Dealing with a Breast Cancer diagnosis is hard. But even harder is dealing with all the side effects that come with Cancer treatment. While the side effects are not fun, the hardest one to face is chemo hair loss.
My Stage III, triple positive, HER2+ Breast Cancer diagnosis came in September of 2016. The days that followed my Breast Cancer diagnosis pretty much went by in a blur. Countless tests to determine how far cancer had spread. And more tests to get a baseline to see how the tumor would respond to the treatments that were to come.
While cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, luckily it had not gone any further. You can read more about my diagnosis in my earlier post, You Have Breast Cancer.
I started my six rounds of TCHP chemo on October 11, 2016. The day after my Power Port was installed. Cancer treatment hair loss is quite common. You know it will happen, and you do your best to prepare yourself for it. But when it finally happens, you suddenly realize that all the knowledge in the world will never truly prepare you for the feelings associated with chemo hair loss.
After speaking with previous Breast Cancer survivors, as well as doing my own research, I thought my hair loss would start to occur after my second treatment. And my second round of chemo treatment was scheduled for November 1, 2016. Needless to say, the chemo hair loss fairies had other ideas.
With just one round of chemotherapy behind me, the treatment side effects began to kick in. There was the fatigue that was unlike I had ever experienced. A dry mouth, and a sense of taste that was so far off, it made it very difficult to find something that was appetizing to eat.
Many said that I could expect my hair to start thinning after the first round of chemo, but what I experienced was beyond just normal hair thinning. The chemo hair loss became noticeable during my morning routine of straightening my hair before work. Combing it resulted in more strands on the counter and the floor, but, by far the worst was when it came to washing my hair. The change felt like it happened overnight. My chemo hair loss went from a few strands falling out to large clumps getting stuck in my hands. Words cannot even express the pain and emotions that I went through in dealing with chemo hair loss.
I held out for as long as I could, but the chemo hair loss forced my hand on October 26, 2016. I didn’t want to lose my hair, to lose a part of my identity, and bald. Forced to have to wear an itchy wig for who knows how long. But I also didn’t want to go into work feeling like there were huge clumps missing in my scalp.
Apparently, my feelings regarding my chemo hair loss were more psychological than actual. Although my husband did say that it was noticeably thinning. Even just running my fingers through it caused strands to fall out and everywhere. My mom had had the idea to take me wig shopping long before I started my Breast Cancer Treatments. While everyone at work knew about my diagnosis, and I had my wig ready to go, I still was not ready to admit to myself that worst was yet to come.
Your hair is part of your identity, that which makes you, you. Chemo hair loss takes away the control you have over your identity, which is why I tried my best to hold off on using my wig for as long as possibly could. I was not ready for this stage in my Cancer journey, but I had to find some strength deep inside me to take control of the situation. After many tears, I made the tough decision to have my husband shave off what remained of my hair.
I was an utter mess during the whole process, but he was the rock and support I so desperately needed. Of course, he made some references to Sinéad O’Connor, which of course made me laugh in the middle of all my tears.
Shaving my head was hard, but the second hardest step in the chemo hair loss process still lay ahead. How would I be perceived at work? Would I get strange looks from people I barely knew? How would my co-workers treat me with my new “hair”?
I felt so self-conscious, so not myself, as I no longer had my own hair. Instead, I had to hide my nearly bald head under this wig that made me feel like an alien inside my own body. Luckily everyone at work was very kind. I received many compliments on my new do, from people I only saw in passing. Not knowing what to say, I I quietly smiled and said “Thanks.” Because how do you explain to someone that you barely know, and only see in passing, that your new haircut is not real?
While the wig made me look normal, it was the most uncomfortable thing in the world. My wig was breathable, yet every hour the wig spent on my head felt like torture. I could not wait to get home to take the thing off my head. It was itchy and made the hot flashes from the chemically induced menopause 100 times worse. I spent the rest of my time dealing with chemo hair loss by wearing fabric caps. Depending on the weather, I either put a baseball cap over it or my newly acquired Boston Red Sox winter hat.
The months passed and with it my six round of chemotherapy. The worst of my treatments were over and with it my chemo hair loss. My hair was slowly starting to return, and I had grown so tired of the wig that I couldn’t wait till my hair was long enough so I could say goodbye to it once and for all. But in my mind, I was self-conscious. I feared my post-chemo hair loss look would not be met with a positive response.
The internal nervousness of my post-chemo hair loss was so bad that I posted a picture to my personal Facebook page in May regarding my lack of hair. Luckily I received nothing but positive responses from my friends. Their support helped me put my fears aside, and while I was still nervous, I went to work on May 23, 2017, for the very first time without my wig, and now the rest is history.
The photo above, taken on August 12, 2017, shows that my hair is coming in quite nicely. Of course, it’s still growing way too slow for my taste. It’s better than nothing at all and is proof that I am moving forward towards being normal once again. Whatever my new normal may be.