Information seems to appear exactly when you need it

By Kelly Carson, Editor, The Link Magazine

Hello, I’m Kelly Carson, your editor. And I just found out I have cancer. I have lung cancer, confined to one lung, I’m told. I’m also told I may or may not lose my hair. I may lose just some of it. Thinning I believe it is called. I’m a 65-year-old woman. Don’t you think my hair is thin enough?

I’ll never get use to the new look, but I’m grateful for everyone who is holding my hand along the way.

So I’ve embraced a path to recovery, building a team of oncologists, radiologists, technicians, nurses, aids, and those who freely volunteer to help people recover from cancer.

At the end of 2019, as I was beginning to launch my retirement plans and wondering where my world would settle after decades of bouncing between newsrooms from coast to coast, a friend called and asked if I’d be interested in helping out a little bit with a magazine they were publishing.

Words and art on a piece of paper? That’s what I do. I said, “sure.”

The American Hair Loss Council and The Link Magazine have taught me more than I ever knew I didn’t know about hair — the agony of alopecia, the heartbreak of cancer, and the mystery of the myriad causes of hair loss.

Readers, salon owners, stylists, and others grab at my heartstrings with their stories and fill me with cheer when one of the many AHLC professionals helps develop solutions to individual problems. Gathering as industry artists to share best practices spreads love and knowledge around the globe.

The cause of my cancer is no mystery. We’ve been warned since the first 1964 Report on Smoking and Health from the Surgeon General. I won’t go into all the details, but the baby boomer generation wasn’t the smartest, and I am proof of that. How did I get here? In the same way scores of baby boomers end up with lung cancer. I smoked cigarettes. I did it for 49 years. Yes, I heard the warnings. Yes, I read the surgeon general’s admonitions. But being a child of the 50s, and 60s, and moving into adulthood in the 70s — y’all couldn’t tell me anything. I was young and invincible.

Toni Doyle, owner of Peroxide in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, volunteered to shear my head when my hair began falling out in clumbs.

I quit smoking in April 2022, three years after my brother died of a smoking-related illness. By June it was obvious something was amiss in my lungs, and when the magic 65th birthday Medicare card landed, my nurse practitioner pushed me in front of a pulmonologist.

Now I’m not going to debate the medical care in the country. That’s not what this is about. We can do that later, somewhere else if you chose.

What I chose to focus on here is the support I am being shown by the leadership and members, many of whom I met for the first time just a few weeks ago at our HairNow 2022 conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. Talk about feeling like family. Y’all have reached out to offer advice, support, a shoulder, an ear, friendship, companionship — heck, even supper.

On Oct. 28, I met up with a hometown acquaintance to start talking about a haircut. Toni Doyle owns Peroxide Hair Studio in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Like me, Toni is a native of Natchez, Mississippi, where our mothers were friends.

Well before retirement in January 2020, I quit cutting my hair. I don’t know why. I just did. It seemed like the thing to do. That lasted about two years and then I had 9-inches slashed off. It was thin. Dry. Yucky. I still had enough length to wear it in a ponytail, but a short one. After the cancer treatments began in earnest, I had Toni trim 4-inches off to begin the transition away from the ponytail. More will be removed in the days and weeks to come. Eventually, the oncology nurse-educator told me, I will lose all of my hair. OK. I’m good with that. Ever since I came out in 1976 I’ve wanted to shave my head. I just never had to courage to actually do it — not like the young hair artists of today.

As I work with medical professionals to restore me to health, I also want to turn to the experts of the AHLC to help me maintain a healthy head and scalp and have y’all help me restore my crown health. I always prided myself on this crazy head of super curly hair in my youth and into adulthood. After Hurricane Opal in 1995, all the curls in my hair seemed to be gone with the wind. Coincidence? I think not.

My cancer journey began in October and already the membership of the AHLC has reached out and sent products to help me keep my hair healthy and work my way through to the ultimate reality. Cody, a team member with Renata Salon in Grapevine, Texas, has been amazing — encouraging me to do things I thought might be impossible. She might not even know how much she’s encouraging me to just accept what is happening and just be me.

On Nov. 9 I took the ultimate step with my hair as far as I’m concerned and had it shaved off. It was awful, wonderful, scary, freeing, fabulous, and all the more frightening because this was my hair. Well, no more.

Toni comforted me when it all became too real.

If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear from you. Email me at editor@ahlc.org.

THE TREATMENTS

Radiation treatments are five days a week, at 8 a.m. for six weeks. The end date, Dec. 6, is circled on every calendar I have. Radiation treatment is not comfortable. It burns. It burns deeply. It’s like being cooked from the inside out. After Dec. 6, I get a three-month break before a CT scan to see if those cancer cells have been blown to smithereens.

Chemotherapy is a different beast altogether. A surgeon installed what is called an Instaport under my skin on the right side of my chest. It allows the nurses to hook me up to chemo bags with a simple needle. They don’t have to find a vein every time. Coming out of the port and into a vein is a tube that takes the medicine throughout my body. The port seems cumbersome at first, but I’ve gotten used to it being there — always being there.

At some point, the doctors, technicians and nurses will convene and we will check my progress. I have faith I will win this battle.