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There have been many times when you lowered my self esteem. Not only did you take my breasts from me (which seemed like more than enough,thankyouverymuch), but you took my hair too. I can say with certainty that this is hands down the worst side effect of chemotherapy. I’m sure many women who’ve experienced hair loss from treatment would agree with me.
I want you to take a minute and look at yourself in the mirror. Take a look at your hair. Maybe it’s down with some curls in it or maybe you have it up in a bun. Maybe it’s freshly washed, or maybe even a little bit greasy. Whatever way it may be, I’m sure it still looks decent. Now imagine yourself without any hair at all. How do you think you would feel? How do you think you would look? Would you be happy looking at yourself in the mirror? How would you feel if other’s saw you without hair? I bet the image of yourself would be completely different without hair, wouldn’t it?
Now look at your eyebrows and eyelashes. Imagine those are gone too. Crazy to think, right? I don’t wish hair loss on anyone. As a woman, it is one of the most devastating things to ever experience. If you’re reading this and you currently have no hair due to chemo, I’m here with you! I totally understand what you are going through. I can honestly say that losing my hair was much worse than losing my breasts, as crazy as it may sound. The cancer was inside of them, and I wanted it gone. My hair, on the other hand, made me feel beautiful and feminine-- and that was taken away from me. Not fair at all! I feel like I was a reasonably confident person prior to this cancer diagnosis, but when my hair fell out, I lost a lot of my self-confidence. I hated looking at myself in the mirror.
Fortunately, not all chemo drugs cause hair loss, but still, many of them do. I found that it took about ten days after my first treatment for my hair to start falling out. For the first little while I had myself convinced that maybe I wouldn’t lose my hair. I would constantly look in the mirror and even talk about how much hair I still had on my head to my family. One day though, I literally woke up to find piles of hair on my pillow. Once this happened, I knew that the hair loss was coming, whether I liked it or not. This was the ‘proof of cancer’ I didn’t want to see. Until that point, I could almost trick myself into thinking that it was over. There was a time when I thought about buying something called the ‘Cold Cap’, which apparently keeps hair from falling out, but I didn’t want to invest in something that was so expensive that really wasn’t guaranteed to work. It ‘works’ by keeping a hat on your head with ice packs inside during treatment, which in my case, would be for up to five hours. I had read a lot of mixed reviews about this product and to be honest, it sounded like complete torture, so I decided not to bother. I couldn’t put myself through even more hell than I was already in.
As time went on, I started noticing my hair falling out even more. I saw it all over my house-- literally everywhere I looked, it was there. I would have a small panic attack every time I noticed more and more falling out. The worst by far was in the shower when piles of it would fall out at a time. It killed me inside to see this and I cried every time this happened. I remember one time, I spent half an hour in the shower just crying the entire time. I was absolutely devastated. Even though I had been through it before and knew what to expect, it was just as awful the second time around, maybe even worse. This was the beginning of not being able to recognize myself in the mirror anymore. These were some of the toughest days. I felt so alone. No one could possibly understand what I was going through. In hindsight, I don’t think people knew how tough this part was for me.
I think the second time felt worse to me because the first time it happened, I was able to hide at home from the world, and I lived with my parents so I didn’t care how I looked. Obviously, they loved me no matter what. The second time I lost my hair, I was newly married to my husband, Anthony. I couldn’t believe that he would have to see me look this way. I felt so unattractive and not like myself at all. I was so worried about what he would think when he saw me with no hair.
My head started getting very itchy, and I knew it was time to do something about it. I went to see my amazing hair stylist Anthony from Salon DiSalvo (in Hamilton, Ontario). He cut my hair into a cute bob just above my shoulders. This was great because it gave me a chance to see how I would look with shorter hair. I actually loved it! He was so kind and helped make this awful situation much better than I could have imagined. He was so delicate and careful and did such a beautiful job. My husband was obsessed with this haircut, so it made me feel better knowing that when it grew back, my husband would love it!!
I tried to remind myself many times that the chemo drugs were getting rid of the disease inside of my body and that the hair loss was just a part of this process. I knew that one day my hair would come back, but it was a hard thing to have to tell myself. I couldn’t take my hair falling out anymore-- it was driving me insane! I had absolutely no control over this hair loss or pretty much anything I was going through. This was when I realized that I needed to take some control of my life back.
With this realization, I decided it was time to shave it off. Goodbye hair, hello GI Jane! I didn’t shave my head when I was younger, so it was quite the experience doing it this time around. This time, my husband and I did it together. It was one of the most empowering things I have ever done. I felt so free! We laughed together and had fun doing it, as strange as that may seem. Thankfully, he is such an amazing man, and has loved me no matter what throughout this entire journey. I’m not going to get all mushy here, ‘cause I am not the mushy type, but I am so lucky I am married to such a great guy. This journey has been a true testament to the strength of our marriage. It has made the bond between us so strong, and I am so grateful for that.
If I can give advice to anyone going through a similar situation, it would be to cut your hair short before you start chemotherapy to ease into the transition (and to see what you will soon look like one day when it eventually grows back!) and then later, when it begins to fall out, to shave it off. If your oncologist tells you that you are going to lose your hair, believe it. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it won’t miraculously stay on your head. It is just par for the course and you just have to try to make the best of a crappy situation. I really hope one day that a new chemo drug will be invented and hair loss will not be a side effect anymore! This would be my second wish, besides someone finding a cure for cancer. By the way- there are look good, feel better sessions run in many communities, I highly recommend that you check them out. They can give you a much needed boost! I know Sephora just started offering a class for cancer patients. I didn’t have a chance to try this, but I hear it’s great.
Remember, your hair will grow back eventually! It does take awhile to grow back and I know, it seems like the absolute slowest process ever, but I promise, you will get to a point again when you think to yourself, ‘wow I love my hair and oh my God, I can’t believe I used to be bald!’ On the bright side, you’ll save money on hair products and hair cuts for a while!