My name is Helen and I am a 36-year-old mother of two living in the UK. In February of this year I was diagnosed with stage 2A triple negative breast cancer. So far I have had surgery and 16 rounds of chemotherapy and am now waiting for radiotherapy, the final part of my treatment.
Often, when someone is told that they are going to have to have treatment for cancer, one of their first questions is "Will I lose my hair?" It was certainly one of my first thoughts. Not only is it a huge deal to think that you are going to be walking around bald, but losing your hair is also the biggest sign that something is wrong with you, that you have been "cancered."
I know that some people cold cap, but for many reasons I decided that it was not for me and on about day 15 of my first chemo cycle out came the clippers and it was "goodbye hair." Being bald is not something I would ever choose, however I have found some positives in the hair loss:
1) I found out what I actually look like with no hair! It is not something that I would say I had thought about all the time, but pre-cancer I had occasionally wondered if I would be able to rock a bald head. What sort of shape head do I actually have? Do I have any strange marks on my head hidden under my hair? Would I look more Natalie Portman or Uncle Fester? I now know the answers to those questions (very round; yes I do; something in between, but veering towards Fester on bad days). Whilst it’s not a look I will be keeping, I didn’t look quite as horrific with no hair as I thought I might.
2) I got to legitimately go shopping and spend loads of money. As soon as I knew my hair was going to go, I got straight online and started looking at hats, headscarves and wigs. And flexed my PayPal account. There are some fabulous online wig and headwear shops, plus I found some great stuff on eBay and Amazon as well. And the best bit was that no one could say anything about my new shopping habit because like, I needed them all! Not just head wear either: new earrings, new makeup, new clothes. All suddenly essentials, obviously!
3) Getting ready in the morning is so much quicker. I noticed this as soon as I shaved my head. Showering was a revelation -- it took about a quarter of the time, what with not having to shampoo and condition my hair. Sometimes even now I still stand in the shower, unsure of what to do, because it feels like I haven’t been in there long enough! And once I am out, my head is dry within seconds, leaving me just to get dressed. No hair dryer, no products. There is no such thing as a bad hair day in this house at the moment. Plus I no longer have to suddenly worry, 10 minutes after leaving the house, that I have left my hair straighteners on.
4) Free Brazilians! Obviously its not just the hair on your head that falls out. One of the huge perks of chemo hair loss is that you also lose a lot of your body hair (in fact for me it was the first thing to go) which means that you don’t need to bother with shaving or waxing for a good few months. A few stubborn leg hairs stood firm, so strong that not even cytotoxic chemicals could defeat them, but I spent the summer pretty much hair free. The downside to this is that I am totally out of the habit of hair removal now (oh well, its nearly winter!)
5) Watching the regrowth is quite exciting. I have recently finished chemo, and although my hair grew back whilst on my second set of drugs, I wasn’t excited about it because it was still "chemo hair." So I shaved it all off again. Now I have started again I am becoming obsessed with watching for regrowth. Are my eyelashes growing? Does my hair look a bit thicker than yesterday? Is that a new follicle developing on my eyebrow? Never again will I take my brows for granted: they matter! Plus I get a whole new blank canvas of hair that I will get to mess around with. And that pixie haircut that I never had the guts to go for? Well now I will be forced to see what it looks like. And I cant wait!
So there we have it: five reasons why, for me, being bald wasn’t the end of the world.
Something I have learnt in the last few months is everyone is so different -- some people put on a wig and don’t take it off until their hair has completely grown back, others rock their bald head out in public all the time and find doing that totally empowering. I am somewhere in between, but I have surprised myself by being able to see the positive in the thing that I knew would be one of the hardest parts of this cancer journey.