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What I've Learned About Growth After Losing My Hair and So Much More


This morning as I was looking for some medical information I stumbled across a gallon ziplock bag I’d forgotten about in my bathroom closet. It’s marked as a biohazard, and it’s full of hair.

My hair.

From my head.

I’m not sure why but they brought it out to the waiting room during surgery and gave it to my husband. Like a creepy party favor you get for brain surgery.

I remember this bag from the hospital, but I remember it so much bigger. Back then, in a morphine haze, I saw the bag and reached for the thick section of hair they’d shaved just above my ear down to the base of my neck. Thankfully, they left some on top so I could hide it easily. My hair has grown in, but I am still hiding it.

Hair grows slow. Half an inch a month. My son was born with a thick head of black hair that eventually grew in blond and constantly needs to be cut. I expected the same when my daughter was born, but she came out screaming, bald and so pale you could almost see through her. And she stayed that way. At her first birthday, people told me to be patient, that her hair would grow. On her second birthday they told me to be patient, that her hair would grow. On her third birthday I could almost pull a few hairs into a tiny ponytail. When she was 4, she started asking me to braid it like the girls in her class, but that was impossible. For dance recitals I had to get really creative to pull those three hairs into a bun. The struggle was real. Her hair is still thin but wild, still not growing at the usual rate. She took about six years to grow a respectable ponytail. It took awhile, but eventually it grew in.

My son is the tiniest. Really. The smallest kid in his entire school. His friends tower over him. I worry he will get picked on or shoved into lockers, but he seems to hold his own. He is in the 2nd percentile on the growth charts. He was so sick as a toddler that I worry his growth is permanently stunted. I keep waiting for his pediatrician to bring up growth hormones or refer us to an endocrinologist. She never does. She says she makes referrals only when growth stalls, but my son’s slowly and steadily creeps up on the graph. He is growing, just not at the same rate as everyone else.

Growth has its own timetable.

I should throw this bag of hair away. It is weird and gross, but I just can’t. It is this tangible reminder of things I have lost. Things I hope one day will be returned to me. I think of pulling out another ziplock back and filling it with a list all the things lost. I imagine the bag overflowing. I have lost: hair, thousands and thousands of dollars I don’t want to add up, the ability to talk or smile or eat and laugh some days without excruciating pain, not being afraid, running, playing sports, not taking a ridiculous amount of pills, all kinds of hours I spent in my bed resting and exhausted, coffee, alcohol, trips, 15-20 pounds I keep losing and gaining right back when I feel OK again, chewing gum, the ability to sing at church and pray without a fight, a few friends I really don’t miss anyways, professional confidence and opportunities, dozens of parties, dinners and happy hours I just didn’t feel up for, hours and hours to sitting in waiting rooms, concerts, late bedtimes, never asking for help and all kinds of layers of my heart I haven’t seen in so long I barely recognize them now.

Then I start another list. It is much shorter, but I think more important: faith, resilience, my favorite people, words, humor, hot tea, all kinds of things on the first list I am afraid will hurt but I sometimes do anyways.

I could probably add more to both lists. This morning the bag looked smaller and flatter than I remember it in July. Just like I remember how much I have lost as bigger than it really is. My hair has grown back thick and full. What had been lost in that department has been fully renewed. I’ve read somewhere that sometimes when people lose all their hair to chemo or other things it grows back differently. A slightly different color or different thickness. Not always but sometimes.

My hair has grown back, but so many other things that have been lost have still not been returned to me.

I start to think that maybe they are just different.

So different I don’t even recognize them.

Maybe they aren’t here yet.

Maybe they are just on their own timetable.

Image via Thinkstock.