One evening when I was out of hospital for a time during treatment for my first bout of leukaemia, I found myself in the queue for a club (the Clapham Grand, for connoisseurs of such establishments), merrily enjoying life with a bandana on my head and a Hickman line in my chest. I was standing in the queue with my friend Katie, having been split up slightly from the rest of our group, when one of the lads behind us saw the bandana covering my bald head and asked: “So, you got cancer or something?”
I paused – a little thrown by the question – before responding honestly: “Yes.”
“What?!” he replied, apparently oblivious to the fact that he’d probably asked the question because it looked quite likely.
“He does,” added Katie, and I even offered to show him the tubes stuck into my chest if he really needed extra proof.
The guy looked shell-shocked (even without my showing him the Hickman line), and let out a torrent of apologies and expletives, cursing himself for having asked such a stupid question and desperate to get my forgiveness for his having done so. Perhaps he had thought it amusing banter to ask a random baldie whether he had cancer; either way, he clearly hadn’t thought before opening his mouth – although admittedly he didn’t seem to be at his most sober.
Either way, Katie and I found the episode absolutely hilarious; I’m never afraid to talk about my cancer, but we just couldn’t believe he had asked the question to a stranger – which he clearly massively regretted, although I’m not sure whether his conscience was eased or he just felt worse because we were laughing about it. He even insisted on paying my entry fee, and wanted to buy me a drink, too, but by then I’d had enough of his apologies and managed to shake him off.
My hair’s taking its time to fall out this time, but it’s definitely thinning. Every day in the shower and when drying my hair afterwards, plenty of hairs come off in my hands or on my towel, and there are quite a few finding their way to the floor or onto my pillow. But it still looks mostly as though I have a full-ish head of hair – though if you look carefully in the right (or maybe the wrong) light, certain areas show through to my scalp a little more than you’d usually expect.
In a way it’s frustrating, as now it’s started to come out, I want to get it over with and start being a real cancer patient with a bald head. I have a set of clippers here, so when it gets truly patchy, I’ll accelerate the process by shaving what remains off, but for now I’m quite happy to be able still to pass my hands through my thinning hair – although I always expect at least a couple of hairs in my fingers afterwards.
It can also get a bit chilly in my room – the other day someone must have complained about being too hot in their room and persuaded the nurses to get the engineer to drop temperatures, as I woke up to freezing conditions; fortunately this was rapidly reversed when even the doctors were cold – so what hair there still is at least offers my head some warmth during the night.
Mariacristina keeps telling me stop pulling out my hair, which is something I tend to do on request to prove it’s coming out (and also just to wind her up a bit), as she presumably believes I should continue to enjoy looking relatively normal (emphasis on relatively) while I can. Fortunately, we first got together when I was a baldie, so it shouldn’t be too much of a shock when I go that way again.
I’m lucky to be a man, though, as I know how much more devastating it can be for a woman to lose her hair. Harriet reminded me the other day of my mother’s initial refusal to wear a wig, which lasted until Tom waltzed in one day wearing the one that had been offered to her… I think I’ll stick to bald, though.