September 23rd, 2011
10:38 PM ET
Olympic gold-medal winning gymnast and ovarian cancer survivor Shannon Miller talks to Dr. Sanjay Gupta on this weekend's "Sanjay Gupta, M.D." at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday and Sunday. Here, journal-style, she shares a window into an important part of her experience, the loss of her hair during chemotherapy.
Day 14 of treatment
Today is the day. Dressed and ready for a meeting, I ran a brush through my hair and although I knew it was coming, there was pure shock at the amount of hair left dangling off my brush. For fear of looking a little mangy at this very lovely lunch meeting, I decided to break out the heavy duty can of hairspray and plaster all hair left on my head. If I can just stay out of the wind and avoid the pressing need to reach up and see how much hair is left, I might be okay.
I’ve never considered myself a hat girl but I think I could get into this. And the thought that I can wear a wig is a good one. No more worries about flat ironing, blow drying, styling, humidity. I can simply plop on a wig and head out the door!
Day 17 of treatment
I received a wonderful piece of advice from a friend and two-time cancer survivor before beginning chemo. She told me to shave my head at the first sign of hair loss. Yikes! This is a pretty bold move. I don’t relish the clumps of hair falling out and can now understand why this is so important. Losing your hair is emotional. It’s depressing and, frankly, a bit yucky. There is hair EVERYWHERE! It’s on the bathroom floor and on my pillow when I wake up.
While not completely ready mentally, I decided to jump in with both feet and shave it off. In celebration of this lovely milestone in my journey through chemotherapy, my friends threw a wig party! It was a celebration of health and life. We tried on wigs, hats and scarves, laughed and cried. Most of all they helped me keep it light and in perspective.
Hair loss is such a personal experience. It seems to be a symbol of illness… of cancer. I wonder if I’ll be strong enough to look at myself in the mirror or just remain in sweet denial. The mind is a funny thing and we all face these issues in different ways, one not better than another.
Day 20 of treatment
It seems like everything comes back to control. Isn’t that the worst part of a cancer diagnosis…the loss of control? I feel like I took back some of that control by losing my hair on my own terms and shaving it off.
My biggest worry was that my son, now 16 months old, would be scared of mommy. What would he think of my bald head? While talking with a friend about my fear she looked me straight in the eye and said “Shannon, if you’re not comfortable with how you look, Rocco certainly won’t be.” She is so wise. It became crystal clear that I needed to get myself in gear. I had not even looked in a mirror since shaving my head. I wore my hat or wig around Rocco for the next couple days while I worked on my own comfort level. I forced myself to look in the mirror and reach up and feel my head.
It didn’t take long until it became a very natural part of me. It became a non-issue. I very casually introduced my big bald head to Rocco while we played but didn’t really place focus on the lack of hair. He didn’t flinch. Apparently it was just another hairstyle for Mom.
Treatment Day 24
I’ve been very focused on the physical impact of chemo this past couple of weeks, for obvious reasons, but the emotional toll is beginning to take hold.
Rocco (our son) becomes more mobile each day and he wants to go-go-go! I want to stay upbeat and active in front of him but I’m sure he’s noticed some changes. I wonder what’s going through his mind when I turn pale and dart out of the room or when I’m just not as active as I used to be.
I feel like chemotherapy is all about forward momentum. You just have to keep taking the next step. Different obstacles will try to block your path but you just have to keep moving forward. If you fall off the beam, you GET BACK UP. Then you just keep going.
One of my toughest battles each day is not allowing this to take over my life. There is a constant struggle between wanting to crawl into bed and sleep for remainder of treatment and understanding that I cannot surrender. There is a bigger picture out there and if we can remain focused on the ultimate goal…our health…we can not only make it through these rough times but use them to become stronger physically, mentally and emotionally.
About this blog
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.