It was Ellen who finally figured out the kinky hair thing. One of the stranger side-effects of the interferon treatment I went through last year was a whole new “do.” My hair went aggressively, flamboyantly wavy, like a perm that had gone seriously wrong. I hated it. So in recent weeks I’ve tried various types of conditioner and hair product to straighten it out. I’d had no luck until Ellen suggested a blow dryer. Heat, she helpfully explained, straightens hair. I’d never thought of that, and gave it a try. Voilà. Straight hair again.
The good thing about having gone through the interferon regimen is that almost anything that goes wrong with any part of my body or behavior can be blamed on drugs. Dippy hair? Interferon. Tired, blurry vision at night? Interferon. Disinterest in the things Ellen wants to tell me while I’m reading my newspaper? Definitely interferon. It’s so great to have an all-purpose excuse for anything bad that happens, especially one that no one can challenge without sounding unkind.
Me: “Sorry, Jeff, I can’t teach this week because the hearing in my right ear seems a little off and most of my students mumble anyway.”
Jeff: “Mumble? Can’t you just clean the ear wax out of… Oh, never mind. Will you be back next week?”
Overall, I have few lingering effects of a drug that has been known to kill patients. I started to read the package insert one evening last summer, shortly after I’d picked up my first self-injectible dose, and had to stop. The pharmacological havoc that this drug can wreck on the human body makes it a worthy rival to cancer itself. There was, however, no warning about the aforementioned kinky hair—only that the drug could lead to premature and sometimes permanent hair loss. I think the FDA needs to hear from me about this.
When you’ve been treated for cancer, it’s easy to obsess about mundane aspects of your appearance. When I run I’m self-conscious about the scar on the side of my left knee. I wonder if any one will notice the gnarly patch where a skin graft failed after my primary melanoma was removed in ’07. My left thigh is also slightly larger than my right, although you’d have to see me in the nude to really notice it (sorry, no chance of that happening). My vision never did come fully back to normal, and my hearing really is worse than it was. I seem to have forgotten a lot of what happened last year, but that’s a blessing in disguise. Having been to hell and back, there’s little point to describing the lousy scenery along the way.
In a way, it’s a grace that I’ve been able to pull myself (mostly) together in the last few months. On bad days, when I look in the mirror and see a haggard guy on the high side of middle age, I figure, “Well, what do you expect from a cancer survivor?” Most other days I’m able to live with aplomb. It’s great to have the luxury these days of worrying about how my hair looks. And right now—thank you very much—it looks pretty darn good.