This is by far the toughest post I’ve written. I can’t explain it. My mindset on this specific side effect of chemo changes daily, even hourly. I go from the pragmatic approach of, ‘It’s only hair, it doesn’t change me as a person and it’s a sign the chemo is working’, to the more emotional aspect of, ‘It’s my hair and I like my hair! When I’m feeling like s*** on the inside, I at least want to look good on the outside!’ I also give myself a hard time thinking that I’m vain, obsessed with how I look and worried about what people might think of me rather than focussing on kicking cancer. Stupid eh?!
The only way I can describe it, is that I feel it makes me vulnerable and exposed. Like I’m walking around with a sign saying ‘I’ve got cancer, feel sorry for me, I’m ill.’ I know this is in my head, and people probably wouldn’t care less about my lack of hair, but I just can’t shift these thoughts. People deal with this everyday who have alopecia, premature hair loss, cancer etc, and there are a whole host of celebrities selling their hair extensions, half wigs, full wigs and ponytails, so why do I find it so difficult? Simple answer is, it’s because I’m ill and have no control over it. I am losing my hair and I’m losing it because I’m ill, therefore I need to deal with it, whether that’s by buying scarves, hats or wigs, I’ve got to accept it and embrace it.
Over the years I have had some interesting hair cuts. I thought I’d jot some down to indulge myself a little:
1. The ‘mum cuts my hair’ do, consisting of a fringe cut halfway up my forehead. Think this was around 12/13 yrs old.
2. The ‘Rachel from Friends’ do which turned out to be a Tina Turner-esque mullet (years later I found out pretty much the whole year group questioned my sexuality; piecing together my love of sport, choice of clothing and my new do – even my mum got in on the action)
3. The ‘just been dumped’ do. Going from brunette to gingery blonde in one sitting resulting in a Toyah Wilcox look that is probably my worst hairdo, ever. It lasted about 4 months and got me through Glastonbury Festival. The bleach completely ruined my hair and I had to have it all cut off!
4. Colour and fringe variety…
I had to make some decisions about how I’d approach this whole hair loss issue. Various options had been mentioned to me, but I hadn’t been ready to even think about the practicalities of it when I couldn’t accept that it was actually going to happen. I constantly googled about hair loss during chemotherapy, hoping there would be women saying they had managed to keep their hair, but it was very few and far between. I’m following another blog by a young lady who is currently on cycle 5 of her chemotherapy for Hodgkins, and she is still getting away with her own hair. I knew mine would go – I’d been told that if my hair grows fast, it would come out quite quickly, usually within 3-4 weeks of starting chemo. My hair does grow fast, and it started to come out around week 3.
Washing my hair and having clumps in my hands was horrific. I got myself into a right state. There seemed to be loads and because it was wet it looked even worse. Walking into the bedroom, I just started crying and telling Andrew what had happened. The reality had started and I wasn’t ready to accept it. The amount of hair that was coming out was ridiculous – it was everywhere. Drying my hair, more was hanging out from the bottom and it was covering my bedroom floor. The amount of hair that came out, I was half expecting to have bald patches. It’s amazing how much hair we actually have! I felt like I’d lost the bulk of my hair but it wasn’t actually noticeable to others. To me, it was just a bit thinner. Over the following week it was coming out thick and fast; all over my clothes, floor, bed, bathroom, kitchen… basically anywhere I went I was leaving trails of hair. Gross. Even Ivy got in on the action by grabbing clumps in her chubby little hands. However, the more it happened, the more I got used to it, and rather than upsetting me it was becoming more of an annoyance. It was happening and I couldn’t do anything about it. The last day I wore it down was Gina’s wedding. Andrew was on hair watch and was constantly grabbing hair from the back of my jacket. The final straw was sitting at the table and removing hairs from my serviette and table-cloth – they were even more noticeable against the white backdrop! I managed to eat the starter then excused myself and tied my hair up in the bathroom. Once I’d done that, I felt a lot more at ease and less paranoid!
I hadn’t actually considered the practicality of my hair coming out – I don’t know where I thought it would go and it was never anything I had thought about. Obviously it had to go somewhere and maybe I thought it would just come out without me noticing.
Throughout my life I’ve always had a certain degree of confidence – I know if I make an effort I can look ok and make-up and hair work wonders. My weight has fluctuated and there has definitely been times when I’ve felt better than others, but on the whole I’ve never really had body confidence issues. Over the last couple of months, I feel like I’ve taken a bit of a bashing in confidence – main contributors:
- Being pregnant for 9 months and trying to dress a ‘bump’ without looking like a whale
- Dealing with my postnatal body – jelly belly comes to mind
- Not being able to go back to netball after Ivy’s birth which I was sooooooo looking forward to
- Feeling generally unfit but being unable to exercise like I used to
- Losing my hair
So obviously the last point, losing my hair, is another aspect that has dealt me a bit of a blow. Going back to my earlier point though, it’s only hair.
There is a bonus to all of this though, I have got an amazing wig that I’m quite excited to start wearing. It’s been a bumpy ride to find something that I actually feel comfortable in, and has definitely been emotional, but i think i’m finally there and as an added bonus, i won’t have to wash, dry or style my hair for the next 6 months! Imagine the savings on hair products!
I decided to have one last hair cut and went to my cousin’s fiancée (congratulations, recent engagement!!!) Sarah at The Hair Factory, Redditch. I’m really glad I did this. Not only was it better that my hair was shorter, but I wanted a smoother transition into a wig and as I knew the wigs I’d looked at were better with a side or full fringe, that’s what I asked Sarah for. The cut was fab and I had a couple of weeks with a new haircut, something that I’ll be missing over the next few months.
So, this is the emotional bit. Finding a wig. Like i said, the nurse and doctors had advised where I could get one from, and some family and friends had suggested a few places. I did some of my own research and decided to start with House of Fraser and Trendco. I’d called House of Fraser and they said to come in and have a chat, no appointment needed. I took Andrew and Ivy with me and I felt absolutely fine about going in and seeing what they would recommend. We passed Trendco on the way and popped in to see what they could offer but I needed an appointment. They were quite strict about privacy and said I’d need an hours appointment to discuss properly, so I re-booked and left to go to House of Fraser. Now I don’t want to slate House of Fraser, because actually the lady in there was lovely, but what I will say, she didn’t really help me to understand what I was looking for. We walked into a room and there were wigs everywhere – I’d already decided I wanted a Human Hair wig. Why would I scrimp on a synthetic wig if it doesn’t make me feel comfortable? I’d rather pay for an expensive wig and at least feel ok wearing it. As a guide, synthetic wigs range between £100-£500, whereas human hair wigs start around £700 and can go up to £1500. Unbelievable! The lovely lady said they only had one human hair wig in stock so she went and got it and then put it on my head. I just started crying. It was horrendous. Not only the cut and colour, but because I still had all my own hair, it was sitting too high and looked like a bouffant! I turned and looked at Andrew with tears coming down my face, and he started to get emotional too. It wasn’t the right time and we left fairly quickly. In the lift, we both said it was a lot more overwhelming than either of us thought it would be. It had shocked me that Andrew had got upset too – sometimes it’s easy to forget about the impact this has on other people. It is my hair, but it’s also hard for my loved ones to see me go through it.
After that day, I put the wig conversation into a little box and ignored it. I’d booked the appointment at Trendco so I decided I wasn’t going to think about it again until that day came. By that appointment, Andrew had gone back to work so my Mum came with me. I prewarned her that she might find it difficult, and I was telling myself that it can’t be as bad as the other experience. Thankfully, the appointment was completely different. I was in a private room with a very experienced lady called Julie, and she asked me lots of questions about what I thought I wanted and then suggested a few styles and cuts. Lot of advice about Human Hair vs Synthetic and the consideration around maintenance and styling. The wigs I tried on that day weren’t horrendous, and I actually put one aside to come back for. In the middle of the appointment, Ivy decided to wee on my Mum (it must have been coming out of the side of her nappy) and it was going everywhere. Mum then opened her up to change and the phrase ‘She’s in a right state’ with a panicked tone was being shouted across the room. Wee and poo everywhere – Ivy knows how to steal the show. I sorted her out and then we left, and I felt so much more positive than I had done before.
Knowing I had a wig that I liked took the pressure off. The nurse in Ward 19 had already mentioned about their wig lady, Tanya, and Mum persuaded me to book an appointment with her just to see what she could offer. The way the nurse described her to me was, ‘She’s ever so good, she comes in with 2 suitcases and she’s got so many to choose from.’ Instantly I had an image in my head of a lady with 2 fancy dress suitcases, bowling into Ward 19 waiting room, dishing out wigs for everyone to try on! I wasn’t convinced I’d find something I liked, but I went to see her anyway. Again, I was pleasantly surprised and actually Tanya was colour matching my hair and giving me lots of advice on styles. I tried a few on – some good, some not so good, and she offered to order some in for the following week in the hair colour I wanted – no obligation to buy them at all. The following week I found the new hair in my life – she’s called Anya. It’s a synthetic wig, Rich Coffee Bean in colour, and a fairly straightforward style, similar to how I’ve had my hair in the past. It has a lace-front wig cap which means it’s see-through and gives the illusion of hair coming out of your head, rather than looking totally fake. It also has a flexible parting so i can wear it in different styles. Perfect.
Here’s my wig journey (don’t judge my facial expressions – at the time I didn’t know I’d be sharing these images with you lot)…
The end result was Anya… I can wear it down, grip it back and happy that it looks natural and I feel good in it!
(Check out Mum’s cheeky face in the background, that really makes me laugh!)
Last night, Saturday 14th October, Andrew shaved my head. I could only scrape it back into grips and a bobble without it looking thin and when I’ve got a nice wig, why aren’t I getting on and using it? I sat in the kitchen as Andrew cut the majority of it with scissors and then he did a lovely number one buzzcut. Luckily, my head is an ok shape – there’s no horrible lumps or bumps that have been unveiled, and part of me felt liberated. I look a bit like Sinead O’Connor and now Ivy and I have the same haircut! Not quite ready to share the shaved pic but I’m sure you’ll see it at some point!
Today, 15th October, I took Anya out for the first time and celebrated with a glass of prosecco. It felt weird and I was paranoid it was going to pop off my head but nobody laughed and pointed and my friends and Andrew reassured me that it looked really good and nobody would even know. I now have a sense of achievement – the one thing that was really getting me down has been done.
I’ve shaved my head and now wear a wig, and I’m ok with it.