Losing Your Hair
What can you do when chemotherapy causes hair loss?
Losing your hair is a very visible sign that you have had cancer and its impact on your appearance can be devastating. In
For most women diagnosed with breast cancer, chemotherapy will form part of their treatment. Usually administered intravenously, chemotherapy drugs destroy cancer cells by attacking them and disrupting their growth.
We’ve all had bad hair days. Most of us can recall the total embarrassment caused by a scissor-happy hairdresser taking off that bit too much, a new colour that seemed like a good idea at the time, or an ill-advised perm that would put a poodle to shame. Such beauty bungles make you want to wear a sign saying: “I don’t usually look like this!” So while it’s a look that can just about be pulled off by the young and pretty (remember singer Sinead O’Connor and presenter Gail Porter?) the thought of walking around with just a few faint wisps of hair, or without any hair at all, is horrific to most women. “It’s like wearing a sign saying ‘I’ve got cancer’,” says Debbie Francis, who lost most of her hair during her breast cancer treatment in 2009.
If your treatment includes epirubicin, Docetaxel (
A cool option if you're losing your hair
So what options do you have if you’re likely to lose some or all of your hair? Many women decide to try and prevent or minimise hair loss, and that means scalp
Both methods need to be worn for some time before and after the chemotherapy drugs are given, which means that each chemo session will last longer and you may have the cap on for a few hours each time. This is a tough call if, like so many of us, you hate being cold, but you will be offered blankets and hot drinks. Many women say they took some music, a book or a game to help pass the time and take their minds off the big freeze.
Does the cooling cap work?
The big question is: does it do the job? To which we would probably answer: that depends on your perspective, your attitude and your expectations. When we asked women to tell us whether the cold cap worked for them, we expected a range of responses from “Absolutely!” to “Definitely not!” What’s important here is how these women defined success. Some lost hardly any of their hair and were able to carry on as normal. Several found their hair became much finer but they were OK with that, while others said they preserved just enough hair to have something showing around the edges of a headscarf which, for them, still meant a positive result.
Some women prefer a wig for hair loss
Whether the thought of the cold cap is unbearable or you find it doesn’t work for you, there are alternatives to disguise hair loss, such as scarves and hats and, of course, wigs. It’s probably a good idea to get yourself a wig at the start of your chemo, even if you do plan to try scalp cooling. When you are coping with the rigours of treatment, knowing that you can reach out for something that will instantly make you look like ‘you’ again is a comfort, and you might even come to love the ease and flexibility that wigs can offer.
Donna Cunningham invested in a lovely real hair wig that looked similar to her own long, thick hair before her treatment started. “My hair did start falling out about ten days after my first session,” she says, “so I decided to take matters into my own hands.” While embracing the use of her wig whenever she wanted to look like the Donna of old, she and her boyfriend also decided to have some fun styling her own hair in ways that Donna would never have considered before. “Instead of just going for the whole chop in one go, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to try out different styles. Over a series of weeks I went from long to mid-length hair, then with a fringe to a
Comfortable headscarves to go
Fit is important if you are hiding hair loss – particularly if there is little or no hair to clip the scarf to for security. Look for chemo scarves with additional stretch, because they will stay in place. Many times you can wear them arranged in a variety of ways, and together with hats and caps, you've got a comprehensive wardrobe of options that are great for any day or occasion.
After chemotherapy the choice is yours
Even though it can be devastating (after all, stylists refer to hair as ‘the outfit you never take off’, which is all very well until chemo does it for you!), hair loss is only temporary and many women have told us that their hair got a new lease of life post-chemo, sometimes coming back thicker and better than before. So whether you decide to brave the cold cap or adapt your look with headwear or wigs, there are some creative ways of getting through this uncomfortable period and, who knows, you might even find a new look that you love!