President Hugo Chavez told Venezuelans on Wednesday that he expects to lose his hair as a result of his cancer treatment.
Chavez underwent a first round of chemotherapy in Cuba last week, and he said he plans to keep working while undergoing a second phase of treatment. He joked that he may soon look like the late actor Yul Brynner with his shaved head.
"Surely within not many days, you will see a bald Chavez. Do you remember Yul Brynner? I'll be a bit like Yul Chavez. My hair is going to start to fall out ... for some months," he said in a telephone call broadcast live on state television.
Chavez said additional phases of chemotherapy will aim to "keep malignant cells from regenerating."
Chavez underwent surgery in Cuba on June 20 to remove a cancerous tumor, which he has said was the size of a baseball. He hasn't said what type of cancer he has been diagnosed with or specified where exactly it was located, saying only that it was in his pelvic region.
Chavez said earlier Wednesday during a televised Cabinet meeting that his levels of both white and red blood cells have decreased as a result of his chemotherapy. He said that due to his lower-than-normal immune defenses he has to be particularly careful not to catch an illness.
He said the lower level of red blood cells "diminishes the oxygen that reaches all parts, and so there are signs of exhaustion."
"One has to go little by little," Chavez said, adding he is going easier during his daily exercises.
Chavez said that once his levels of white and red blood cells recover, next will come "within a few weeks or a few days the second phase of chemotherapy and a third probably."
It's unclear how long the process might continue. Chavez has said tests have not found any signs that malignant cells have reappeared.
Chavez beat on his chest and part of his abdomen during his televised appearance, saying it wasn't colon surgery and that his 40 stitches from the operation have been removed.
"I'm quite recovered," he said.
Chavez, who turns 57 on Thursday, accused his opponents of celebrating his illness in a "macabre show."
He also denied accusations by some opponents that he was using his illness for a "political show."
Chavez vowed to survive and scoffed at suggestions that his older brother, Adan, would be a possible successor.
"Adan, are you ready for succession now?" Chavez joked, addressing his brother, a state governor who appeared at another televised event.
In his later phone call on state television, Chavez said he feels that despite his condition he is "starting a new life."
"I'm going to keep working," Chavez said, his voice transmitted live to an event where his vice president, Elias Jaua, was addressing a crowd of business executives.
"You motivate me a lot to live," Chavez told the crowd. "I pray to God and I'm going to live with you. And we're going to win those elections next year."
The leftist president has been in office since 1999 and is seeking another six-year term in 2012. He has suggested in the past that he hopes to keep winning re-election to remain president for many years to come. On Wednesday, he expressed optimism that he is headed "for 2031."
Chavez condemned recent remarks by officials in President Barack Obama's administration, including the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, who reportedly expressed concerns about Venezuela's growing ties with Iran.
"Look at how they keep attacking us from the empire, different spokesmen condemning us," Chavez said.
"We're a free country, Mr. Obama, and we have relations of cooperation," he said. "Go worry about your own things, decadent empire."
Chavez said the U.S. government should be worrying about its "internal crisis" and public debt rather than Venezuela's close ties with Iran.