I was warned before I started chemotherapy that I could expect to start losing my hair within four to six weeks of my first session. Well, I’ve never been one to stick to schedules so it shouldn’t have been too much of a shock when I ran my fingers through my hair a mere ten days after my first chemo session and found a big clump of hair came away with them. And it all happened pretty quickly after that. As horrified as I was was to see my hair coming away like that, there was a certain sick fascination with seeing how much came out every time I brushed it or ran my hands through it. I had tried to mentally prepare myself for the loss beforehand but it’s really not something you can prepare for. I’m sure it’s traumatic for everyone but I do wonder if it hits women that bit harder. Doing your hair is like getting dressed or putting on makeup – it’s a normal part of our everyday grooming. And while I don’t think I had the worlds greatest hair or anything, it was mine.
So I spent a few days trying not to pull at it or brush it excessively but there was more and more coming out each day. I started tying it back securely from my face to stop myself going at it but I was still starting to see more and more of my scalp appearing through it. I had always thought I’d be one of those people who would just say “Fuck it” and shave it all off at the first sign of loss but when it came down to it I just couldn’t do it. I was trying to hold onto it with sheer willpower.
I lasted almost a week like that. Then I got a fit of madness, handed a scissors to Steve and told him to chop off my ponytail. I thought if it was shorter it would at least be least frustrating when I was shedding all over the house. It wasn’t the neatest haircut I ever got (!) but it made me feel slightly better. For a few days anyway. Then two days later I was in the shower and completely fell apart. I was trying to wash what was left of my hair but it was tangling up in my fingers, sticking to the walls and blocking the drain. I felt like it was attacking me and I couldn’t stop crying. So I dried off, got dressed and said to Steve “It’s time”.
We got the salon set up in the kitchen, Steve got his razor and got to work. The very first stroke of the razor was traumatic and I bawled. But I had Oscar hopping around me taking photos with my phone like the paparazzi and it was impossible then not to laugh. I wanted to make sure that the boys were involved from the start as I was worried how they’d react to the hair loss. Noah was too small to understand but we’d had a few conversations with Oscar about it before it ever started so he knew what was happening even if he didn’t fully comprehend it. So Steve shaved me, Oscar photographed me and Noah laughed at us all from his high chair. I was worried how the boys would react once it was done but Oscar was very cool about it and Noah just came straight over and gave me a cuddle. It was like he was saying “Hair or no hair, you’re still Mom”.
Once I got over the initial shock of watching my hair fall on the floor, we actually had a lot of fun. I’ve only ever had long hair so I was very relieved to discover that underneath I actually had a nice shaped head and no visible scars or birthmarks. Although I discovered very quickly that you really miss the warmth of your hair once it’s gone – the first time I went out to the bins with my head uncovered I nearly froze! And I’ve pretty much got used to it now. I rarely wear wigs these days – if I’m going out I’ll wear a hat (it’s still cold!) but at home I’m pretty much au naturel.
I also learnt something the doctors don’t necessarily warn you about. It’s not just the hair on your head that falls out! I was in the shower one day and went to shave my legs as usual only to find that there was no need – they were as bald as a baby’s. Armpit hair, pubic hair – all gone. It’s amazing how much time you save in the shower without having hair to deal with. I’ll freely admit that I wasn’t too sorry to lose the body hair. But I was not at all happy about losing my eyebrows and eyelashes. They didn’t start to go straight away – I was probably midway through the chemo before they packed up and left. And unfortunately, you do look a bit odd once they’re gone. I heard someone describe it as looking a bit like Mr Potato Head and it’s a fairly accurate description.
Luckily for me, before I started treatment I’d been reading another blog from another woman with cancer and she’d mentioned micro-blading or semi-permanent eyebrow tattooing. It sounded like a great idea to me so I looked into local options and found a fantastic woman in Cork who does it. She works with a lot of oncology patients so has a great understanding of what they’re going through. And she was kind enough to accommodate me with an urgent appointment so I could get it done before I started chemo. So even though my own eyebrows are gone now, with a little pencil over the tattooing they look totally natural. It’s only a little thing but it does help with the confidence.
I’m looking forward to my hair growing back and experimenting with short hair. My family and I are placing bets on what colour its going to come back – I was white blonde as a child and brunette as an adult so it’s anyone’s guess now. Probably grey!