.......................Marcia Reid Marsted........................... . . . . . . About My Hair : A Journey to Recovery

First, I am a photographer. Periodically, I am a cancer patient. This is a somewhat haphazard photographic diary that I kept to document the changes in my hair that I knew would occur as I dealt with surgery, a cancer diagnosis, and the chemotherapy that would be necessary postoperatively.

I chose to shoot these images with one of my favorite films, black and white infrared film. I like the otherworldly look of the images, which paralleled the way I was feeling. I have kept up with the chronicle past the end of my chemotherapy and have created a book which I am trying publish. In November, 1999, I introduced a bit of color in the form of color infrared and color photographs, as I began to feel my own life and color coming back to normal.

This is a self-portrait. Using infrared film, I was trying to photograph the asymmetries in my face. Instead I photographed My Third Eye. It must have been trying to tell me something. Even then, in 1997, I sensed there was a problem. Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy for rectal cancer, back in 1988, had ended my periods. Now, I was bleeding erratically, and hadn't for eight years. My doctor said it was just a result of radiation damage. I didn't think so.

Days before an art show I hadn't even hung was set to open, in mid-November, 1998, I was rushed to the hospital with an intestinal obstruction. The CT scan of my intestines also showed that my uterus was enlarged. I wasn't surprised. I knew the bleeding I'd been experiencing wasn't normal. My surgeon asked me if I wanted to have my uterus removed by a gynecologist after he had dealt with the obstruction. None of this was very pleasant, but I was actually happy to think that I'd be getting rid of my bothersome uterus, so I agreed quickly, on the condition that the surgery wait until after the opening. The obstruction was allowing a little soft food to pass by, so as long as I was careful, a few extra days wouldn't matter that much.
Reliable cancer information of all kinds can be found at the American Cancer Society's informative web site: www.cancer.org or by phone at 1-800-4-CANCER.
The biopsy after the surgery confirmed what I had expected. I did, indeed, have uterine (actually, endometrial) cancer. Click here for lots of useful links about endometrial cancer.
A thorough description of endometrial and uterine cancer can be found at NCI, the National Cancer Institute, in its reliable, informative site. Click here to connect.

This was me in December of 1998. The surgery scar was healing. Now it was time to deal with the idea of heavy duty chemotherapy. I was scheduled for a "cut and color". Why color what will fall out and why not cut it really short so there won't be so much to fall, I thought. I was on my way to the hairdresser, and after that the wig store, and finally, a different me.

This is the cut. It was a few days after the picture above. My first chemo was scheduled for December 14. Just a bit less than a month past my November 17th surgery. If you want to read about what I was thinking as I waited for the chemotherapy, follow the link (by clicking on the picture) to "Second Primary" which I began writing as I was waiting for that first dose of chemo. If you just want to look at the pictures, keep going.

I managed to keep my hair until after New Year's Eve! I was very gentle with my hair and my head. I barely touched it and my hair stayed looking pretty good (if a bit greasy) until January 6th when it started to fall out. There is an NCI article on managing ALOPECIA (which is what you have when you don't have any hair). Much of it pertains to people undergoing chemo as well as people with alopecia for other reasons. See below for a link.

Click here for a site that contains lots of information and hints on dealing with your new state of hairlessness (alopecia). "Look Good, Feel Better" a program run by the American Cancer Society, is one of the best places to go, if you know you will lose your hair. There is a website. You can contact the ACS at Cancer.org or 1-800-227-2345

If you'd like to order a copy of the book, please click here.

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As my hair began to fall out, I still had to wash it. One morning, Jeff walked into the bathroom and I realized how much alike we looked, so I took this picture of us smiling to give us a smile later on.

Here are my tresses going down the drain. I was so happy I had cut them, so that what floated down the tub was not too depressing.

This is just about as bald as you can get. My eyelashes and eyebrows were gone, but I got pretty good with an eyebrow pencil. In the winter I wore a hat with no wig mainly because there wasn't room for the wig. When it got warm, I only went once without my wig - I wore a baseball cap to a doctor's appointment and I felt very self- conscious, so I never did it again. The wig looked good. I washed it once a week which was a nice change from the daily wash which had been my norm when I had hair to wash. Actually, as I mentioned earlier, I bought two wigs at their suggestion, but although they were supposed to be the same, I liked one much better than the other and wore it most of the time. Luckily it lasted. I liked getting compliments on my nice haircut. In a dream, my favorite wig disintegrated from overuse, leaving me with only the second choice.

Sex is an important issue when you are sick with cancer. A pleasant sexual encounter helps to make you forget some of the bad things going on in your life. Most doctors, I found, seemed hesitant to talk about sexual matters. My surgeon was an exception. At my follow-up visit his first question was: "Have you tried sex yet?" I was speechless and had to admit that I hadn't. I was afraid. I felt so fragile. His encouragement made me realize that I was ready to try. Jeff was pleased. He hadn't wanted to push me. With my other doctors, gynecologist included, I had to be the one who wasn't embarrassed. I had to bring it up. It was worth the momentary intake of breath I could see the doctor take to have my questions answered. During therapy decisions for my first cancer, I was amazed that a radiologist (a woman who was not my eventual choice) neglected to tell me that radiation therapy would cause the death of my ovaries. I had seen seven doctors for various parts of my treatment before I learned that important fact from my chosen radiologist (a man). Luckily for me, at that point I already had my family.

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If you'd like to order a copy of the book, please click here.

Here I am in November 1999. The color is coming back.

New Year's Eve of the millennium, feeling very good - getting ready to go to a party. We were still together. Jeff had been concerned about me and patient with my ups and downs, and still is. It had been a year to remember and to forget. It was the perfect time to start on a new life.

Here I am with hair that has grown long enough to cut a couple of times to keep it in shape. It hasn't been dyed. I decided to give that up. Now is a time to avoid unnecessary poisons. I look like a Karakul lamb. My mother used to have a lambskin coat that was almost the same, a curly mixture of gray and brown. When I was a child I had ringlets. Later I had waves. The chemo left me with tight curls. I've been asked where I got my perm. A friend had chemo similar to mine. Her hair grew back straight as a stick. An acquaintance, also a cancer survivor who had chemotherapy, told me her hair had grown in extremely curly. Now, a year later, it is quite straight. I guess I'll just have to wait and see what happens to me. I try not to become too enamored with my present hair so I won't miss it if it goes straight.
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This is me in January 2000, just about a year from the day my hair began to fall out. The curls have remained so far. I look a bit like a Karakul lamb. The gray doesn't show too much in this photo. I've had my hair cut a few times to keep it in shape. I haven't yet decided whether to go back to coloring it as I did before.

I have finished the book from which this web site was drawn. I published it myself. In 2004 I created/started Capelli d'Angeli Foundation as a way to encourage women artists with cancer to use their art to help them deal with their cancer. Artist grants, juried art and photography shows, and later, writing competitions will focus women on something other than illness. Something that will enrich their lives, no matter what the final outcome. Click here to see what The Foundation is doing now.

The Foundation is also dedicated to making "About My Hair: A Journey To Recovery" available to as many people as possible. If you are affiliated with a cancer center and think other patients, nurses, or doctors would find the book interesting let me know.

You'll find the web site for my publishing company at: www.capellidangelipress.net. Find information on ordering an autographed copy at: www.aboutmyhair.com. From the response to the book as I was writing it and the web site, I can see that together they may help the reader/viewer realize that chemotherapy and hair loss don't have to be devastating experiences.

Click here if you would like to be put on our mailing list.

Gina Barreca, who writes for the Hartford Courant and is syndicated in Washington and Chicago, read and loved my book. She reviewed it in January. Click here to read her review.

If you'd like to order a copy of the book, please click here.

If you want to see my Art home page click HERE.

If you'd like to contact me, click here to send an e-mail: marciareidmarsted@mac.com
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