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Should a Chemo Patient Shave the Hair Off & If So, When? Thoughts One Year Later

A week or so ago marked another cancer-related anniversary for me. It’s been one year since I shaved my hair off, or I should say since hubby shaved it off for me and yes, as I mentioned in a previous post, we used the same trimmer we use on our springer.

I had been a “hair shaving hold-out.”

I’ve since learned most people shave their hair off before chemotherapy or during chemotherapy as soon as the hair begins falling out, which is usually after the second treatment. Most people say doing it at that time makes them feel more in control.

Not me. I waited until I was totally finished with chemotherapy.

What was I waiting for?

I’m not entirely sure. Mostly, I think I was in a state of defiance.

At a “Preparing for Chemotherapy” class (by the way, there is no class that can truly prepare you for chemotherapy) the nurse teaching it bluntly told me I would definitely lose all my hair and not just the hair on my head.

I didn’t appreciate her telling me that so matter-of-factly in front of the whole class and in my vulnerable state at the time, I found the remark to be highly insensitive. I definitely bristled and said to myself something like, well, we’ll just see about that! Of course, I knew she was right. Go figure…

Maybe my rebellious reaction was due to the fact I was feeling so out of control at the time and I decided this was at least something I could control. I would decide the time. I would decide the place.

This chemo-induced hair loss issue is a really big one, especially for women. I still get comments on my blog post about when to shave the hair off. I still get emails from women asking me for advice on the hair shaving dilemma. I always say pretty much the same thing; it’s a personal choice. You should do it when and if you choose. Just because most people shave it off early doesn’t mean you have to. Do it when you are ready, or don’t do it at all even. There are no rules here.

I stand by that advice.

Last year when I shaved off my hair, I sort of made a commitment to myself. (Can you sort of make a commitment??)  I told myself that in one year I would post a picture of myself bald on my blog. Not that anyone out there would care. No, this would be some major personal milestone or rite of passage for me, or so I thought.

Here it is one year later and I must somewhat reluctantly admit I’m not ready. I’m not quite there yet.

Instead I still feel a bit like the Peanuts character, Linus, holding onto his security blanket, except my security blanket is a baseball cap. I still rarely go out of the house without one plunked on my head. Now with winter weather arriving, I’ll get to change things up a bit and don some stocking-cap-type head cover. That’ll be nice.

What does this dependency on head-cover say about me I wonder?

Does it mean I’m too vain, too shallow, too scared, too private, too insecure, too weak, too cowardly or too embarrassed?

Or all of the above?

I really have no idea what it means.

Sometimes even the small steps one takes in this cancer gig seem huge.

I do know I have to allow myself to follow my own advice. I will stop wearing the baseball caps when I’m ready. I will post ‘that picture’ some day, when and if I’m ready.

I’ll know when the time is right.

And a little something to hold onto for security never hurts does it?

Have you ever shaved your head for any reason?

Do you have a “security blanket” of some sort?



Thursday 29th of December 2011

Ive had long hair since 6th grade (I'm 44), so I'm glad I'm not alone in thinking this totally sucks. BUT for me, I know I feel more empowered and rebellious to take things into my own hands as much as possible already have a date with my sister to chop it to shoulder length prior to chemo next week. Im going to save the 2-3 inches to maybe use with some hats, to make bangs or something (we'll see... might just like having the option). Then, when its shedding and getting bald spots, I'm buzzing it. My on oncologist warned me against shaving to the skin though...because a cut can get infected. I wonder if anyone else was told this. I also read that shampooing you scalp will keep hair follicles healthier. Ill do more research on both these. Boyfriend already planning his solidarity shave. The big picture, is that chemo terrifies me way more than being temp bald.


Thursday 29th of December 2011

Shera, Good for you for taking things into your own hands. It's nice you can call on your sister to do a little trimming. I think it's a great idea to save some hair to make bangs or whatever. I did order one of those "bang head band" products, but I never actually used it for some reason. I think your oncologist was right about avoiding shaving too close, so do be careful. Infection is nothing to fool with when on chemo. How nice your boyfriend is planning his solidarity shave. My son shaved his head at least three times while I was bald. Good luck as you begin chemo next week. Chemo does totally suck, but I think I imagined it to be even worse than it turned out to be. But that was just me. I always tend to think/plan for worst case scenario. I'll be thinking of you. Keep us posted. And I'm sorry you are dealing with this crap, but you aren't alone. Knowing that does help. My best.

Kay Ashworth

Saturday 17th of December 2011

The day my hair started falling out I sat for an hour crying and literally pulling my hair out. Then I cut it all off with scissors, a truly horrible looking job. My daughter came over and shaved it off evenly. I have always had beautiful curly hair and losing my hair was a huge deal. When my hair started coming back in I continued to wear caps until it was about an inch long. It is baby fine and straight. Friends and family comment on how fast it is growing. Personally I don't think 2 inches in 6 months is very fast. Every time I look in the mirror and see my very short hair I am reminded of cancer. I hate it.


Saturday 17th of December 2011

Kay, Oh my, I understand about the hair. Losing it must be even worse when you had such beautiful hair to begin with. Mine never was all that great, but... I'm only now beginning to go out without my caps and I still usually wear one. My hair is now kind of at the unmanageable stage. People tell me it's really coming back now, but it's been over a year and it still looks questionable to say the least. I know what you mean about looking in the mirror. I so "get that." Thank you for commenting so candidly about your "hair experience."


Friday 2nd of December 2011

Hey I am from Wisconsin (Madison) and should be losing my hair in about 10 days. Going to try the wig route but I don't want it to go flying off in a blizzard. This is all crazy emotional.


Saturday 3rd of December 2011

Ann, Well hello fellow Wisconsinite! Sorry to hear you will be losing your hair. That is a difficult thing to go through, even though as everyone says and knows it's only hair. Good luck with the wig route. There were a few times I worried about the wind! Seriously though, they do fit pretty snuggly, part of the reason they are so uncomfortable. I found bandanas to be quite easy to wear and they didn't seem to scream cancer too loudly. Winter is nice for stocking caps too. You are SO right, this is all crazy emotional! Good luck with things. Keep me posted on how you are doing. I care. Thanks for commenting. Hope you'll be back.


Friday 2nd of December 2011


Thanks again for posting about the whole cancer process, from start to...well, I guess it never really finishes, does it?! You write so beautifully and I relate to many of the things you say. I'm your WI in Madison. Dx was June 2010, 2 months after getting married (to husband #2). He's been my rock though there's so much that we still need to weather on our own. Last Herceptin was Nov 29th, woohoo! Hard to believe it's 18 months later. Just needing my areola tat (that's a whole 'nother topic, tho, right?).



Friday 2nd of December 2011

Mary, Thank you so much for your kind words. I guess we are practically neighbors then! Our diagnosis dates were very close I guess. It's terrible cancer came calling so soon after your marriage, although it's not like there is a better time... I'm glad your husband has been so supportive. We are both very lucky in that regard aren't we? Yes, woohoo on finishing that Herceptin; that's great! It's funny you mention the areola tat because I'm planning a post on my experience with that next week, if I dare to post it! ha. Thanks so much for commenting, Mary.

Beth L. Gainer

Wednesday 30th of November 2011

Hi Nancy,

Thanks for your kind response to my comment. Yes, cancer is horrific no matter what happens to the hair. I'll have a future post about the hair dilemma for me.


Thursday 1st of December 2011

Beth, Thanks for stopping by again and you're very welcome. I am looking forward to your "hair post." I know it will an interesting read.

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