“Hair:” An Excerpt from the “Living Through Chemo” Chapter of Fight Like Susan

03.30.2016 | 10:52 am

A “Hey You Should Read This” Note from Fatty: As you have probably noticed, The Swimmer, The Hammer, and I are all-in with TrainerRoad; it’s been making a big difference in for all three of us (more on this when I start my True Grit writeup). So it was pretty exciting to have TrainerRoad interview The Hammer and me about how we train together, especially since it really is something I think we really both are proud of. 

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Click here to check out the article, and feel free to leave a comment with tips or questions you might have about how partners can train together. 

Today’s Accountability Check-In: Yesterday I did in fact do a double workout, as promised. In the morning, on my own, I did the first hour of the Tray Mountain workout and when The Hammer got home, we both did Darwin

What I need to do now is pull back on how much I’m eating. With the number of calories I’m expending (more than 1500 yesterday) on exercise, I should start losing weight. But that only works if I don’t pig out. Which, so far, is not going well. My office is too close to the kitchen (they’re adjoining rooms). That doesn’t matter, though; my self-discipline needs to not be location-dependent. I guess.

Weight: As of this morning, my weight is 169.0 — two pounds down. I’m going to work hard today to keep this downward trend going. 


Writing: I am making good progress on writing Fight Like Susan.  And in fact, today I’m going to post an excerpt from the “Living With Chemo” chapter I worked on yesterday.

First, though, I’m going to ask you (again) to support me as I write this: please pre-order the book, the jersey, and any of the other gear (by the way, I have added women’s shorts to the gear available). Right now, as I’m writing this book, you are my source of income. 

Hair (from the “Living Through Chemo” Chapter of Fight Like Susan)

When you go through most kinds of chemo, your hair’s going to fall out. It just is. There are people who will tell you stories and give you advice to make you think there are things you can do to prevent or slow hair loss. I know there were certainly people — too many people — who told Susan what she could do to keep her hair. Cold caps. Vitamins. Rogaine.

They were well-intentioned, I know. But they didn’t understand the devastating impact they had. By giving Susan advice on how to keep her hair, they were harming her in a couple ways. First, they were giving her false hope—making her think she would be able to hold onto her hair, when in reality most of it was going to fall out no matter what she did. Chemo just kills fast growing cells—and that includes not just cancer, but hair as well.

More importantly, though, by talking about how she could maybe keep her hair, friends were emphasizing how important appearances are. They were saying, essentially, “Hair’s worth the extra discomfort of an icepack on your head compounding the chemo headache you’ll have already.” Which is, frankly, a pretty rotten message to be giving to someone who’s just had a breast removed and is going to – whether she keeps her hair or not – going to be looking pretty sick and puffy (from the steroids that go along with the chemo) for the next several months.

In Susan’s case—yeah, she tried the cold cap—it didn’t matter anyway. One day, shortly after her second chemo treatment, I noticed a lot of hair had fallen onto her shoulders.

The next morning, it was a lot more obvious; it was all over her pillow.

By the time she got out of the shower that morning, Susan was crying. She showed me why, grabbing some hair close to her scalp and giving a tug. About a quarter of it came out. About as easy as pulling a few blades of grass out of the lawn.

And there it was: a new little bald spot where the hair had been.

I felt a moment of panic.

But why?

It wasn’t the knowledge that Susan would be bald soon. I had known that. It didn’t worry me. I had seen the TV shows, I had talked with the doctors.

Going bald wasn’t the cancer manifesting itself — no, that was the lump. Going bald was just the medicine’s side effects.

But I was still freaking out. Because you know that shouldn’t be happening. Just like skin shouldn’t be blistering. Just like eyes shouldn’t be red. A clump of hair falling out looks — to the people who care about you — like an injury.

So I asked Susan if I could cut it off. All of it, right then. I didn’t want to react any more; cutting it off would at least be me taking charge.

I don’t think she really wanted me to. I don’t think she was ready to let go of her hair; she hadn’t had time to say goodbye to it.

But she said yes. She could tell it bothered me. That I no longer regarded her hair as anything but a symptom.

So we went downstairs to the little kitchen we had in the rental house we were staying in while we shopped for a house in Sammamish (we were set on living in Sammamish) of our own. I got out the electric clippers, and I just cut it all off.

Front to back. Then side to side. Trying to only graze her skin, because — like everything else — it was already sensitive.

I finished, looked at her, and said, “You know I always had a thing for that bald robot chick in the first Star Trek movie, right?” 


  1. Comment by Mike | 03.30.2016 | 11:27 am

    Good work! The check in’s are great. They’re keeping me motivated and honest for my own goals as well!

  2. Comment by ScottM | 03.30.2016 | 12:01 pm

    My wife did the same when she started her treatments, before she really started losing it. I always thought that was a great idea. You’re just done with it.

  3. Comment by AKChick | 03.30.2016 | 12:15 pm

    So awesome. Love the excerpt! I should know better than to read this at work (teary eyes).

    Funny thing, my brother-in-law never lost his hair when going through chemo for colon cancer. Weird huh? He never got devastatingly sick either. He did, however, get devastatingly tired. Installing one of those fancy swingset/slide/climbing gyms for his son in his backyard that required some small equipment for landscaping, knocked him out for a week or so. My mom did lose her hair (eyebrows and eyelashes too) while going through chemo for lung cancer, but wasn’t ever sick and never lost weight. She did suffer from redness and peeling of her scalp from radiation after the cancer spread to her brain. But again, she didn’t get sick. It’s funny how different each person is and how different each treatment is and how the effects are different.

    Congrats on the training and the weight loss goals being met!

    My hubby is on a weight loss program (20 lbs) and is 1/2 pound down after two days. Why is it so easy for men to lose weight?

  4. Comment by Joe from COS | 03.30.2016 | 12:40 pm

    I can’t imagine how emotionally draining this is to write. I am doing what I can to support.

    On a lighter note, I had a chance to wear full Team Fatty kit on a quick after work 15 mile ride yesterday. It was 40 degrees and windy, and the fleece long sleeve jersey was awesome. But the funny part is, I was stopped at a red light, and someone rolled down their window and asked “Is that your website?” (I’ve got 40 pounds on you, so its a legitimate question I suppose) I just laughed and yelled back, “I’m A fat cyclist, not THE Fat Cyclist” He laughed. I laughed. Good times.

  5. Comment by miles archer | 03.30.2016 | 3:20 pm

    I’m not sure that woman from star trek was a robot.

    If my wife ever needs chemo, I’m shaving my head. Not that there’s a lot left to shave at this point.

    Nice work so far!

  6. Comment by Evan | 03.30.2016 | 7:08 pm

    Book ordered! I thought there was a way to throw ‘a little extra’ in the purchase, as I really admire what you are doing. Maybe I will look back through prior posts to see if you had a link (or maybe I am losing my mind).

    Keep it up!

  7. Comment by wharton_crew | 03.30.2016 | 8:44 pm

    I loved the excerpt. It sounds like Susan was thinking of others even when she must have been freaked out completely herself. As the caregiver, how often did you find yourself “taking charge to solve the problem du jour”, even though the right answer would have probably been to just hold her while she cried for a while?

  8. Comment by Shugg McGraw | 03.31.2016 | 3:56 am

    Hard reading but good. Looking forward to an excerpt on ‘how to talk to someone with cancer’. Your interview with Doug Ulman set out the problem but didn’t provide any answers that I can remember. Sooner rather than later would be helpful.

  9. Comment by Mark in Bremerton | 03.31.2016 | 8:55 am

    I have two cousins who both underwent chemo last year. The guy had a full head of hair and a long beard (think Gandalf in the Hobbit). I guess they had “fun” cutting it all off of each other. They are both now recovering and growing it back.

    I posted a comment on the TrainerRoad article about how my wife and I solved the training together puzzle. I won’t bug you again about it here, but it rhymes with random.

  10. Comment by MBunge | 03.31.2016 | 8:59 am

    My wife asked me to shave her hair shortly after she started her first chemo. She didn’t want to look at bald spots and patchy hair. But seeing her without hair was a slap in the face: her cancer was real and here was the evidence. It had to be done, but it still haunts me to this day.

    As I relive my experience through yours, I’m reminded of how close her illness brought us; we didn’t squander the good days and have always felt we packed more “living” into those too-few years we had together than many couples do in 50 years of marriage.

    Thank you for writing this book, Elden.

  11. Comment by Christina | 03.31.2016 | 11:07 am

    Oh this book is going to be so good and have all the feels.

    Could you please put together a Patreon so I can donate money monthly? It’s my favorite way to sponsor writers. http://www.patreon.com

  12. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 03.31.2016 | 6:28 pm

    Is anyone else disturbed by the lack of grammartalk?

  13. Comment by AKChick | 04.1.2016 | 10:01 am

    @JeffDieffenbach I know I am! :)


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