This is a huge concern for people that go through treatment which results in hair loss. I am glad to finally write about it. It came up recently when my friend Carolyn asked, because her mother was facing this situation. It can be a difficult thing to manage and accept.
For the first phase of my treatment, when I only had radiation and surgery, very few people knew what I was going through. Only those that needed to know, did. Everyone else, even close friends I kept out of my business. I don’t fully know why. Part of me wanted to tell them, the other part didn’t want to upset them, to have to talk about it, to be vulnerable I guess. I don’t know, I just chose not to. But it was hard at times not to be honest.
One weekend at the beach with many of my closest friends, who had come from all over to re-unite as we try for annually, I recall feeling this sense of guilt. My butt was hurting from the treatment I was receiving, and the deep conversations we would have about health, life, careers…well I was leaving something major out. I couldn’t for some reason, tell them why I was feeling a bit tired, and tried to hide my physical discomfort.
But when the cancer spread and I agreed to go through chemo, I was was faced with the inevitable fate of hair loss. I struggled with the vainness of being a bald woman. Even though about half the time the mess I call hair was tied back, knotted, wind strewn, and full of debris (this is a very normal condition for my hair!), it was still a head of hair. I could still look feminine, clean up nice, style it once in a great while. Not having it was going to make me look a lot different, and, it meant I would HAVE to tell people I had cancer. It was a moment of defeat, and acceptance.
Here’s my take on it. Everyone is different.
I cut my hair very short leading up to the time when it would start falling out. Then I cut it even shorter. It made me feel like I had some control of the situation. One night in bed, it was coming out in gobs. It was awful and I didn’t want anything to do with it. I leapt out of bed, grabbed the clippers and shaved it off. There, done. Mike helped. No more waiting, no more seeing gobs of hair, it was too upsetting.
I thought I’d be totally all about wigs! Maybe even get some fun colored ones like my friend Patricia had. I got a few, and one really cool one too. The American Cancer Society had free real human hair wigs, so I got one of those but ended up not liking the style. It was too poofy and heavy! In the end, I wore 1 wig about 2 or 3 times and stashed it away for future Halloween costumes. It was itchy and hot. I didn’t care enough about how awesome it made me look and feel, to bear the discomfort. But for some people, it can really help to feel normal and confident. No one looked at me funny or sympathetically when I wore it because I was just normal. In fact, I remember getting compliments on my hair from strangers on the couple of occasions I wore it out. Never had that before!
Seriously though, how cool do I look in this picture? This wig was killer. I just wish it were more comfortable because honestly, I would have worm it more. It gave me more confidence, and the option of not looking like a cancer patient, except for the lack of eyebrows and lashes. Which I talk about later.
It actually felt really, really nice to feel the breeze on my skin, where I’d never felt it before. I enjoyed being at home with a bald head. I couldn’t ever quite get the courage to go bald in public though, so I acquired a set of head scarves. I still looked like a chemo patient, but had some fun scarves to wear that looked less dramatic, and became accessories to what I wore. I still worked outside a lot, so I had my gardening/work head scarves that could get dirty and be part of my work attire, and then some nicer ones.
The trick is getting soft, cotton ones, in the slightly bigger than normal bandana size. The nice silky ones just slip off constantly and actually feel more sweaty, at least in the climate I live in. There are zillions of head scarf websites, and it can be fun to shop around. Buy a bunch, give yourself options, have fun with it. You might as well. Lots of other things suck now. I ended up having a couple that got a lot of use.
Body Hair You Take for Granted!
One thing I was not warned about, nor ever thought about till I was without….was body hair besides my head! Body hair is so under appreciated, and women are constantly removing it, spending a lot of time and money to do so. It turns out those little hairs we take for granted every day: nose, eyebrow, eyelash, and pubic hair are functional, and when you don’t have them, it’s noticeable!
As an outdoors person, the very first thing I noticed was sweat going straight into my eyes! No brows or lashes to keep it out. It stung sometimes, especially with sunscreen on my face. I felt more junk getting into my lungs, due to lack of nose hair filters. I also seemed to have a runny nose more often, nothing to hold it back. And while I know that many women do a lot of maintenance down there to keep things groomed and tidy, let me tell you that having absolutely nothing down there does not feel good, nor right. I’ve actually read that some doctors feel it unhealthy for women to have no pubic hair, that it serves a purpose for hygiene and health. Haven’t done the research, but something to contemplate.
Body Hair You’re Glad to Be Rid Of!
I am the kind of woman that lets shaving slide frequently. I’m too busy and don’t really care that much when my legs get prickly, or the armpit hairs get long. But eventually I do shave, and if I’m trying to clean up, I definitely shave. So, it was a welcome side effect of all this shit I was going through, to not have to shave at all! Small victories.
When It Grows Back
It’s different for everyone. As is everything that cancer does to an individual. For me….my hair grew back FABULOUS!! At first I couldn’t’ tell what was happening. It was dark, then it started showing a bit of a wave, as I rocked the Sinead O’Connor look for awhile. Then as it got longer, it revealed itself as every possible opposite of what I used to have. My hair was thick, dark and curly now, and it was marvelous! The most expensive make over I’ve ever had. I looooooooved my hair. Loved it. So beautiful and so easy to manage! Curly hair is less maintenance, in my opinion than my previously thin and straight hair.
It was interesting to watch it change over time, until eventually it lightened in color and heft, and the curls went slack. Ah well, fun while it lasted!
I now have an interesting perspective on hair. It’s purpose both aesthetically and functionally. Everyone’s experience will be different, but I hope this might be helpful to anyone going through it.