tug and the hair gently slid out. Really. You don't feel a thing. I'm telling you the absolute truth. You feel nothing. It's like picking a piece of lint or something out of your hair. It just slides right out of your scalp as nice as slick as can be.

That's when I learned the fuzz covering my head might look like living hair but it's not. It's dead...completely dead. The root is gone. It might be sticking out of my scalp but that's a mere formality. It's as dead as dead can be. It will not grow. It will not stay secure. It looks alive, but it's not. Stay with me here...

Two days after chemo, my body gets to work trying to build brand-new hair roots unless I have male pattern baldness or some other hair follicle disease which I don't. These new roots get busy growing new hair and if left alone, I'd have a 1/2 inch crop of new hair in about a month or so. That new hair trying to break through makes my scalp sensitive so that's what actually is hurting me...new hair growth. You don't normally feel that because, well, your hair is usually just cut down to the surface of your scalp (hopefully) and new hair doesn't have to break through the skin. Unfortunately, 12 days into the cycle, my new little roots get destroyed again. My hair should start growing back permanently on June 9 (two days after my last chemo). Yeah!

The point of all of this rambling is this:

1. Just because something looks like it's rooted and healthy doesn't mean it it. This is why it is important to be examined daily by the Holy Spirit. Looks can be deceiving.

2. True growth can hurt! While it is painful for the moment, it is sometimes necessary. My hair wouldn't do me much good if all of the growth stayed inside my head. As I'm quickly finding out, hair's primary purpose is not to make you look better. It protects your head from the cold, the sun, wind, keeps the skin from getting too dry, etc. I've discovered I'm more fond of it than what I believed.

[bible]2 Peter 3:17-18[/bible]

Posted: Apr 01 2008 07:08:16am by K Reynolds+
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About K:

K Reynolds is a breast cancer as well as a ruptured brain aneurysm survivor. She now deals with trigeminal neuropathy.. You can find out more about K at her profile page.

Sarah Lidbury (@sarahl)
Apr 01 2008 08:46:02am
  Not rambling at all; a really good reminder of truths it's so easy to forget. The pain for growth thing is SO true! Here's to your hair growing back beautifully with as little pain as possible! :)


Lisa Forrest (@lmforrest)
Apr 01 2008 09:06:07am
  Nice blog and good point about the pain of growth and the fallacy of appearance of growth. There are many times I account some change in myself as "growth" but later realized it was actually regression because it was from the foundation of the carnal mind, oops, well, guess we learn by the daily sorting out of the Holy Spirit of the true from the false as you stated. I am a bit fascinated by the "chemo-brain" syndrome you mentioned. If you ever decide to write on this, I'd love to hear about it. May your "glory" (hair) be more beautiful than it was prior to your loss. :-p Peace!


K Reynolds+ (@kreynolds)
Apr 01 2008 10:25:50am
  Even if a person is declared "cancer-free" there is always the possibility that a cancer cell is lurking about undetected. It only takes one to make millions so... depending on the aggressive behavior of the original tumor, you may have to be treated with chemo and radiation even if there is no evidence of cancer...call it insurance.

Chemo drugs work by targeting fast growing cells (like cancer cells) and destroying them. The problem is, the drugs don't know which are the good cells and which are the mutant cells. Your fast growing cells include hair, nails, skin, the lining of your mouth, nasal passages, digestive system, etc. so damage to those areas can cause some problems. It also affects your blood cells so your immune system is compromised. I have to have a certain number of platelets, white blood cells, etc. or my treatment is delayed and that could cause problems. This is why my prayer partners pray for the rapid recovery of my body after each treatment as well as protection from the ill-effects of chemo. Aside from the usual fatique, God has protected me from the more dangerous side-effects such as internal sores and infections, gastrointestinal problems, heart trouble, etc. My immune system, while it is not at my pre-chemo levels, is still well within the range of low normal when it is time for me to have my treatment again so it is doing what it is supposed to do. Some readings are elevated but in my case that's good because it indicates that I am rebuilding and replenishing damaged red blood cells and my bone marrow is doing it's job. I praise God for that. We have amazing bodies!

Officially, chemo drugs do not have any affect on the brain. I don't understand it but the brain is supposed to somehow block these drugs. Unofficially, there are claims of diminished cognitive ability during and after chemo treatment for 1-3 years. None of this has been confirmed. While there has been some small studies done on this which has shown some diminished ability, there isn't a good baseline. All of the baselines occurred after the person was diagnosed with cancer and of course, stress is also a factor in diminishing cognitive ability.

So, the question is, is chemo causing the problem or is the problem due to the stress of having and undergoing cancer treatment. Cancer shakes your world to say the least. In addition to facing your own mortality, relationships can get shaken, jobs can be lost or financial crisis take place, people can lose their friends, homes, etc. On top of all of this, a lot of people develop cancer when their middle-aged. This is a time when we already know there is a certain amount of decrease in cognitive ability whether we like to admit to it or not. Is chemo brain just a part of that process?

Cancer can cause you to act a bit strange anyways. When you're confronted with your own mortality you often say or do things you normally would not have done. My husband was slightly concerned about me a few times until he went to my first cancer support group. He was relieved to find that I was behaving and talking perfectly normal...for someone who had been diagnosed with cancer. While everyone is different, probably 80-90% of the women sounded just like me. Whew! I'm not crazy!

Anyways, now I have this ready-made excuse for any bizarre behaviors I might have which I don't want to take personal responsibility for I can blame it all on chemo and say it's just my chemo brain.


Lisa Forrest (@lmforrest)
Apr 01 2008 05:26:06pm
  Bravo for you, thanks so much for the information as I know nothing about cancer or chemo. You sound like a really sane crazy person to me! I had a different type of illness that was like a train wreck 5 years ago, a nervous breakdown and a resulting diagnosis of bi-polar. My mind and body were affected dramatically and the healing process from the breakdown is not yet complete. I have neurological "issues" which are a real pain at times, involuntary movements and spasms in my spine, mostly now just when I'm relaxed and trying to fall asleep but I use to have head, arm and leg movement and twitches. My mind was affected profoundly by this and if it wasn't for the Word of God and Jesus, I'd probably be completely insane. I admire your spirit and intelligence and send you lots of love and healing blessings. Peace!


Virginia Sills (@happytoberestored)
Apr 02 2008 08:22:49am
  K, As I ponder the cancer treatment of my hubby's best friend, I am glad that he's able to find humor in it. He told my hubby the other day that his armpit is hot enough to "pop microwave popcorn" in less than a minute. I found out yesterday that I lost a former co-worker to leukemia this past Sunday. He was only sick for two weeks. That stunned me, to say the least. Then this morning I find out that a co-worker who's been battling melanoma (yes, skin cancer) passed away early this morning. Again, another stun. I keep reminding myself that God is the Author and Perfecter. Only God says when one of His creations leaves this earth. The time is written in His Hand. K, you are in my prayers. Much love in Christ, V



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