Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez appeared on television Monday with his head closely shaved and bald patches from hair loss caused by chemotherapy for a cancer that has slowed him ahead of a re-election bid.
Wearing a somber suit and red tie, Chavez talked about the reasons for his hair loss, saying it was a sign the chemotherapy was working against fast-growing cells such as those associated with cancer.
Chavez said his chemotherapy has been going well, and he joked about his appearance as he presided over a televised ceremony with Cabinet ministers.
"This is my new look," the president said during his second hour-long appearance of the day and then held up a photograph of himself as a toddler with little hair. "I'm returning to my youth," he said.
Chavez was animated during the ceremony, breaking into song, talking about German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and recalling an illustrated magazine he enjoyed reading as a child.
A close friend of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Chavez had a large tumor removed in Havana in June and has since been back to the Communist-led island for treatment. His illness raised doubts about his fitness to run in elections next year but he has looked stronger in recent days.
"Last night I had to call the barber and I said 'look, my hair is falling out,' because I went for a bath, I used the shampoo I always use and I felt, zas!, a bit fell out," he said earlier in a phone call to a breakfast show on state TV.
He said tests showed he had no more malignant cells in his body but he expected to undergo two more rounds of chemotherapy "preventively."
He has not said what type of cancer he has, but on Monday denied it was colon, rectal or nose cancer. There have been reports Chavez had colon cancer. "None of that is true," he said.
No more hot dogs
Chavez, who has nationalized big parts of Venezuela's economy including foreign-owned oil projects, last month gave his vice-president powers to expropriate property and carry out other government functions when he is in Cuba for treatment.
Three ministers were missing from the event to swear in new senior officials; Chavez said that was because they had flu viruses and he could not risk being infected by them.
The heavy-set former soldier, 57, has lost weight during his illness.
He said he had cut back from up to 40 cups of coffee a day to just two cups, supplemented by chamomile and green tea.
He has started eating sardines on wholemeal bread in place of hot dogs, he said.
On Monday, Chavez's Foreign Minister Nicholas Maduro said the president would recover from his illness in time for the elections.