“Will I lose my hair and, if so, when should I shave my head?” These are often the first questions I hear when I talk with someone beginning chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. And I understand. Hair loss was something I dreaded when I started chemotherapy, and I cried seeing those first few strands of hair in the sink.
Because, let’s face it, no one wants to lose their hair.
If you are beginning chemotherapy for breast cancer treatments and are concerned about hair loss, you’re probably asking the same questions.
WILL I LOSE MY HAIR DURING CHEMOTHERAPY?
So here are the quick answers to those questions:
Will you Lose your Hair? Maybe
When should I shave my head? When the time is right for you.
I know these aren’t the definitive answers you are looking for, but those are the only ones anyone can give you. However, here are some thoughts and suggestions to provide you with a more precise answer so you can choose the best decisions for yourself.
Not everyone loses their hair. If your doctor says you will lose your hair, you most likely will. If your doctor says you’ll probably lose your hair, then you might not lose it all. Instead, it may become thinner or get patchy.
Whether you lose your hair or not depends on many factors. Such as what mix of chemotherapy drugs you are receiving, the number of treatments you receive, and your body’s reaction to the medicine.
No cancer patient’s case is exactly the same, no cancer treatment is exactly the same, and no one reacts exactly the same to the treatment as someone else.
That’s why there isn’t a definite yes or no answer to whether you will lose your hair.
WHEN SHOULD I SHAVE MY HEAD?
Losing your hair during chemotherapy is challenging. Choosing how you will handle hair loss or thinning hair is a personal choice, and you have to decide what approach is best for you.
And, I encourage you to think of it this way. You can’t control whether your hair will fall out or not, but you can control how you approach and handle the process.
With that said, here are some approaches that my friends and I have taken.
Best Approaches to Hair Loss During Chemotherapy for breast cANCER
ONE STEP AT A TIME APPROACH
I dreaded the thought of losing my hair. My friends and family knew I had breast cancer, but I didn’t want strangers to know. I’m not sure why it mattered so much to me at the time, but I kept thinking if I lose my hair, people will know, and I didn’t want people looking and saying, “oh, she has cancer.”
So, I decided to hang onto my hair for as long as possible. As soon as I knew my treatment plan, I had my hair trimmed into a cute short bob that helped me transition to having less hair. I also purchased a wig matching the shorter hairstyle.
I’ve always had thin baby fine hair, so I thought my hair would fall out quickly. Of course, I kept hoping it wouldn’t. But a few weeks into treatments, I noticed more hair in the sink. I started treatments in November and managed to keep most of my hair through Christmas. But afterward, I decided it was time to shave it.
My hairdresser took a look at my hair and said that although it was thinning, there were no bald patches. She suggested we do a cute buzz-cut instead of shaving it now and that we could shave it later if needed.
So, that’s what we did. My hairdresser cut my hair in a short-styled “Jamie Lee Curtis meets GI Jane” look. And that was the last haircut I needed. I never needed to shave my head. My hair was thin but never patchy, and while I wore my wig or a cap when I went out, I never had to see the bald head I had dreaded.
I know the One Step at a Time Approach doesn’t work for everyone, but if you’d like to keep your hair for as long as possible, you’re not ready to shave your head yet, or there might be a chance your hair won’t fall out, this approach may work well for you.
QUE SERA, SERA APPROACH
This “whatever will be, will be” approach lets your hair fall out naturally.
My friend Jan is doing this. She has beautiful, thick long hair and is in her second month of treatment. Although her hair is thinning, she doesn’t have thin or balding spots. She’s surprised she hasn’t lost more hair and says she’ll wait and see what happens.
However, another friend’s hair fell out in large patches within two weeks of receiving chemotherapy, causing her to decide it was time to shave her head.
I recently overheard the perfect example of the Que Sera, Sera approach. A woman near me in the waiting room at the oncologist joked about losing her hair. She said she let her hair fall out naturally and adapted her hairstyle along the way. She said when she was finally down to the last three strands on the top of her head, she braided it. At two hairs, she parted them. And when there was only one strand left, she put a bow on it. I admire her positive “go with the flow” attitude and sense of humor.
JUST DO IT!
The third approach is to go ahead and shave your head before beginning treatments or shortly after that. I admire women who can do this. And there are some benefits to doing so. You don’t experience the stress of your hair falling out or seeing hair in your sink or on your pillow every morning.
It also gives you a sense of control, not only of your hair but how you handle your treatment process. You are taking a positive, proactive approach to your treatment and healing.
If this is the approach that feels natural and right for you, you may want to add some fun or humor to the experience. Have a “shave party” with your immediate family or friends. And, after it’s shaved, you might enjoy wearing funny hats, like my friend Carrie did.
COLD PACKS AND COOLING TREATMENTS
Cold pack and scalp cooling treatments use a different approach to hair loss. According to BreastCancer.org, “Cold caps and scalp cooling systems are tightly fitting, helmet-like hats filled with a cold gel or liquid that you wear during chemotherapy infusions. These devices have helped many people keep some or quite a bit of their hair when treated with chemotherapy that can cause hair loss.”
Cold packs and scalp cooling treatments weren’t available at any facilities in my area when I went through treatments, so I don’t have personal experience using them. However, Breast Cancer.org thoroughly explains this treatment program. Another site with additional information, as well as freezer locations near you, is the Rapunzel Project. Check out these sites and speak with your oncologist if this is something that interests you.
For more chemotherapy for breast cancer information check out this post: 9 Things to Do Before you Begin Chemotherapy.
YOU DO HAVE CHOICES WHEN IT COMES TO HAIR LOSS DURING Chemotherapy FOR BREAST CANCER
My final advice to you is not to fret or dread losing your hair. I worried about it much more than I should have.
But, one day, I looked at the autumn leaves falling. It occurred to me that I was entering a winter season just like the trees. My chemotherapy would be over when Spring arrived, and my hair (like the leaves) would grow again.
So remember, this is just a season. And, while you can’t control hair loss during chemotherapy for breast cancer, you can control how you handle it. Decide which approach to hair loss feels most comfortable and works best for you. Take that approach and be confident that your Spring is just around the corner.
Are you beginning treatment? What approach are you using? Are you a cancer survivor? Did you lose your hair? What advice would you give? Please share your comments below.
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