Hair Loss (“Shay, did you put your head in the Shine-O-Ball-O?”)
I’m taking a break from the gruesome posts about giant needles and the mass draining of my blood to cover something a little bit different: hair loss.
Now, I feel I should start by saying that obviously hair loss can occur for a variety of reasons. Many, many, people are going to suffer from hair loss/baldness throughout their lives from a variety of reasons – often simply because it’s just in their genes and/or they’re getting on in years. This blog post isn’t for them. This isn’t for the people who start noticing a bald patch when they’re 40 years old. And this is certainly not for those people who shave their heads, preferring to keep their heads shiny and bald (and more power to them). This, like everything else in this blog, is for those people undergoing cancer treatment and who will, in all likelihood, lose all of their hair in a matter of weeks. There is nothing natural about this process, and that’s why I’m covering it here.
When you are first diagnosed with cancer, and when you first start the treatment (specifically chemotherapy, as radiotherapy will only make your hair fall out in the targeted area(s)) one of the last things on your mind is going to be your hair. You’ll be thinking about much bigger things, such as your life and how much longer you have left. You’ll be thinking of all things you’ve wanted to do and all the time you’ve wasted and all the people you love. If the first thing you’re thinking of is that your hair is going to fall out, something is probably wrong with you. However, even though hair loss might seem like a small thing in a much bigger picture (because, quite frankly, it is) the chances are, you’re still going to find it distressing. Why? Because, at least for me, when you run your fingers through your hair and pull your hand away to see it covered in hair, things start to become real. The hospital visits and the procedures and the wild ride you’re taken on while moving from appointment to test to appointment to test can at least be partially forgotten when you get home. However, when your hair is falling out all over your pillow, and when you have to look at yourself in the mirror watching as your appearance changes, you can no longer escape it. Cancer is part of you now, and you will be reminded of it every single day.
I’m a guy, and I understand that this process could very well be more distressing for women or simply guys who care a lot more about their hair than I do. One might even think I’m not qualified to talk on the subject as much as others, and they might be right. However, while I may not be super hair obsessed, I’d like to share a photo with you from ten years ago. I couldn’t actually find an appropriate photo so this photo of myself as a pirate Santa will have to do.
That’s my real hair. In fact, it actually got a bit longer than that before I decided to make myself employable and get it cut short. I have always been kind of partial to longer hair (although never anywhere near that long now, I’m long past that phase). I am not partial, at all, to not having ANY hair.
Six Years Ago – Hair Loss, Part 1
The first time I started chemotherapy, coming up to 6 years ago now, I started thinking my hair wouldn’t fall out. A couple of cycles in and my hair seemed as strong as ever. However, eventually the time came when, as I described earlier, I ran my hand through my hair and it came out covered in hair. It was alarming. Very alarming. I knew how I had to handle it though – I immediately went to the hair dressers and had them shave my head. This was easily the best decision to make, and if any readers are going through something similar, I STRONGLY suggest you shave your head as quickly as possible. As soon as you notice hair loss, don’t put yourself through the agony of watching it get worse every day. Just bite the bullet and shave it off. Also, as soon as you know you’ll be having chemotherapy, get your hair cut short. You don’t have to shave it, but get it cut as short as you think you can handle. This would be a GREAT opportunity to try out a hair cut that you’ve never had before – because chances are, it’s only temporary anyway. And if you like it, you can always do it again when your hair comes back, which chances are very high that it will once the treatment has finished.
Having said that… as soon as I shaved my head, my hair stopped falling out. I never actually went bald. My hair started growing again and eventually went back to normal. In fact, during radiotherapy I had a bald patch at the back of my head down near my neck, but the rest of my hair was actually fairly long considering it was only shaved a few months earlier. So what I’m saying is – you MAY NOT go bald. However I wouldn’t count on it. The best thing you can do is to assume that you will, and if you don’t, count your blessings.
This Time Around – Hair Loss, Part 2
I wasn’t naive enough to think I’d be that lucky again. This time I was going to be taking a different kind of chemotherapy will all new drugs so there was no reason to think I’d keep my hair. I was totally prepared for it. On the day I was called in for the first chemo session, I was on my way to get my hair cut. I meant to get it cut fairly short but my hairdresser had other ideas. It was shorter, but not ‘short short’. Still, it was different, and since it was temporary, I kept it.
It took no time at all for my hair to start falling out this time. And, like last time, I went back to the same hair dresser and had him shave my head with the closest shave he could do (a zero). One positive I should point out, is that so far I’m yet to find a hair dresser that has ever charged me to shave my head because my hair is falling out due to chemo. I guess that’s not all that surprising – but hey, free haircut!
Unlike last time, my hair didn’t start growing back. Well, not really. I’ve never been COMPLETELY bald – there’s tiny hairs on my head and my facial hair does attempt to grow back (I had the SOFTEST moustache ever the other week. It felt amazing). However, I look bald. Even my eyebrows, which have struggled to stay with me all this time, have started to give way. Nobody wants to have no eyebrows, but that’s a fate I’m facing right now.
Here’s a recent photo of me:
Hair loss cons:
Cons are pretty obvious for hair loss, so I’m only going to list a couple of ones you’re probably unaware of / haven’t thought of.
– Eyelashes constantly falling into your eyes. Yep, your eyelashes aren’t safe from hair loss, so you’ll end up blinded by them more often than usual (not CONSTANTLY – you only have so many)- The feeling of shattered glass. I don’t know what caused this exactly, and it didn’t happen 6 years ago, but towards the beginning of my hair loss, if I touched the top of my head, it felt like I was pushing shattered glass into my scalp. I assumed this was due to hair falling out and basically stabbing my scalp but I really don’t know. It made sleep difficult because it’s kind of hard to lie down and have your scalp touch nothing, so basically it was like sleeping on a pillow of nails. I have no idea if this is a common thing or the exact cause, like I said. I’d be interested to know if anyone out there has experienced the same thing.
– Loss of facial hair. By now, everyone knows that facial hair is the best. Plus, if you’re a hipster, you’re basically going to be shattered by losing your hipster beard.
Hair loss… pros?
Yep, they definitely exist! And these are the ones, if you’re going to be losing your hair soon, that you should be focussing on, because I mean every word!
– Fantastic for Summer / wind in general. When I first had my head shaved, we drove home with the window down and the wind on my scalp felt amazing! It still does. On a hot day, putting water on the top of your head and feeling the breeze on it is simply wonderful.
– Best showers ever. The water pouring down straight onto your scalp actually feels great. Every shower is like a head massage. Also, showertime is now super quick. No more washing of hair and it takes like 30 seconds to get dry when you’re done!
– New hairstyle. You’ve never had a better time to try out a random new hairstyle – because if it doesn’t look any good, it won’t matter for long. As soon as you start chemo, I HIGHLY recommend getting your hair cut as short as you can manage, to make your hair falling out less distressing. However, if you want to get a mohawk or something just because you can, I am highly supportive of this too. You’ve never had a better chance to do something random with your hair, so do it. If your hair never falls out, then… that mohawk will grow out eventually. Don’t blame me.
– Smooth! Sure, the hair on the top of your head is gone and making you look a little like Gollum, but hair loss isn’t just going to occur there. Say goodbye to constant waxing/shaving, ladies (and guys who are that way inclined). Honestly I could get used to this.
What to do?
There may be pros, but they’re probably not going to help you feel any less self-conscious. The fact is, part of your individuality has been stripped from you, and that can be hard to deal with. So I’ve decided to summarize some of the more popular methods here for dealing with hair loss when going out in public.
Beanies are an easy fall back. They’re everywhere, and they’ll keep your head warm which is going to be quite necessary in the colder months. Plus you have plenty of options. I’ve made a quick beanie guide for you to follow below.
Head scarves are probably the most common covering utilised by those who have lost their hear to cancer treatment, and for good reason. Scarves are, after all, plentiful and can be adjusted to taste. Unless of course you’re in my house, in which not only are there no suitable scarves, but I am entirely unaware of how to actually wrap one around my head. And that leads to this:-
Wearing a wig is always an option, though somewhat extreme. You could go out of your way to buy an expensive, quality wig, only to never need it again a month or so. However, it’s still an option and will let you try out some fancy new styles or colours that you wouldn’t normally be about do with your actual hair. You can even do this without breaking the bank – the below examples show what can be done with only $20!
Nothing at all:-
Alternatively, and perhaps the best option, is simply to do nothing at all. This is a time when you are, or have been, fighting for your life. The baldness probably won’t last, but while it does, wear it as a badge of honour. People will likely know what it means, and they will understand. No one is going to be judging you for your looks during this time, and it wouldn’t matter if they did. Your life is far more important than what you look like, and that baldness symbolises the possibility of several more years you get to keep on living. Embrace it.