Losing your hair due to chemo, or due to any reason for that matter, is hard – really hard. Talk about an understatement, right?
Hair loss is a topic that seems to generate more questions, comments and emails than almost any other topic I write about. Losing your hair IS a big deal. And by the way, not losing your hair due to chemo is hard too for different reasons.
Since there is always a lot of “hair interest”, I decided to share a chapter from my book, Getting Past the Fear, called “Now About the Hair”. I hope someone out there finds it helpful and realizes in this they are not alone either…
Now About the Hair
If you are going to be receiving the type of chemo that does not generally result in hair loss, this can be a good thing as well as a bad thing.
How can not losing your hair be a bad thing you might ask?
Well, when some people find out you are having chemo, but you are not or will not be losing your hair, they may be dismayed and for some odd reason less sympathetic.
Somehow, almost everyone equates chemo with hair loss. Many times this is the case, but not always. If you don’t lose your hair, be prepared for insensitive reactions and remarks which can be frustrating to say the least.
If you are told you probably will be losing your hair, it’s going to feel like a real punch to your gut. I don’t know why we let our hair, or lack of hair, be such a big deal in this society, but we do and it is. Much of a woman’s self-image and sexuality, no matter what her age, is very much related to her hair. This is just a fact. When you lose your hair, it feels like you are losing part of your femininity, and this is really a hard thing to grapple with. Suddenly, you feel literally, as well as figuratively, exposed. People will say things like, it’s only hair or it’ll grow back in no time.
This might be true, but saying these things is not helpful and, in fact, is hurtful as it minimizes the loss.
Losing your hair is a loss. We grieve for things we lose, including lost breasts and lost hair. You are entitled to this grief.
If you are going to lose your hair, you will probably be inundated with stories about head-shaving parties, beauticians who make house calls to shave heads, letting the kids help shave it off and so on. While any of these strategies might be perfect for someone else, this doesn’t mean they are right for you.
I was not one tiny bit interested in throwing a head-shaving party. I did not want to make losing my hair into a fun and festive event. Nothing about it felt fun or festive and I wasn’t about to pretend otherwise, but that was me.
You might love those ideas.
The important thing to remember is taking charge, as far as you are concerned, does not necessarily equate with shaving your hair all off before chemo, or when it starts to fall out for that matter. You might feel more in charge leaving it alone and waiting to see what happens.
That’s what I did. I think I was rebelling a bit against one chemo class nurse in particular who told me in no uncertain terms, “Nancy, you will lose all your hair”.
Well, actually I didn’t — not all of it. I kept a fair amount at the nape of my neck, which was nice when I wore a baseball cap. I did maintain some fringe hair back there. Not shaving all my hair off when it started falling out made me feel more in control. I decided to wait and shave it off at the end of chemo.
That’s how I chose to “do the hair.”
Of course, your decision might depend upon your job situation. No one wants to have clumps of hair falling out unexpectedly at a board meeting or over lunch. But no matter what, don’t feel pressured about when to shave your hair off. In fact, it’s not written in stone anywhere that you have to shave it off at all. You can certainly just let it happen as it happens. This might be the best approach for you.
Only you do, that’s who.
It’s also worth mentioning that if you do lose the hair on your head, you will probably also lose the rest of your body hair. Your eyelashes, pubic hair, underarm hair, leg hair and perhaps eyebrows will probably also disappear. No one really told me this part and in some ways, losing my eyelashes was harder for me than losing the hair on my head. Bare eyes are so, well, bare. The eyebrows often hang on more stubbornly for some reason unknown to me, though they usually do thin out a bit, or a lot. You never know for sure what will happen.
On a slightly humorous note, during chemo and for a while after, I could never figure out why my nose was so runny. Then one day it dawned on me that all those little nose hairs were also gone, hence my runny nose. Never thought much about those little guys before that. We take so many things for granted, even little nose hairs. Extra tissues might be needed.
Remember this cancer experience is yours and yours alone.
Only you should decide what you want to do (or not do) about your hair.
Interested in reading more?