Hair loss from chemotherapy part two: now that it's gone and how you can prepare

Hair loss from chemotherapy part two: now that it's gone and how you can prepare

(Disclaimer – I am actually going to write about something other than cancer in my next blog! So bear with me!!)

A few weeks ago I wrote about the prospect of losing my hair as a result of upcoming chemotherapy. I was obviously quite unhappy at the idea of not just losing it this time, but it was the second time and I was dreading it. I mean seriously, who wouldn’t??

So, on Monday morning when I woke up and I was able to pull handfuls of hair out of my head, I lost it. Not just lost it – there was full on hysteria accompanied by wracking sobs and a sea of crocodile tears. But other than a release for a few minutes, that was not going to do me any good.

There is no point in wallowing in the sadness of the inevitable. My mantra, “it is what it is” has been most helpful to me in the accepting of each stage of this journey I am on. So, my husband who had been on head shaving duty the first time I went through this, was ready and happy to do it again. (He cannot stand watching my hair fall out – it pains him greatly.) So with scissors and buzzer in hand, he went to town. He cut, he buzzed, he buzzed, he cut. And in fifteen minutes what had taken ten years to grow back was gone.

But I had this wig. This life saving, mental breakdown avoiding wig. This HUMAN HAIR, looks just like my own hair wig. I’d already  searched for it, found the perfect one, had it cut and styled and in the two minutes it took to put it on, I felt like me again.

Women have commented on my blog and my Facebook page  that they don’t know how they will survive their hair loss. So, here are a few pointers for how I feel you can survive this very traumatic event. They’re not scientific, they’re not May Clinic recommended. Just thoughts of how I handled it (twice) and hope that it helps.

1) When you find out you are going to lose your hair there is no getting away from the trauma. Go ahead and cry and mourn – IT’S OK. Being strong through cancer is tough and it’s ok to lose it. We all do. But don’t wallow in it. Remember you are luckier than a lot of men (and women with alopecia) – IT’S TEMPORARY. It sucks, but it WILL COME BACK.

2) When you are able to accept it, get your butt wig shopping. If you are on a fixed income/limited budget The American Cancer Society offers free wigs to patients. Since this was my second time, I decided to go “balls to the walls”. That means I spent more than I normally would on something but I had to feel good to save me from losing my mind.

3) There are insurance companies that cover a portion of wigs – never call it a wig though – it’s a “cranial prosthesis” in insurance terms. Check out the fine print – many want an “in network provider” of a wig and that can be hard to find. I fought that and actually won. (But I did not end up buying a wig from one which is a different story). But find a provider that will help you find the right style, fit it for you and cut it for you.

4) Orthodox married Jewish women are required to cover their heads at all times and let me tell you, they know how to find the best wigs. There are used ones available – google “used sheitels”. Sheitel is the Hebrew term for the wig. There are websites that sell them on consignment. If you are local in Chicago, I can direct you to a woman that sells them used.

5) Invest in some caps. A good source for these is Soft cotton caps are great for a switch up from your wig. Also make sure to get a nylon wig liner. It keeps your wig in place and helps prevent the inevitable itching. Once you are ready with your wig and some caps (scarves too, which you can find at resale shops if you are on a fixed income) it really will make the inevitable easier.

6) Have a razor or buzzer ready. There will be a morning about two to three weeks after your first treatment that you either wake up with a pillow filled with hair or you can pull clumps out. You will cry. You may get hysterical and feel like you have no control. But you do. It’s time to shave your head and YOU deciding it’s time gives you all the control.

7) If it’s too hard for you to do it yourself, have someone do it for you. Local salons may not charge you if they know what it’s for. I preferred to do it at home so I could cry at the same time. It’s very personal and easier to have a loved one with you if available. Plus, they will do a better job than you while you are so upset.

8) That clean close shave will leave a nice shadow. At least you will still feel that there is something there. Remember and accept that even that is temporary. You will have a very shiny bald head before it’s over. You will lose your eyebrows (invest in a pencil!!) and eyelashes. But it is all temporary!! It may seem like forever but it will be over before you know it.

9) Remember you will not have hair to wash or style for a good while! Think about how much time you will save!! Cuts my shower time in half and my hair straightening, curling, blow drying time down to nothing. And I can throw a cap on if I feel like going without my wig.

This is a hard time for you. You are allowed to slap anyone who says “it’s just hair”. Your patent response should be to tell that person to shave their head the day you do if that’s what they think. That will shut them up.

Good luck and good health.

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