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  • Matt Fontanesi

Silver Badge of Courage

The most outward sign of cancer is baldness. It’s not like the receding hairline baldness or the Michael Jordan-esque shaved head. It’s different. The hair, if any is left, is unnaturally patchy and withered; eyebrows and eyelashes are thin and barely perceptible; and the scalp is mottled and weirdly untanned as it’s likely seeing the sun for the first time in decades. Even the untrained eye notices it. Something looks wrong. So I was quite pleased when my hair started to grow back. It took a few months — maybe 3 — for anything to show. The early growth was soft and downy and Dani started referring to me as “Duckling”. It grew back darker and thinner and more wiry than my original hair.

(Above: Matt holding a lollypop after getting his first pediatric vaccines for his new blood.)

Cancer patients talk about hair regrowth in curious terms. It’s a great mystery how it works but by my informal estimate, 80% of patients have different hair following their treatment. Straight hair becomes curly, light hair becomes dark, etc.

However it comes back, we’re all quite pleased to have it. It’s a sign that perhaps we’re putting cancer behind us. So I didn’t think twice when my infamous bouffant came back thin and flat — I was appreciative. Doubly appreciative given that it came back quicker and fuller than many of my fellow patients. We would compare notes, er pates, and I was openly proud of my growing coverage.

Around the 6 month mark, I got my first haircut in nearly 10 months—not including the haircut Dani gave me in Coeur D’Alene.

(Photos of Matt's personal, full-service haircut and shave below.)

(Above: A hospital sheet doubling as a robe for Matt's haircut.)

(Above: The sharpest looking guy in the ICU.)

It was delightful. And two weeks ago I got my second cut.

My hair is still dark brown instead of calico with blondes and reds, but it finally has some thickness like it used to. It also has some greys. I don’t know if I had greys before treatment but I do now. Some men hide them for it signals the end of youth. I’m proud of mine. For all that I’ve survived, they’re my silver badge of courage.

(Above: The sign at Matt's old desk in Wellington read "Johnny Bravo".)

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