As I looked down and saw those first few strands of hair in the sink, hot tears streamed down my cheeks. I’d dreaded this moment since I heard the word “chemotherapy” and now that it was here. I didn’t know what to do.
No one is ever prepared to lose their hair.
The Two Most Often Asked Questions About Hair Loss During Chemotherapy
If you’re beginning chemotherapy for breast cancer treatments and are concerned about hair loss, you probably have two questions on your mind.
1. Will I Lose My Hair During Chemotherapy?
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.
And since each cancer patient’s case is different, it’s impossible to know for sure whether you will lose your hair or not.
That’s why there isn’t a definite yes or no answer to whether you will lose your hair.
2. 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 must 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
As my oncologist mentioned the word “chemotherapy,” I winced with grief. I pictured wearing that tell-tale cap through the grocery store and hearing strangers whisper, “Oh, the poor thing. She has cancer.” Losing my hair would mean my private journey would soon be on display for everyone.
So, I hung onto my hair for as long as possible. I immediately trimmed it into a cute short bob to help me transition to less hair. And, I purchased a wig matching the shorter hairstyle in case I needed it.
Then I waited and hoped.
My treatments started in November, and I managed to keep most of my hair through Christmas. But as more and more strands of hair fell out, I knew it was time to shave my head.
Or so I thought. My hairdresser, however, came up with a better idea.
She took a look at my thinning hair but since I had no bald patches, she suggested we do a cute buzz-cut instead. That way, I’d still have some hair and I could shave it later if I needed to.
My hairdresser cut my hair in the short-styled “Jamie Lee Curtis meets GI Jane” look pictured below and it’s the only haircut I needed. I never had to shave my head. My hair was short and thin, so I often wore my wig or a hat when I went out. But, I never had the bald head I had dreaded so much.
I know the One Step at a Time Approach isn’t 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 she says it’s thinner, it doesn’t show and she’s surprised she hasn’t lost more hair. Jan says she’s hopeful she won’t lose all her hair and is waiting to see what happens.
Another friend’s hair however, fell out in large clumps within her first two weeks of receiving chemotherapy, causing her to decide 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 oncology center 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 only one strand remained, 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 shave your head before or, soon after, beginning treatments.
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 to the experience. Have a “shave party” with your immediate family or friends. Or, make it a spa day and get a massage, facial, manicure, or pedicure in addition to shaving your head.
And, after your head is shaved, you might consider wearing cute, unique hats, like my friend Carrie did.
A Different Approach to Hair Loss
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 in your life. 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.
Have any questions, advice, or experiences you’d like to share about losing your hair during chemotherapy? I’d love to hear them. Please share your comments below.
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