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Now about the hair...

“Now About the Hair” – (When Facing Chemo & Hair Loss)

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. Go figure.

Perhaps this is yet another example of all those ridiculous and potentially harmful  ingrained “this is how you do cancer” expectations out there…

Since there is always a lot of “hair interest”, I decided to share a chapter from my ebook, 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

An Excerpt from Getting Past the Fear:  A guide to help you mentally prepare for chemotherapy

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, in actuality 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.

Who knows? 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?

Check out my ebook, Getting Past the Fear:  A guide to help you mentally prepare for chemotherapy.

Thank you to Dr. Kathleen D. Hoffman, Beth L. Gainer and Debbie Woodbury for reviewing my ebook. I appreciate their kind words and endorsements very much.

Have you experienced chemo and hair loss (or chemo with no hair loss) and if so, what was that like for you?

Have you been told, it’s only hair and if so, how did hearing that make you feel?

Do you have any tips about hair loss to share?

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Getting Past the Fear: A Guide to Help You Prepare for Chemortherapy
My guide can help you prepare for chemo. Click on image to buy now.

25 thoughts to ““Now About the Hair” – (When Facing Chemo & Hair Loss)”

  1. I don’t think there is any right or wrong way to lose your hair. I held on to all the hair I could, yet I probably should have shaved the last dead blonde pieces as it just looked crazy.

    I too had my nose running and the eyelashes and eyebrows were tough. I kept trying to line my eyebrows with powder but they itched so much that it would just come off.

    The best advice I would give someone is to find a “Look Good, Feel Better”, which the American Cancer Society does for free if you are in a more populated place. They show you how to put on wigs, tips for makeup when you lose your hair, scarves, etc. and hey give away free makeup. It’s also a good place to meet other going through the same experience. If you can’t afford a wi9g the American Cancer Society will help you with a free one.

    1. Susan, I thought losing my eyelashes was especially hard too. Thanks for sharing about the Look Good, Feel Better program. I did actually take part in that and felt overall it was a good experience. I should dig out my post on it! Thanks for the reminder and as always, thanks for sharing about your experience.

  2. I like how you say it’s ok to grieve for lost hair. Of course, people will say, “it’s just hair.” And that’s true, but I’m sure it doesn’t help when people try to brush it off like it’s no big deal. I’m sure it is a big deal! Plus, it’s kind of that visual sign that “oh, that woman doesn’t have any hair. I bet she has cancer.”

    Great chapter!

    1. Lindsay, I think that’s exactly right. Whenever you see a bald woman, the first reaction is more than likely, I bet she has cancer. Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m glad you liked it.

  3. I did not lose my hair due to chemo, but since cancer I have lost a bunch. I used to have thick wavy brown hair and now I look like a moth-eaten old fur piece.

    My answer? I keep it less than an inch long all over my head. The unbelievable part – I get stopped in the grocery store and in the airport so some stranger can tell me how much they love my haircut.

    Go figure.

    1. Lois, I’m glad your solution works for you. And yes, that grocery store/airport story is rather unbelievable! Then again, maybe not! Thanks for reading and sharing, Lois. And your hair certainly does not look like a moth-eaten old fur piece!

  4. I didn’t really mind losing my hair. I knew it was temporary and I enjoyed the sympathetic people in the grocery store suggesting I go in front of them in the line (I didn’t take “cuts” however!).

    Five years + down the road of recovery I still have precious little hair on my head. I have no body hair anywhere else except for a few wisps ‘down there’. No eyebrows AT ALL. Finally got brave enough a month or so ago to get them tattooed and am pleased with the result. The daily reminder (and questions from others…”Are you going through chemo?” are very daunting and disheartening. Meanwhile I am surrounded by other BC ladies who are basking in the glory of thier returned (and sometimes better) tresses. Makes me mad and sad.

    1. Holly, Your situation sounds similar to mine – the regrowth part I mean. My hair has definitely not come back in lovelier. Not even close – so I understand about your ‘sad and mad’ feelings. I hated losing my hair. I hated everything about it. I know some don’t mind it nearly as much… Thanks for sharing.

    2. Me, too, Holly. I was expecting the hair loss and was fine with it because it was temporary – or so they say. When it all didn’t come back, well, that’s NOT ok and it’s not ok with me that I wasn’t warned that this permanent side effect of the drug Taxotere is while not common, also not uncommon. I now keep my head buzzed because there simply isn’t enough hair to cover my scalp and it ain’t pretty. I wear wigs and have learned to make the best of it. Check out Our numbers are unfortunately growing.

  5. dear nancy,

    just 2 weeks before I was diagnosed with ST IV Metastatic BC, I hauled of and treated my self to a whole head of gorgeous and expensive pearly blond streaks, then shot the whole wad on a very costly hair styling. I LOVED it, and felt very pretty and a lot younger.

    when I was told it would all be gone in a matter of weeks, I kept focusing on the cost going out the window and joking about it. but when it actually started to fall out, finding huge, long clumps in my hands while shampooing in the shower, I was devastated. and all my hair follicles HURT!

    and ah – eyelashes. they fell out much later, so I had a false hope I might get to keep them. I remember seeing “hairs” in the sink, like when i’d lean over it while brushing my teeth – my penchant to see what I wanted to see, assigned them to “small dog hairs” from Sadie, our mixed border collie who has NEVER shed a short hair, as she has nary a one, only long, fine ones. since I am quite visually challenged, even with a huge magnifying make-up mirror, i sallied forth to put on my mascara – but damned if it didn’t keep smudging onto my upper eyelid. it took 4 times of applying, then removing that mascara until i realized (snapped out of denial) that i had NO, nada, zip, ziltch eyelashes. dammit.

    it’s laughable now, but at the time it must have been a very slow and traumatic cavalcade of all the hair loss in every hairy bodily part. except legs – even now because of Herceptin i only have to shave them every 2-3 weeks.

    hair is part of our femininity, but the loss of it makes our diagnosis so REAL. i had a very beautiful wig that i got lots of compliments on, but put it away, and just decided to go commando – gave me a chance to show off the earrings i could never have worn with longer hair. when it grew out to buzzed length, i spiked it at the crown, had dozens of women asking me where i got that fabulous hairstyle!?

    i am so glad you posted about the hair topic and you did such a wonderful job with the chapter in your book. i think individual stories are as varied as there are people, and it’s very interesting to ponder the whys of each story.

    much love to you nancy, XOXOXOXO

    Karen, TC

    1. Karen, I can only imagine how devastated you must have felt back then. Of course, it all pales to what you’ve been dealing with of late… Still, losing one’s hair definitely represents losing a whole lot more than just hair, at least to some. I agree that individual stories are just that – individual. No one handles hair loss the same way either. Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you liked the chapter. And I sure hope you’re doing alright. I think of you so often… love back.

  6. Hair loss during chemo is a great topic. I lost some of my hair on taxol, but once the taxol stopped, my hair started growing out again, even though I’m on a targeted therapy of an antibody linked to a toxin. Apparently only 11% of patients lose their hair on Kadcyla. I still sport a wig, but it may soon disappear as the hair fills out. Thanks for addressing this issue.

    1. Jan, Hair loss is always a topic of great interest when a person is facing chemo and also their mirror! Glad to hear your hair is growing back. Wigs are great, but they are uncomfortable. Thanks for reading and commenting, Jan. I’ve missed you! Hope you’re doing alright.

  7. ahhhhh hair loss. When I was 23 I was diagnosed with alopecia areata – I lost most of my hair on my head, eyebrows and eyelashes. I shaved my head and wore a wig off and on for over 7 years.

    When I was 53 I was diagnosed with breast cancer but it was caught early and I did not need chemo. Breast gone, hair in check.

    Now that I am 54 and facing advanced rectal cancer, hair loss is back in the picture. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I think I fear mouth sores and so many of the other side effects more than hair loss but thats probably because I’ve been done the no hair road before.

    1. Green Monkey, You certainly have had way more than your “fair share” of health issues to grapple with. I’m sorry. I do think once someone has faced something awful and made it through more or less in one piece, some aspects of the second time around might be easier, but who am I to say? It’s a lot to deal with no matter what. I hope treatment goes okay for you this go-round. My very best to you. Thanks so much for sharing. Please keep me posted.

  8. Had my 1st chemo treatment 8/3, woke up this morning, ran my fingers thru my hair & got a handfull of hair. It’s weird yesterday it was attached, today it falling out. I think I will be going to the salon for a new do. Or undo. I guess. It helped me reading your blog to know that other women have the same decision and how they coped. Hang in there ladies.

    1. Deb, I’m sorry you are dealing with hair loss. It’s a difficult thing to experience. I like yout “undo” image. That made me smile. I’m glad reading my blog is helpful and no, you definitely are not alone. Good luck as you continue through chemo. You hang in there too! Thanks for sharing.

  9. diagnosed with breast cancer…chemo doctor told me that day 14 i will lose my hair…omg im so scared im freakin out im soooo not happy at my hair loss…idk what to do….cut it short…get ready and get a wig ..or just wait and see what happens….im dont want to lose my hair and i cant say it enough…denial i wont lose it ….

    1. Karen, I am sorry about your diagnosis and all the rest too. And yes, hair loss is a tough thing to deal with. Of course you are afraid and unsure about what to do. I understand. Do what feels right for you regarding cutting it or shaving it off. I waited til chemo was over. That worked for me. You might wish to read my ebook for some coping tips that might be helpful. Good luck with things. Keep me posted.

  10. been suffering for severe hair loss for about 2 years and I am in near-baldness state. I’ve tried lots of cure and remedy but nothing gives me positive results. Good thing my friend suggested that I should try the hair growth helmet and thank God it works well for me. I can see great improvement on my hair. Hope this helps you too 🙂

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