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How I Survived Cancer, and Baldness: Pt 2

Michele with friends

5 min read

Posted by Michele Nachum on October 12, 2020

When I was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I was told I had an early stage cancer that would be most likely gone after a few chemo treatments. (You can read about part 1 of my story here.) As it turned out, I had a very harsh strain of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and something called “refractory” disease. That meant, the first set of chemo drugs didn’t work and after nearly six months of treatment, I still had tumors that demanded a whole different type of approach.

Over the next few months, I was given what is called “targeted” chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Targeted therapies mean the medicine only affects the tumors, not the other cells. As a result, some of the nasty side effects I had during first few months of chemo, such as hair loss and compromised immune system, did not occur again.

Starting in January 2018 until May 2018, I underwent several different treatments that were a bit less toxic. As such, my immune system returned to normal and my hair started to grow back! It was fun watching my bare scalp reverse course, as I suddenly had frizz on top of my head – and finally, after a few months, I had some lashes again!

It was a much more pleasant experience to put on makeup and have the mascara cover everything.At that point, I was able to wear mascara and eyeliner – and people remarked that I looked healthy and happy.

In May of 2018, I breathed a sigh of relief as the PET Scan results were happy ones – I was in partial remission!(I say “partial” as the PET scans cannot pick up every little cell, so the doctors are cautious and say “partial” until further testing is done).

But my journey did not end there.I would need something much more invasive and painful before the cancer would be gone for good – a stem cell transplant.A stem cell transplant is used to treat many different diseases, but often applied to cancer patients with refractory disease.This helps us to ensure we go into remission and stay that way.

And here is the rub.I was going to lose all my hair AGAIN!

Stem Cell Transplant

A stem cell transplant or SCT is a way to rebuild up your immune system. The process starts with harsh chemo that kills off all your white blood cells (i.e. your immune system) and then floods your marrow with fresh stem cells, giving you a new lease on life.

Most people do stem cell transplant in the hospital since the chemo is fairly nasty and once you have “lost” your immune system, you can get very sick and are required to be residing in a very clean and sterile environment.

I had a special type of transplant called “Autologous” which meant I could donate my own stem cells. For patients that have cancer in their bone marrows or different kinds of blood cancer and diseases, they must undergo Analgesic stem cell transplants – which means the stem cells donated from either a family member or a stranger – and they have to find a match before undergoing the procedure.That is a more serious of the two SCTs and takes much longer to recover from.

Not so Scary

While SCTs are incredible procedures that have saved many lives, an SCT means not only getting rid of your “old” immune system but also killing off all your hair!So, knowing all this, I decided to put my life and hopes and dreams in the excellent hands of City of Hope in Duarte, California and spent nearly a month there.

City of Hope is a top-notch cancer research and treatment center and while there are many incredible cancer centers in Southern California (where I live), I chose City of Hope – because they truly understand that patients have “feelings” and treat not just the physical disease, but also help you and your family with deal with some of the emotional repercussions. For instance, they have stylists on call to shave or cut or style patients’ hair in order to help people feel better about their looks.I loved that.And they have a Starbucks…

Going Bald AGAIN

I will tell you, the one good thing about “living” at City of Hope for a few weeks, was that being bald was very chic so when I found my hair falling out like mad again, I decided to take the “bold bald” approach and shave it all off…all of it.

So, one Sunday afternoon, my nurse came in and said, “You want to shave it all off now? We’ll put on some music and order up ice cream and I can do the shaving.I know how to shave a head – my husband is bald, so shave his head all the time.”

I smiled and agreed.

Bald again...

So, the nurse turned off the lights and we played some Red Hot Chili Peppers.I ordered up a milkshake since that was the only thing I could stomach at the time and tried to “chill” out while my red hair was being shaved off.And then a few minutes later, I looked in the mirror and once again, there was my pale bald head staring back at me in the mirror.I sighed.

Within a few days of that, my eyelashes were gone. I stayed away from any sort of strip lashes since I was pretty sick with no immune system, and because of that, my doctor didn’t want me wearing too much makeup. So I stuck to eyebrow pencil and some face powder and lipstick for a few weeks.

Overall, I was in the hospital for 22 days.When I got home, it took me three weeks to recover and finally get my strength back, but within a month, I was back at work and life started to get back to normal.

After being home for a month or so, when my immune system went back to normal, my doctor gave me permission to once again use strip lashes as well as get a mani/pedi (something I had forgone for several months).

I was finally in complete remission in October 2018 and by 2019, my hair had grown back and life went back to normal.

The Upshot

Life can be difficult, but it can also be beautiful.And feeling pretty, even during some pretty horrible times, was important for me. I didn’t want to be just a patient - I wanted to be a person - so using makeup including GladGirl MinuteLash, was an important part of my recovery as it made me feel more like myself.You have got to recover both mentally and physically and keeping a minor beauty regimen was important.

In other words, stay as beautiful as you can. Inside and out!

It helps.

Michele Nachum

Michele Nachum

Michele is a communications professional with more than 20 years of experience in public relations, blogging and reporting. In addition to her career, Michele is an active participant with Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and last year was nominated for LLS Woman of the Year in Los Angeles. She is also a mentor for Stem Cell Transplant patients who are undergoing treatment and need advice. Michele has a darling 11-year-old son and a very cute golden doodle doggy and resides in Northridge, California. In her spare time, she loves to hike, sing in amateur choirs and wear lots of GladGirl cosmetic products!

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