In the words of Bengu, a patient on the Macmillan website, ‘Finding out that I was going to lose my hair was a really big deal to me. It was more upsetting than the cancer, because to me my hair was always my crowning glory.’
But what it is like to ACTUALLY lose your hair? Here is the story from my perspective.
To summarise in a sentence, losing hair is shit BUT being bald is pretty cool.
My hair loss journey started when my chemo was ramped up from the ABVD to the BEACOPP. My consultant, Ann, had warned me that the Etoposide in the BEACOPP mix would spell the end for my hair and she was right. All things considered, I think my hair did marvellously well. It stuck around for about 2 weeks of battering from the Etoposide and then very suddenly decided it had had enough.
I had been paranoid about losing my hair for so long. Sitting on the sofa I would do that thing where you run your fingers through your hair, remove a few strands, and had convinced myself that this was IT, I WAS losing my hair. ‘Oh no’ they said, ‘when it goes you will know’, and of course they were right.
One day that routine of running my fingers through my hair started to really generate something. It was not a few solitary hairs anymore, it was coming out in clumps.
‘Don’t wash your hair’ was what they advised. And so for 6 days I obediently didn’t wash. On the 6th day I woke up, surveyed the greasy mop on top of my head and concluded there wasn’t much point in having lank dirty hair so decided to take a shower.
I have never seen anything like it. I was trying to be incredibly gentle while I washed my hair but my scalp was literally shedding hair. There was effectively a mat in the bottom of the bath and it was disgusting. Imagine hair down the plughole multiplied by an infinite amount. I put it in the bin and tried to forget about it.
Scrutinizing my reflection post shower, I was faced with a head still covered in hair. Much less hair but still covered in hair nonetheless. So worried was I about losing it that I hadn’t used any conditioner and the hair was then all matted on top of my head as a result. I decided I’d have to brush it to at least make it look like normal hair and so brush it I did. Despite my best efforts to brush with care the hair was almost gushing out at this stage.
I tossed the swathes of hair from the hairbrush in the wastepaper bin. They were a grotesque reminder of my horrible loss. Mark and I concluded we would have to ceremoniously burn the hair. This was a terrible mistake. Singed eyebrows smell badly enough, a hair bonfire reeks!
That day I went to my lovely hairdresser Danielle and she cut my hair down to an inch long buzz cut. I managed to wear that buzz cut hair style for two days. It was great and a nice stepping stone but really the hair needed to go. It had got to the stage where I felt like I was drinking my hair; everywhere I looked bits of my hair just seemed to be drifting in the breeze.
On the Friday morning I woke up and my pillow looked like a sheepskin rug. I had slept terribly as it was really itchy and my dreams were disturbed with all sorts of horrible hairy images. I looked at Mark and he correctly suggested that it was time.
In that instant my only regret was that I can’t currently drink. I needed something stiff to get me through that door to the hairdressers.
I think the process of cutting my hair was more emotional for Danielle than for me. I was so ready and, as she started to shave my head, I felt nothing but relief. I had been intending to wear scarves and chemo caps but when the time came it wasn’t necessary. It seems that I am one of those people who has been blessed with an attractively shaped head.
For the first few nights my scalp was very painful . As the hair follicles are dying it can really hurt. I wore a chemo cap in bed to diminish the feeling of tenderness and allow my scalp to adjust to it’s new look.
Presented with all the hairstyles in the world, this is probably not the one that I would go for but all things considered it really could be worse.
For a cancer patient, who is so often prone to the horrendous chemo induced hot-flush, a bald head is a very practical hairstyle. There is nothing quite as refreshing as the feeling of a cold press on a scalp and when nausea inevitably comes a knocking, it is very nice to not to have to worry about hair.
Other people’s reactions to my hairloss have amused me. Mark has been indescribably incredible from the word go. Ever the practical man he is actually dreading the return of my hair as he is enjoying the new speedy shower Kate. There is a limited amount of stuff to do in the bathroom when one can’t play with one’s hair!
Some people have found it initially shocking but it has been amazing how quickly everybody has got used to it. I was obviously much more conscious about it to begin with and probably the most upsetting experience was on the Saturday morning after I had shaved my head on the Friday. Mark and I went for our routine walk around the millpond; me an increasingly proud baldie for all to see. At the shore we encountered some elderly fishermen. Probably some of the most conservative people you could possibly encounter and they had no shame about having a good gawp. I wish I’d said something, I certainly would now.
Other things that have amused me since.
When one of the consultants at the hospital asked me ‘how I was adjusting to life as a billiard ball’. I thought it was great. Although it was our first meeting he judged my sense of humour perfectly and had a good giggle.
When the butchers very politely described me to my dear friends Lou and Andy, as ‘the tall one’, the ‘bubbly one’ etc. very carefully trying to avoid mentioning most defining feature at present!
What has been pretty humbling has been the effect that it has had at the hospital. People have come up to me in the ‘chemo farm’ and congratulated me on my new do. I would only advise as many other people to do it as possible. I was never going to wear a wig as it would only feel like I was trying to hide something which is so far from how I feel right now.
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