Hair Loss During and After Chemotherapy
August is National Hair Loss Awareness Month, and in the spirit of being bald and beautiful, we wanted to share a few insights of hair loss from chemotherapy.
The very first, and most important thing to remember is there is no wrong or right way to handle hair loss during chemotherapy. Some breast cancer patients explore using a cold cap, which helps reduce hair loss (but may not be covered by insurance). Some women shave their heads before their hair falls out. And others wait until the hair naturally starts to fall out. As with every other decision in your cancer journey, this is a very personal decision. However you decide to to approach your hair is is right for you!
During my breast cancer journey, I was shocked at how unattractive my bald scalp was. I imagined it like I see in the movies or on TV when a cancer patient shaves their head. It’s a beautiful, perfect sphere with no blemishes. The reality was quite different. My scalp took a beating during the first two rounds of chemo and broke out in a painful rash. I had a freshly shaved head the color of a ripe tomato. I vowed to stay inside my house until it cleared up!
And then, the next decision arrives. To cover or not to cover your head? Once again, it’s important to remember you have full autonomy in how you handle these decisions. I personally went without head coverings for most of treatment as I found them hot and itchy. When I was feeling up to going to a public place that I knew would have a lot of people, I would occasionally opt to wear a head covering to eliminate a few of the stares.
The thing about hair loss during chemo is that it’s one of the first external signs that you are sick and something is ‘wrong’ with you. It’s one of the first outwardly symbols of being a cancer patient. As much as I had to shift my idea of what my external appearance would be, losing my hair was the first time I had to accept my new label of cancer patient. It triggered being looked at differently and treated differently. More signs of pity, more furtive glances or awkward attempts not to stare too much. More bumbling questions of if I chose to shave my head.
Eventually, you will make it through the bald stage. It will feel like an eternity. And those little fresh baby hairs that pop up will feel like they take forever to grow into actual hair. It’s not frequently talked about; the after part of chemo and the growing out process. I keep telling myself that once my hair reaches a certain length, I will no longer feel like a cancer patient, that no one will be able to tell I had cancer. In reality, I’ve already reached that point. I have something between a pixie and a bob cut that actually receives quite a few compliments. But I still long for the days when I can feel a ponytail brush against my neck while I run.
I’ve learned to not belittle my loss of identity from losing and regrowing my hair. Again, it’s this outward symbol of health. But internally, we have to do the work to reconcile the journey and effects of breast cancer.
We see all of you: the bald, the wigged, the capped, the pixie cuts, the buzz cuts. It’s beautiful. It’s bold. And it’s brave.