Losing my hair, finding my faith

Okay, it’s time for real talk and honesty. I recently said I wouldn’t hide again when I’m facing a life challenge, so I’m going to hold myself to that promise.

I’m losing my hair. It started the first of October, and I just chalked it up to seasonal changes that happens every year. When the weather starts to get drier and cooler, my skin and hair also dry out, and I shed some hair. Some hair. But the shedding kept coming on. I found hair on my pillow when I woke up in the morning, and it started really coming out in the shower. At one point I cried when I brushed it out. I tried to be as delicate as I could, but it wouldn’t stop shedding. So I freaked. I was losing my hair and bald spots were forming.

I’ve cried, made fun of the situation and cried some more, but thank god I have a self-deprecating sense of humor. It’s been my saving grace through many tough moments over the years.

Let me back up for a minute and tell you the lead up to this hair shedding event. I have a crazy health history. I started having kidney problems when I was 24, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder called “chronic granulomatous disease” and put on heavy medications to stop the damage to my kidneys. But all those medications were metabolized through my kidneys and in turn contributed to my kidney cancer diagnosis in 2008. I had my left kidney removed, and I’ve been blessed to be free of cancer since then.

However, in 2012, my autoimmune disorder started causing problems again, forming what is basically scar tissue around my healthy right kidney. I had to deal with kidney stents for 2 years. My body kept rejecting them. Have you ever experienced what it feels like to not be able to pee for hours on end? It’s very painful. When those stents migrated and my kidney didn’t have a way to expel waste, it was putting my kidney and urinary system into major harm. I was looking at a kidney transplant in my future if the stents didn’t work out.

I was told for a while that having any kind of surgery to remove the scar tissue would be too risky. This time last year I met with doctors who told me to just try and live with stents. If they fall out, they’ll just put them back in. No biggie, right? Wrong. Those stents are painful, and my quality of life suffered. “I’m too young to have to live like this,” I told them. If I was 80, sure, doctors could tell me to deal with stents. But not now, I’m not ready to give in.

So, this past Feb. 2014, I had major kidney surgery, a “robotic ureterolysis” to be exact, which involved an incredible team of surgeons working to remove the most damaging scar tissue around my kidney without nicking the inferior vena cava, a major artery that carries blood from the lower half of your body to your heart. Nick that, and I’m a goner. It was a delicate 8 hour surgery. I was under heavy anesthesia for a very long time.

I knew all of the risks, but I also knew I was literally in the best hands of some of the best surgeons in the world. Thank god for the Texas Medical Center!

I’m a tough cookie, I’ve had to be, but to be honest I was still freaked out going into surgery. But I had peace knowing the waiting room was full of my loved ones praying for me and sending me love during the whole procedure. I also had people all over the US, and the world sending me love and positive energy.

Then this past May, I was hit with shingles due to my immune system already being under attack and stressed out. I continued to deal with infections and weird effects of my autoimmune disorder which also threw my thyroid completely out of whack.

Are you getting the picture now as to why I started losing my hair? The physical stress from surgery and illness not to mention the mental and emotional stress means my body simply needs a break!

Here’s the interesting thing I’ve learned about hair, in my extensive Google research that is. The body actually spends a lot of energy on maintaining the hair growth process, and when your body experiences a traumatic event such as surgery, illness, a major physiological event like losing a loved one etc…. your amazing body turns all of its energy toward those areas and organs that need the most healing. And that means it lets go of the upkeep of the hair growth process for a time being. Isn’t that incredible?! The body is an amazing machine!

Of course when I started losing my hair, I got really worried that something else was going on with my body. I visited my oncologist who is one of the most amazing physicians I’ve ever met, truly one of my heroes, and he ran the gauntlet of tests and imaging scans to try to figure it out.

So the good news….my health is in very good shape! In fact, spots found on my CT scan in a checkup I had in August due to the active autoimmune process are now gone!! I have a clean bill of health, and the hair shedding is just due to the hair growth process taking months to show up after a traumatic event.

But it stills leaves me facing another battle. I’m battling the vanity monster now. Look, I’m a single, 40-year-old woman, and like any other normal woman, I like to look my best and turn the fella’s heads once in a while. (Not that I ever act upon it because I basically have the dating skills of a nervous 14-year-old, boy-crazy girl who says inappropriate things. Remember I said I have a self-deprecating sense of humor? But that’s a whole other subject.)

My hair has fallen out so much, that I called my mom and cried to her. And thank god for my loving, kind parents! My mom and dad have always supported me in everything I’ve been through, and in this case were insistent on getting me some new hair. A wig, no less! They, my amazing sister and my dear friends have been my life support these past few months, holding my hand, hugging my neck, and reaching out with emails, messages, phone calls. All of them have encouraged me to hang on because healing was just around the corner. And it is!

I also visited my dear friend and hair genius, Raphael. He’s been cutting my hair for years, and he’s helping me get through all of this hair drama. He’s such an amazing friend. His attitude is basically, “Come on mama. Let’s work with what we got!” And his incredible sense of humor makes him a gem of a human being. I actually look forward to the funky hairstyles we can come up with!

Another thing I’ve come across in my hair research is that I’m not alone. One in 4 women suffers from hair loss and thinning. We usually give men a pass for hair loss, and that’s not fair. They have to deal with the vanity of it all as well.  But women, we are judged by our hair. We do it to ourselves, we do it to each other, and we let others define our appearance as well. If anything, this lesson has taught me that it’s just hair, and I am NOT my hair. It will grow back. Hell, I may lose even more in this process. My body is healing itself, and I have to let go and let it do its job.

And that is where faith comes in. One of my favorite actors on the planet is Jim Carrey. I adore and am drawn toward funny men. I’ve even joked lately that I love him so much I got his Lloyd haircut from Dumb and Dumber. But I recently heard an inspiring speech Jim gave at MUM University’s commencement ceremony this past summer:

“Take a chance on faith. Not religion, but faith. Not hope, but faith. I don’t believe in hope. Hope is a beggar. Hope walks through the fire and faith leaps over it.”

Amen to that, Mr. Carrey. My life has taught me over and over again that faith is what will get me through. Faith AND love.

The love part, my dear ones, you have me covered in that area. And every time I face a challenge, I just have to drop my defense system and reach out to find this incredible, powerful wall of love surround me and keep me steady.

I have an autoimmune disorder, and it’s something I’ll have to keep up with for the rest of my life. I’m currently on another round of prednisone (steroids), but just for a time being to help give my body a boost to fight any further inflammation. I hate steroids with a white, hot passion, but sometimes I need the help.

And while I’m trying to have a brave face with all of this, I do know that there are people facing even bigger challenges in this world, like wars, fighting humanitarian causes, battling deadly viruses and diseases in far corners of the world. I’m just trying to find the best toupees and hats to cover my bald spots. So there’s a reality check.

Hat shopping days before I had to cut it all off.

If I start for a moment going down into that bleak hole of “why me?” I’ll sink into a deep, dark depression. I’ve been there, and I’ll never return to that again. I can’t. That wasn’t living.

This is my life, for better or worse. I will choose to walk in and be the light. Not that I’m perfect, and not that I never get down…. I’m learning to let myself sit with my sadness, accept it, but then move on.

Faith, hope and love…the greatest of these is love. This Thanksgiving, I wish I could visit every one of my dear loved ones, wrap my arms around you and tell you just how much you mean to me. Some I will actually be able to do that, others…just know I carry you all in my heart. I keep you in my prayers of gratitude, and when the tide turns and you need me…you got it, baby!

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Dawn

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12 thoughts on “Losing my hair, finding my faith

  1. What a wonderful show of understanding of where you are in your journey, acceptanceof what is, strength, love, faith all the above mentioned Dawn, you truly are an amazing child of the creator. Much love and have a beautiful blessed Thanksgiving.

  2. Dawn, I know your oncologist told you that this was just a delayed process, but I hope you will see an endocrinologist as well to get evaluated hormonally. The main reason that one in 4 women experience thinning hair is thyroid disease!

    You are as always an inspiration. I didn’t know you were having such severe health issues. You’re in my thoughts and I hope to see you soon.

  3. Cynthia Dawn, you are a genuine source of inspiration to all. Life is all about what we make of it…including those times of illness and loss. Finding our faith in the midst of turmoil can be a struggle in itself but for those who dig deep during those times, there is not only personal reward but we unwittingly inspire others in their struggles. You, my dear, are a shining example of that. Much love to you my dear niece!

    Aunt Debby

  4. Wow Dawn! You are my hero! You speak so inspirationally and from the heart that it truly makes me think and reevaluate my own complaints every time I read your words of wisdom. I have FAITH that you will come out on top of all of this because of the person you are. I’m so glad that I met you and I wish we were closer as I am surrounded by “negative Nellie’s” and need to surround myself with people like you. Take care of you. Anytime you need an ear, I’m here.

  5. What a strong woman you are! My hair is thinning as I get older, and I miss it, but your story makes me realize that our bodies do what they are designed to do – heal other areas first.

  6. Dawn, you have such an amazing mother…I know you know that, but I must tell you…last winter, my niece told me her husband was dying, after two years of fighting leukemia, including a bone marrow transplant from his brother. Nothing worked, and we were losing him.
    When she told me this, I was alone in a hotel room in Calgary. I knew I had to reach out to someone, and something in the back of my mind told me Susie should be that someone. She was wonderful. Because of you, she knew what I was going through, and calmed me down. I was so frazzled I don’t even remember if it was on Facebook messaging, on e-mail, or by phone. I just know that your mother, whom I have never met, was able to say what I needed to hear, one way or the other.
    I am so glad I’ve been able to read about your story in your words. And thank you for lending me your mom, for just a little while, when I needed her.
    –Kay

  7. Hi Dawn, I’m a friend of your mom’s… I just popped over because she always talks about how amazing you are. And she’s right! It is hard living with autoimmune diseases, I know, I have MS and Crohn’s and both of my daughters have Crohn’s… and we all do the best we can day by day to find the joy in life wherever we see it. I suspect you do the same. I’m so glad I stopped by.

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